The headline news that Sean Marks and Jacque Vaughn broke Tuesday morning was the newfound health of Ben Simmons. The three-time All-Star is playing 5-on-5 with “no restrictions,” and we have the full story on that here.
But while the discussion on Simmons occupied much of the 27-minute presser that Marks and Vaughn gave, the two did touch on many elements of the Brooklyn Nets roster that they've assembled.
Of course, neither got too into the weeds on X’s and O’s; it was, after all, the first public engagement of any kind on the 2023-24 calendar. Yet, neither was reluctant to share large goals and visions for the Nets in this their first full season together as they enter a new era of Brooklyn basketball.
It’s no secret that Marks signed a number of players who’ll have to battle not only for minutes entering the season, but paying roster spots as well. We’re looking at you, Darius Bazley/Trendon Watford/Harry Giles III. Was the goal to establish a cutthroat environment right out of the gate?
“Absolutely. That was maybe our No. 1 priority when we set out to do this,” said Marks. “We wanted to acquire guys and keep guys that have a chip on their shoulder, something to prove. I think that’s what we’ve seen so far, just on their own, playing pickup games. You know, it’s been loud, it’s competitive...So to have all these guys come in here to fight for positions, to fight for minutes and so forth is the number one goal for us.”
Admittedly, this is not a roster with much room for error. If the Nets are going to be good, they're going to be a defense-first team that runs in transition, and squeezes every bit of juice out their half-court offense. Vaughn mentioned diversifying defensive schemes now that he has a training camp with this roster, but there will still be a lot of switching, requiring constant communication. Offensively, on a team with far less shooting than it had 365 days ago, poor spacing is a death knell rather than an inconvenience. The ship must run smoothly.
“There’s a controllable effort and persistence that each individual on this team is just going to have to show up with every night,” said Vaughn. “There’s two things you’re going to continue to hear me say this year - play hard and details.”
The head coach continued in the same vein though-out the 27 minutes, later calling the ‘23-’24 Nets “a more detailed team. We have to be greedy with our spacing, and we have to be extremely detailed and poised in giving guys the ability to drive the basketball. So, you might have to be a foot to the right, were you able to be a foot to the left previously. And so, detailed in our organization on the offensive end on the floor.”
Sounds a lot like an emphasis on that famous word that Nets fans have heard a lot of under the Marks regime, right? Culture? Well, that hasn’t changed, according to Brooklyn’s general manager, and he feels confident in implementing a solid one this season: “I think our culture is continually evolving. I would totally agree that we have the right people to continue to drive that culture. It starts right here and it continues to go, and it goes with the players not only that [were] on our team, but that we’ve acquired.”
As for those specific players, Marks and Vaughn mentioned only a few of them by name, without going as in-depth as they did on Simmons, for obvious reasons.
With the rebounding woes — second-worst in the NBA in rebounding percentage — Brooklyn faced last year, Vaughn voluntarily brought up Day’Ron Sharpe’s name as part of the potential solution: “I think Day’Ron Sharpe gets an early look and see how he can impose his will not only helping us, I don’t know, put things back to neutral by offensive rebounding, but at the same time, being big and a force for us at the rim. So he’s a guy that probably will garner some minutes early and see that response.”
And what about the other, more polarizing member of the 2021 draft class, Cam Thomas? On that front, Vaughn gave the same answer that he’s been giving to fans wondering why the microwave scorer hasn’t been seeing more minutes:
Here's what Jacque Vaughn said when asked directly about Cam Thomas' role this upcoming season. Similar messaging as we've heard: pic.twitter.com/oOymvpeLWL— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) September 26, 2023
Vaughn did, however, throw some unsolicited praise Dennis Smith Jr.’s way when discussing the offense’s need to push the pace, grouping him in with Spencer Dinwiddie and Simmons: “Those three are going to be essential to how we play with pace, how we get to the rim, how we get paint attacks, and how we create threes for each other.”
Reading the tea leaves, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Smith Jr. (and perhaps Lonnie Walker IV) receive immediate minutes over Thomas to start the season, depending on how training camp goes. Remember, both guards signed in Brooklyn for the minimum, with Smith Jr. proclaiming he had offers elsewhere and Walker taking a pay cut to come east. Unofficial minutes guarantee?
In many ways, Tuesday morning was chock full of the standard messaging fans would expect to hear from any front office, at any point in their franchise’s arc. Brooklyn’s lead decision-makers complimented every member of the starting five, including Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson on their overall character and appearances for Team USA this summer. To be expected. The head coach complimented his entire staff — including calling 2023 G-League Coach of the Year Ronnie Burrell the ‘cheeseburger’ of the group — and emphasized playing hard and focused, while the GM sounded confident in the organizational culture. Of course, of course.
But Marks and Vaughn did recognize this as a pivotal year for the franchise in a completely new era of Brooklyn Nets basketball. Now aided by a full training camp that is hopefully competitive as all hell, there are no longer any after-effects of the Clean Sweep Era. Just a clean slate.
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