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ESSAY: Trying to explain how Sean Marks got a first place vote for Executive of the Year

A rival NBA GM cast his vote for Sean Marks as Executive of the Year. With all the Nets disasters this year, what could that GM be thinking? We give it a try.

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NBA: Chicago Bulls at Brooklyn Nets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Somewhere in an NBA executive office recently, a general manager filled out his Executive of the Year ballot and chose Sean Marks as his first choice for the honor. The five points accorded Marks for the first place vote — he didn’t get any second or third place votes — gave him the 10th highest total in the EoY balloting. He finished ahead of two GMs whose teams are in the second round of the playoffs: the Lakers Rob Pelinka and the 76ers’ Daryl Morey. In fact, only seven out of 30 GMs received first-place votes.

Crazy? The litany of the Nets miscues were long. After all, Marks had to part ways with his friend and head coach Steve Nash; endure an embarrassing string of controversies (including Kevin Durant’s demand that he be fired,) There was Kyrie Irving’s suspension for endorsing an antisemitic video. Finally, in the four days before the deadline, he traded away his superstars — the two prizes of his seven-year tenure — which led to a complete makeover of the starting lineup, roster ... and the franchise’s future. And at the same time he had to watch as Ben Simmons, the big prize in the Nets previous distress sale, went to the bench and didn’t return.

Mars did take responsibility for it all.

“I think I learned a lot about myself,” Marks told ESPN’s Nick Friedell last month in summing up last season. “We can’t ever forget it’s a team sport. And one player can make or break you in either way. You can all of a sudden go ‘Wow, we got this guy, he’s going to take us to a championship level.’ But, at the same time, maybe it doesn’t fit. Maybe this environment isn’t the right one. So you got to do your due diligence, but you have to be willing to have honest conversations, and truth be told — I’ve looked in the mirror and gone, ‘Hey look, I was wrong. I overlooked that. I didn’t see that. Or I should have listened to this particular player.’ That’s why we collaborate the way we do.”

Maybe whoever voted for Marks — and the balloting unlike the media voting is anonymous — thinks the Nets are better off with a restart, retool or rebuild and without said 30+ superstars or that the haul* he got from the two trades was very good over the long term. Maybe he even has faith in Ben Simmons ability to form a new, young core with Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson. (And no, a GM cannot vote for himself.)

Marks did have some pluses on his resume’ this season — the development of Nic Claxton into a player in the mix for both the Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year stands out. But that and any other pluses don’t warrant a first place vote.

Our bet ... and we don’t have a clue of who voted for him or why ... is what Marks did the evening of February 8 and the morning of February 9. According to ESPN’s retelling of that timeframe, Marks demanded Bridges be included in the Suns trade, demanded that all four of the Suns first round picks be unprotected, demanded the pick swap, demanded that Jae Crowder be included them rolled everything into a four-team deal that generated a much larger trade exception than a two-team deal would have. A rival GM might have appreciated how much he was able to get done under truly extenuating circumstances. Of course, a lot more people might and do argue that things never ever should have gotten to that extreme. Theirs is a very valid point.

As John Hollinger told Alex Schiffer in their Q. and A. Thursday, Marks and the Nets have some possibilities going forward. but don’t expect too much too soon.

I think they are in Willy Loman territory — the basketball equivalent of being liked but not well-liked. Do they have some nice pieces? Absolutely. Can they be a playoff team going forward with this core? Yes, very likely. Do they have any chance of contending for anything important? No, probably not.

That’s probably right. And at the end of the day, getting that vote isn’t going to add to next season’s win total. In addition to taking responsibility for last season both with Friedell and in his post-season press conference, Marks has talked about how excited he is for the challenge, whether that’s building organically or taking a longer shot on someone like Damian Lillard. Bottom line: He has to hope he gets more votes next year at this time.


*Nets acquired Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, plus five first round picks, a first round pick swap, four second rounders — all unprotected — and two trade exceptions worth $18.1 million and $4.5 million.