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ESSAY: Sean Marks weighs rebuilding, competing, Brooklyn Nets roster in exit interview

Brooklyn Nets General Manager spoke with the media for over 20 minutes on Sunday, his final comments on the 2022-23 season

Erik Slater, ClutchPointsApp

They’re disappointed with the way the season ended, just like we all are. And you have to do some self-reflecting, look in the mirror. But, you know, at the same time, you’re positive with this group, because this group has shown a lot of resiliency to fight through some things, come together quickly in a hurry, on the fly. So as a collective, from the coaching staff and the players, I think they did a tremendous job. And again, like I’ve said before, there’s a pathway for this group to continue to grow individually and as a team together. So it’s an exciting pathway.”

That’s how Brooklyn Nets General Manager Sean Marks opened the Nets exit interview on Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after the Nets were eliminated from the playoffs by the Philadelphia 76ers. He quickly tied a bow on Brooklyn’s season, where his team became the only team to get swept out of the first round for the second year in a row, and quickly pivoted to discussing his hopes for the future.

Over the next 20 minutes, Marks shared the podium with his head coach, Jacque Vaughn, but fielded the vast majority of questions from a field of reporters that that hadn’t spoken to him since a franchise-altering trade deadline. While there weren’t any fiery soundbites, as there typically aren’t from the mild-mannered kiwi Marks maintained a consistent message: The Nets are looking to compete.

Prior to the Marks/Vaughn interview, Spencer Dinwiddie candidly outlined the position his franchise is in:

“You have two very distinct paths. I think you’re looking at a team that kind of mirrors a Milwaukee without Giannis. So if you think you can go get a Giannis, then are you probably a very, very good team at that point? Likely. If you don’t, you do have a bevy of draft picks and probably several guys that could net you more draft picks. So I mean, they can go either route. And shoot, they could also stand pat and roll the dice.”

Of course, that’s not saying a ton. Every NBA team, at any point in time, could go all-in, start to rebuild, or do nothing. For the Nets, however, each of those three options are somewhat feasible. Marks, well aware of this reality, made it clear that bottoming out is not in the cards. A key reason? Most of their future draft picks are not their own.

“Well, it does take away the ability to tank and have a bad season,” Marks said of his incoming draft capital. “Right? I don’t control those picks. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of picks that are far enough out in the future that it just gives us the flexibility. It gives us, you know - we have a young group here that is wanting to compete. So we’re gonna be going after it every year, there’s no sense that we would not, not with this group.” (Emphasis mine.)

Despite the poor luck the Nets have had giving up future draft picks since they’ve moved to Brooklyn, Marks did not shy away from going that route either, asking “How does the draft capital help us? Whether we draft them or whether these picks are used in trades down the line. But as you know, several of the picks are four, five, six years out, so they are quite a ways out from now. The good news with that is that gives us flexibility with how we build.”

Bottoming out is not in the cards for the Nets, that much is for sure. As for those other two options Dinwiddie mentioned, going all-in or standing pat, Brooklyn’s plans are less obvious.

There are justifications for either; it all depends on how optimistic your view of the Nets that finished out this season is. Perhaps they showed promise, but were understandably hampered by being thrown together mid-season, without so much as a training camp to gel. They should only keep improving as a unit, right?

Marks highlighted “the camaraderie that was building and growing, and it’s almost a shame that the season’s over, because that has to come to an end, and then you have to part your ways. So, it’d be nice to see this group continue to stick it out and be together for as long as they can.”

Marks, now heading into his ninth season as Brooklyn’s GM, also added that he “would have loved to have had an entire year, you know, an entire season of looking at what this group could look like. “But at the end of the day, I think there was some, some real bright spots here in how the coaches and players connected.”

It sure sounds like the group that served as the immediate epilogue to the Clean Sweep Era may get to write their own chapter starting next season. Optimists, rejoice.

Pessimists should remain calm, though. Sean Marks made it clear that Brooklyn will jump at the first opportunity they have to vault themselves back into title contention, including re-emphasizing (and thanking) Joe Tsai’s commitment to paying significant luxury tax bills. It’s just that Marks & Co. are going to be patient for their opportunity.

“Let’s have some patience and poise. That doesn’t mean we won’t make changes to the roster, I mean it’s pro sports,” said Marks. “I think the decision is not entirely going to be up to the Nets, right? The players have to make their decisions as well. So hopefully we’ve put ourselves in a place to attract our own group to come back, attract free agents.”

Answering his final question of the day, Marks recapped his position on Brooklyn’s future:

“I think in this day and age, we’ve all seen players demand trade players behind the scenes, ask for this. Teams change, whether it’s ownership groups or front offices, and next thing you know, they pivot. So we just have to be ready for whatever comes our way. And if we can make a change that we can compete, we’ll be strategic about it.”

As for more specific, short-term roster-building goals, Marks and Vaughn agreed that “adding some size” and “nastiness” are priorities, whether through the draft, the trade market, or free agency, regardless how of how close the Nets are to earnest contention next year.

It will certainly be a busy summer, one way or another, for Sean Marks. Damian Lillard has already been linked to Brooklyn in trade rumors, and only fueled said rumors by showing up to the Barclays Center during the Nets’ short-lived postseason run (or limp, really). The Nets will also have to make a decision on Cam Johnson, a restricted free agent; how he fits into this upcoming summer was discussed at length at Brooklyn’s exit interviews. Brooklyn also has the 21st and 22nd picks in the upcoming NBA Draft, picks which, as Marks alluded to, could be used or traded to the highest bidder.

So begins another potentially transformational summer for the Brooklyn Nets. After last offseason started with the chaos of Kevin Durant’s trade request and Kyrie Irving’s flirtation with opting out of his contract...nothing really happened. This offseason may produce the inverse, starting fairly normally but containing a whole lot of action. Stay tuned.