18 February 2016 – Sean Marks is Hired as Brooklyn Nets General Manager
When Sean Marks left the warm and nurturing bosom of the San Antonio Spurs, there was talk. Of course an NBA GM’s gig is one that would be almost impossible to turn down. But not every GM’s gig is like the rest and the job he inherited at the Nets provided a team left reeling from one of the worst trades the NBA has ever seen. For a collection of aging stars beyond their peak, the Nets traded away five years of their own first round picks. There were a couple pick swaps in there but the rise of the Boston Celtics took away most of any remaining shine on that silver lining.
Without the ability to improve his team through that typical function – which is literally there to assist losing teams getting better again – Marks was also stuck with a collection of players with pretty minimal trade bait amongst them. The only thing he really had going in his favour was the salary cap situation, with the Nets not having any drastic financial commitments down the line. It was something that he’d soon use to his immense advantage, play the hand you’re dealt and all that, but it’s easy to see why some thought the job was a poisoned chalice. Not Marksy though. He had a plan and he had the patience and support to see it through.
Sean Marks, Feb 2017: “I am very excited to be named the General Manager of the Brooklyn Nets, and to become a member of the vibrant and dynamic organization that represents Brooklyn. I would like to thank Nets’ ownership for giving me this opportunity, and I look forward to the challenge of creating a unified culture and building a winning team.”
17 April 2016 – Kenny Atkinson Is Hired as Brooklyn Nets Head Coach
Thus the revival officially began. Sean Marks would be the first to tell you that no GM can do it alone. A basketball franchise is a team effort in all aspects and with all of his experience within the San Antonio Spurs, Sean Marks knows that lesson well. Good people make a good team. Good people set the standards that emerge as a team culture, from top to bottom and back to top again.
With Kenny Atkinson the Nets had a bloke who could do a few major things for them. First of all, he was a well-respected assistant coach with a successful Atlanta Hawks side. He was a hungry coach with something to prove, his first head coaching role in the NBA which mirrored Marks and his own rise to this job. Atkinson was also a coach who would prioritise a very modern style of basketball which involves lots of ball movement, plenty of committed defence, a heap of versatile shooting, and a quick pace of play. All skills that would fit with the San Antonio Spurs, the Budenholzer Hawks, or indeed the Golden State Warriors.
And equally as important is that Atkinson is a player development kind of coach, one who never skips on the lessons of practice, who can help shape and mould prospects into genuine NBA talent which would be essential considering what slim avenues the Nets had for finding players. No top draft picks, nothing to offer a high end free agent, no elite trade-able players… it was gonna have to be a creative project. Draft steals, G-League gambles, international players, reclamation projects. No stone left unturned. Sean Marks x Kenny Atkinson. The dynamic duo entrusted with turning the Nets into the force that they once thought they’d be with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Atkinson began work at the conclusion of the 2015-16 NBA season. The dawn of the Markinson Era in Brooklyn.
23 June 2016 – The NBA Draft
Having finished the 2015-16 season with 21 wins, the Nets should have at least been in line for a nice compensatory lottery pick… but of course they owed it to the Celtics and the Celtics took Jaylen Brown. In fact the starting five from the picks they gave up to Boston (only two of which remained with Boston) would read: James Young, Kelly Oubre, Jaylen Brown, Markelle Fultz & Collin Sexton. Which is actually kinda underwhelming, but whatever. To be fair they leveraged Fultz and Sexton into Jayson Tatum and Kyrie Irving which helps that picture.
Marks and the team did have a couple tricks up their sleeve, however. They swapped second rounders with Utah to get their hands on Isaiah Whitehead, although he hasn’t really gone anywhere as a player and is currently on a two-way deal with the Detroit Pistons… but the Nets also managed to flip Thaddeus Young, one of their two tradeable player assets along with Brook Lopez, to Indiana for a firstie and a future second. That firstie became Caris LeVert.
Now, Caris LeVert was not the most hyped dude going into that draft but he had his fans. For good reason too and under the tutelage of Kenny Atkinson and company he’s emerged as cornerstone piece of the puzzle. His ability to get a shot off is superb. At the rim or pulling up from deep, not a worry. A dislocated bone in his foot has been the only thing keeping him from a truly breakout season this time around but he’s shown signs lately that he’s back to his best ahead of the playoffs. Just in time, amigo.
7 July 2016 – Free Agency Begins
Then came the real fun stuff. The Nets had pretty much one thing going in their favour and that’s salary cap room. Regular free agents wouldn’t care because they can get their cash wherever… but restricted free agents? Ah now you’re talking. Marks and the team drew up disgustingly skewed offer sheets for both Allen Crabbe of the Portland Trail Blazers and Tyler Johnson of the Miami Heat. Two young and unproven fellas with excellent shooting potential on the wings, pretty much ideal fits in the new Nets system. And the reason they were disgustingly skewed was that they leveraged their own future cap space by backloading the salaries and including all sorts of tricky financial incentives. In other words they overpaid for them on the gamble that it’d deter their current teams from matching those offers.
It didn’t quite work. For better and for worse, the Blazers and Heat both matched. However the Blazers soon got buyer’s remorse and a year later they traded Crabbe to the Nets anyway. They got him in exchange for Andrew Nicholson and nothing else, the Blazers so desperate to get out of that contract with much more important dudes to re-sign that they effectively gave him away for free.
Now around the same time as the restricted FA offer sheets they also made their first proper free agency splash in signing Jeremy Lin for three years and $37m. Lin being a quality fit as point guard for this team and also a player the franchise viewed as a leader for their young and inexperienced lads. Except here’s the thing: you don’t rebuild a franchise without a few hiccups along the way. Nothing ever works out exactly as planned and you have to keep an open mind to the possibilities as they arise. Jeremy Lin only ever played 37 games for the Nets as horror injuries ended consecutive seasons for him and then they traded him to Atlanta for the third year of that contract. By then they’d found a new starting PG anyway.
As for Crabbe, he’s still there although his shooting has left a little to be desired and he had a pretty significant injury set back earlier this season. Having hit triples at a rate of 41.1% in Portland, he’s down at 37.8% in Brooklyn. But his playoff experience is about to come in rather handy, to be fair. One of only five players on the current Nets roster with previous playoff experience.
22 February 2017 – The Bojan Bogdanovic Trade
Apparently the NBA never sleeps so Sean Marks has always been available for a chat if you happen to have a few players you don’t need and wouldn’t mind chucking in a draft pick in return for taking them off your hands. In the case of Bojan Bogdanovic he had a guy in the final year of his contract and unlikely to re-sign, having emerged as a bit of a useful scorer. Trade deadline came along and the Nets didn’t have much use for them as they stumbled towards a 20-win campaign but the Washington Wizards were keen on some extra shooting so what do you reckon?
Along with Chris McCullough, Bogdanovic was traded to the Wiz in exchange for Andrew Nicholson, Marcus Thornton, and WAS’s first round pick later that year. Nothing interesting in the player stakes (in fact Nicholson ended up as salary balance in the Crabbe trade a few months later) but that first rounder, mate… that first rounder became Jarrett Allen.
If you haven’t seen Jarrett Allen play yet then know that he’s one of the undercover rising big men in the NBA. A proper old fashioned centre even down to the badass afro, Allen is only 20 years old but he’s already emerging as a genuine rim protecting five. His ferocious blocks have become a regular sight – he’s taken names of some of the best in the business. He’s also way up there as a finisher around the rim, ending this season top ten in dunks and shooting percentage. Add in some decent rebounding and a bit of finesse with his ability to score with both hands and you’ve got a real player there. Kenny Atkinson has compared him to Al Horford. A casual and mutually beneficial trade and Sean Marks had another one of the long term pieces he’s been after.
Meanwhile Bogdanovic is having a career year with the Pacers at the moment, averaging 18 points per game and shooting at 42.5% from deep as a starter. Everybody wins… except for the Wizards, naturally. But that’s just a standard NBA rule.
22 June 2017 - The Brook Lopez/D’Angelo Russell Trade
On the day of the draft, when Jarrett Allen became a Brooklyn Net with the 22nd overall pick, the Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers dropped a blockbuster trade as Sean Marks finally figured out what to do with Brook Lopez. The best player on the roster he inherited and a big fella more than capable of contributing to a playoff team… instead he ended up on the young Lakers.
Shout out to Magic Johnson for this one. The Lakers wanted to get rid of the ridiculous Timofey Mozgov contract and they also had locker room issues with young guard D’Angelo Russell. Send the pair to Brooklyn, take back a draft pick and Brook Lopez. Done and dusted. That draft pick became Kyle Kuzma so the Lake Crew got something long term out of the deal but the Nets… yeah, they got their future point guard.
D'Angelo Russell would need plenty of work and maturation to get to where he was predicted to get to when he was taken as the second overall pick in 2015. Yet at the same time it felt harsh even then for the Lakers to give up on him like that. Not Marks/Brooky’s problem though. What they did was they exploited an inefficiency elsewhere. This dude was being underrated because the post-Kobe Lakers wanted somebody who was more of a “leader” and more “mature” (forget that he was only 20 years old when they traded him), and in exchange for their most valuable asset (in the final year of his contract, which made him financially trade-able to a rebuilding team who needed that cap space to sign a certain LeBron James one year later), they effectively got themselves a top five pick worth of value.
Mozgov’s gone now. Rather cleverly, Marks got rid of him a year later in a trade which copped him Dwight Howard in return before the 2018-19 season. But Howard got bought out and bingo. Cost some money but the whole thing’s in the clear now and with DeMarre Carroll’s deal also coming off the books after this term, as well as dead money from Howard and Kenneth Faried, the Nets are going to be in place to offer at least one max contract in the summer (depending on what it costs to re-sign D’Angelo Russell).
17 February 2018 – Spencer Dinwiddie’s Got Skillz
It ain’t all wheeling and dealing through trades and draft picks. There’s also that crucially important element within the Nets of identifying undiscovered talent and nurturing those dudes into legit contributors. There have been a heap of players tried over the last few years. Yogi Ferrell was one that got away. They brought him through, he did some things, they watched him dominate at G-League level, then he got snapped up by the Dallas Mavericks, broke through, and signed with the Sacramento Kings for a cheeky six mill. One that got away… also one that wasn’t the best fit for the Nets, to be fair. And when they dropped Ferrell they signed a fella named Spencer Dinwiddie.
During 2017 All Star weekend Dinwiddie brought it all to win the skills contest. Not the most spectacular accolade, in all honesty, but just being there at all was a huge achievement. Dinwiddie was drafted in the second round by Detroit in 2014. But after playing in just 46 games over his first two years in the league, spending most of his time in the development league, the Nets went and snapped him up in December 2016. Not even a year and a half later he was involved in the All Star festivities.
That’s because Dinwiddie has emerged as a supremely intelligent point guard, who can score off the bench to where he’s currently a sixth man of the year candidate, or as a starter when D’Angelo Russell is out. He was a runner-up in the most improved ranks last season. Picked up outta the G-League, now a legit player. That’s the revival in action.
24 July 2018 – Joe Harris Re-Signs
Another of their scoops, Joe Harris, only played five games in 2015-16 for the Cleveland Cavaliers as a foot injury busted him in his sophomore season. He was traded to the Orlando Magic soon after where he was waived immediately. Harris then signed with the Nets in 2016 free agency and scored 16 points off the bench in his first game. A sharp-shooter from deep, he got some real interest in free agency two years later but chose to re-sign with the Nets for two years and $16m. Not only did they identify him, not only did they develop him into a genuine player, but they retained him too. Just goes to show that the environment is working in every aspect.
And the fruits of that are spectacular. Joe Harris shot an absolutely sizzling 47.4% from three-point range in 2018-19 and that’s from 386 attempts too so nothing sneaky about it. Leads the league in treble percentage and it’s not even close. Danny Green is second at 45.5%. Seth Curry third at 45.0%. Steph Curry fourth at 43.7%. Plus he won the three-point contest at All Stars. This guy was on the scrapheap before the Nets got to him.
8 April 2019 – Playoffs Bound, Baby
And now just look at them. Going into the last weekend of the season the Nets were a game up on ninth but with a rough final few games on the cards. No dramas whatsoever, they beat the Bucks, beat the Pacers, both away, and then smashed the Heat at home in their closer. Won their last three and made the playoffs with the sixth seed… putting them up against the Philadelphia 76ers in the ultimate duel between the two franchises that have undertaken the most drastic rebuilds over the last five years. The Sixers did it all through high draft picks. The Nets did none of it through high draft picks. Pretty fascinating stuff.
This Nets team is far from the finished product but they’re a serious team once again. It was supposed to be a setback when Caris LeVert was ruled out for an extended period with injury… yet they kept it steady without him. Having begun 8-18, the Nets incredibly won 18 of their next 23 games. D’Angelo Russell just had a most improved calibre season. Role players have stepped it up. The coaching has been magnificent. This is a team playing to their potential and building towards a future that’ll definitely get some free agents interested. After three straight seasons with 20-something wins, they just went 42-40 for a winning record and a playoff appearance.
Within the bigger picture this is just one more step along the journey. But it’s a huge milestone in the revival project, a signifying moment that the Nets are back. It feels like there should be some incredible stat about how long it’s been since this team last made it this far but the crazy thing is that they were only out of the postseason for three seasons. They absolutely bottomed out with no obvious avenue to rebuild and yet it somehow still only took three inadequate seasons before they were back competing. That’s unbelievable.
And the word is that both Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson have agreed to contract extensions so there’s no stopping here. Especially not when, for the first time in five years, the Nets have their own draft pick and even more enticing is that they have cap room in place for 2019 free agency…
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