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Nets say they’re no longer looking for quick fix ... it’s now about being ‘strategic’

2023 NBA Playoffs - Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Now that the dust has cleared from the Nets disappointing (again) season and Sean Marks annual press conference — not to mention Damian Lillard whisperer Chris Haynes’ tweet that the Blazer star was in New York merely to work on his new album — it would appear the Brooklyn brain trust is not looking to reprise its quest for the big bang, but rather take its time, go slow, even give this year’s group more time.

“Let’s be strategic. Let’s have some patience and poise,” said Marks when asked about team priorities. “That doesn’t mean we won’t make changes to the roster, I mean it’s pro sports. 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. I think they know what Brooklyn is about...

“So as we prioritize things in the summer, we won’t be in a rush.”

Maybe it’s just lowering expectations which could come as a welcome relief after their massive fail. But in his comments, and in those from Nets players, Marks talked more about incremental moves rather than anything resembling the assembly of multiple Big Threes.

For openers, Marks was quite specific about liking the core he has.

”I think it was the spirt, the collective spirit of the group,” said Marks when asked about what he liked about the group that finished the season. “it would be nice to see this group stick it out and be together as long as they can...

“I think I would have loved to have had an entire year, 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 and in how the coaches and players connected,” Marks noted. “We saw players take their games to new heights. We saw players that maybe we didn’t expect to have the type of roles ahead really exceed them.”

Marks was not alone in that thinking. Nic Claxton offered his thoughts on building off the core rather than going for broke, as Kristian Winfield noted Monday.

“A whole new starting lineup and then especially going into a playoff series, teams have been together, they’ve been in the trenches together for five-plus years, and then you throw in a whole new team,” said Claxton who with four consecutive years with the team is second only to Joe Harris in seniority. “I’m not making no excuses, just it would be nice going forward if we could maybe just start to just build something here.”

Cam Johnson likes the idea as well, pointing to the defensive possibilities of added chemistry.

“We’re talking about if this core stays together next year I do think that we can be an elite defensive team. I think you got guys like Claxton guys like Royce, Doe, me, Mikal, Spence, guys that can guard. And Claxton’s a big part of that. I think the way he guards the ball, the way he protects the rim,” said CJ without mentioning Ben Simmons.

That doesn’t mean the Nets will stand still. Marks also talked about the big need which despite multiple remakes of the roster remains the same: rebounding — a big man who can complement Claxton. Brian Lewis notes that the Nets finished next-to-last in the NBA in rebound percentage (47.2) and defensive rebound percentage (68.9). And in a particularly galling stat, Erik Slater notes, “Brooklyn has never ranked higher than 24th in defensive rebounding in his six years at the helm.”

“Without a doubt we need to make some changes in terms of adding some size. I think [Vaughn] said it last night, add a little nastiness,” Marks said. “Without a doubt we need to make some changes. Add a little bit of the Brooklyn grit that we’ve talked about for sort of six years.”

There are other needs like point guard depth which could be solved with a Simmons return to health and the Nets good graces. Marks said he was hopeful of that, but of course he’s said that before. Marks did confirm a Lewis report, saying “at this point,” Simmons “does not need surgery” and should be “100% by September 1″ and “a full go in training camp.”

Marks didn’t dismiss the possibility of bringing on a big star, but he did not appear to be prioritizing that. Instead, he said that the Nets will take their time next time a superstar comes into view.

“Again we’ve always been prepared. I got to give my group a lot of credit they’ve always been prepared to debate and discuss everything so that when things do come across the table you’re not surprised by it,” Marks said of his front office. “I think in this day and age we’ve all seen players demand trades, 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. Because I don’t think we want to put ourselves in a place where we’re costing the future for right now either.”

That doesn’t sound very aggressive. (In fact, Marks didn’t use the word, “aggressive” at all in his comments.)

Lillard who turns 33 in the off-season may simply be too reminiscent of Kevin Durant and James Harden: great players closer to the end of their careers with big contracts and a recent history of injury. Lillard will make $63.2 million when he’s 36 in 2026-27, the biggest contract — by far — in the league history. Howeve, over the last two years, his durability was worse than Durant’s. He missed 77 games while KD missed 72.

Marks of course isn’t one to show his cards early. The one time that he did, when he announced that his Big Three was “signed, sealed and delivered” turned into a fiasco.

The top priority on the free agent front is resigning Johnson and there, things do look positive. And with all that draft capital — 11 firsts, a first round swap and eight seconds — plus a young core, the Nets have a lot of flexibility.

“So we’re gonna be going after it every year, there’s no sense that we would not, not with this group. That’s not the mindset that I think we’re taking on here,” said Marks.

Losing the KD and Kyrie contracts does give the Nets options they haven’t had in four years, not only the draft capital but two big trade exceptions — including the biggest in the league at $18.1 million — and could even wind up with the full MLE, now $12.2 million and the bi-annual exception of $4.4 million, if they time things right between the Draft and free agency. Yossi Gozlan of Hoopshype noted that in a summary of where the Nets stand.

The question is how long before the Nets can go for something approaching their goals during the Clean Sweep era? Will they be stuck in some weird stasis without a big star who can win them games in crunchtime, something they didn’t have this season? Or will their belief in their core yield results that are more sustained, less bright, shiny object?

The Nets want to let you know they have learned their lesson. Bottom line, when asked if Brooklyn would be a contender next season, Marks was non-committal.

“We just have to be ready for whatever comes our way,” said the GM now in his eighth year as Nets GM. “And if we can make a change that we can compete, we’ll be strategic about it. Because I don’t think we want to put ourselves in a place where we’re costing the future for right now either. I think we got a bright pathway and right now I’m enjoying that.”