Sean Marks inherited the unenviable job of leading the Brooklyn Nets to prosperity when in many ways the organization remains crippled by his predecessor, Billy King.
The new general manager will likely have to swap his first-round pick with the Celtics in next year’s draft, and then hand over his 2018 first-rounder to Boston to finally complete the compensation for the July 2013 deal that sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry to the Nets.
So what Marks has done since taking over is sign a handful of veterans to short-term deals, provide stability by signing Jeremy Lin, trade for prospects, and offer second chances to some who fizzled with other teams.
After the organization’s attempt to form its own Big Three was an abject failure, the Nets are rebuilding, hoping free agency can eventually foster the process. Until then they are just going to rely on new coach Kenny Atkinson, play hard, and compete.
Marks was hired away from the San Antonio Spurs. He wanted his own team, but he fully understands resuscitating the Nets, expected to be a lottery team, is an arduous task.
“It’s fun, at the same time all-consuming,” said Marks, who played 230 NBA games over 12 years. “But to be able to see things very, very slowly coming together and getting the players to buy in and the collaboration between the performance team, coaching team, front office — that’s been good to see.”
Marks’s first move was to hire Atkinson, whom many Hawks players credit along with coach Mike Budenholzer with their emergence as an Eastern Conference contender. Despite the lack of pure talent, the Nets have played hard and passionately during the preseason, a byproduct of Atkinson’s relentless style.
“We’re going to have to be scrappy, and that’s Kenny’s makeup,” Marks said. “He sort of exemplifies what it means to be that Brooklyn grit that we talk about. He’s going to demand it from the players. The players respect him because he’s out there with the guys every day on the court. He means it. He cares for them, and I think that’s where you get that player buy-in.”
Atkinson, 49, played 12 years overseas after leading the University of Richmond to the NCAA Tournament in 1988. He never played in the NBA, and admitted the past few months have been about name recognition.
“I’m sure LeBron [James] doesn’t know who the heck I am,” Atkinson said. “He looks over at the bench and says, ‘Who’s that guy?’ The good thing is I’ve been in the league long enough [since 2008] where it’s such a small circle that you cross paths with the players. I went to the NBA coaches’ meeting a couple of weeks ago and was surprised a few guys knew my name. Now the real challenge starts — to get their respect [every night].”
The Nets didn’t hire Atkinson to win immediately. The roster is flawed. King, and now Marks, have had to get creative to bring in younger players because of the draft picks relinquished to the Celtics. Marks had to trade away Thaddeus Young for the rights to Caris LeVert. He brought in former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and former Cavalier Joe Harris, and used a second-round pick on Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehead. Former first-rounder Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is healthy and appears ready to flourish.
“We’re definitely going to have to be patient,” Marks said. “You hope to continually acquire assets, however that is. We do have some nice young guys hopefully we can build with, and with Kenny and his staff development, they’ll continue to grow. But it will be about being strategic along the way.
“We’ve got a couple of nice younger guys there. Obviously they all know there’s a long way to go in their NBA careers, but we’ve also brought in veterans to show them the way and teach them the right habits, guys like T revor Booker, Luis Scola, and Randy Foye.”
Marks could have gone the 76ers’ route and thrown a bunch of younger players out there to survive on their own, but he brought in veterans for stability and legitimacy.
Marks fully realizes that the Nets are likely a few years from competing. The team needs premium free agents. It needs its younger players to flourish. It needs Atkinson to implement a winning culture.
“There’s a ton of people who would have loved this opportunity,” Marks said. “I’m fortunate enough to have it. I love the market that it’s in. I love the opportunity and the challenge. There’s no doubt it’s a huge challenge and I think everybody that has joined with me — we’re a partnership here. We want to see it turn around in Brooklyn. We’re going to push each other.”
IN GOOD HANDS
Stern: League’s on solid ground
Former NBA commissioner David Stern was a surprise guest at the Celtics Shamrock Foundation Gala this past week at the Museum of Fine Arts. And he was quick to fill fans in on his new responsibilities since retiring from his post in February 2014.
“I’m very busy,” said Stern, 74. “I’m a senior adviser to a venture capital firm, big four accounting firm strategy group, an investment bank, and I counsel several startups and I’m a senior adviser to the NBA as well. So I’m more booked up than ever, having a great time.”
He helped turn the NBA into a global sport with booming player salaries and flourishing owners during his 30-year run. Stern’s deputy, Adam Silver, succeeded him and led the NBA through the difficult Donald Sterling saga as well as overseeing the league’s labor peace. What’s more, the league’s owners and Players Association are making great progress on a labor deal that would prevent a work stoppage next season and the potential of losing financial momentum and fan support.
The recent unprecedented salary cap increase enabled the Warriors to sign free agent Kevin Durant and become prohibitive favorites to win their second title in three years.
“I just spoke to Adam and [the NBA] had a triumphant visit in China,” Stern said. “They played two games in Spain; the global aspect is doing great. I think that it’s probably not a great idea to send the [championship] trophy to San Francisco before the season because there are a number of teams that think we should play the games, and I agree with that. That’s what fun about this league. It’s going to be another great year.”
Stern said he couldn’t have predicted the league’s continued success, especially after the 2011 lockout that sliced 16 games off the schedule.
“I didn’t project anything other than I was leaving it in the most spectacular hands with an all-star executive cast and they would just do what’s right for the league, and they have,” he said. “The combination of the growth of NBA Cares [community service program]. The growth of globalization. The strong leadership that Adam has demonstrated. I think it’s wonderful.
“[The labor negotiations is] when I got my least amount of sleep. I’m proud to say that the league I think has gotten to a very good place in terms of players’ share, owners’ share, and where they can all see that it’s something that it pays to keep going. It’s fun to watch from a distance and not be involved.”
The NBA became global with Michael Jordan’s emergence in the league, and after the original Dream Team played in the Barcelona Olympic Games. Stern tapped into the international media and the league’s appeal outside of the United States.
“We knew that media growth was going to be great and the good news is it hasn’t stopped because it’s global, it’s digital, so there’s still a lot of life left in the growth on the media side,” he said. “Television doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s all media.”
Stern said he is thrilled that the skill of the game has been reemphasized after perhaps a generation of players enamored with the dunk. Teams, with their analytics staffs, have summarized that the 3-point shot is the most important field goal in today’s game. Teams such as the Warriors and Spurs have flourished by stretching the floor and filling their rosters with premium shooters.
“It’s fun to watch what the Spurs and Warriors have given back and there continues to be an emphasis on shooting, and basically that’s what the game is all about.” Stern said. “The game is in as good a shape as it’s ever been and it’s a great time to be a fan.”
Wade eyes career boost in Chicago
Dwyane Wade will make his Bulls regular-season debut on Thursday against the Celtics. Although he turns 35 in January, he hopes to enjoy more good years in Chicago, where he shocked the NBA world by signing in July. The Bulls are one of the more fascinating teams entering this season with the trio of Wade, former Celtic Rajon Rondo, and All-Star and Olympian Jimmy Butler.
The Bulls floundered last season and then dealt oft-injured guard Derrick Rose to the Knicks and rebooted by bringing in Rondo and Wade. Wade said he wants to extend his career by playing more in the post and improving his perimeter game. The issue is Wade is a career 28.4 percent 3-point shooter with just 71 makes the past five seasons.
TNT analysts Grant Hill and Reggie Miller, each of whom played at or approaching age 40, discussed what Wade will need to do to extend his career.
“I know my own personal experience obviously — really take care of yourself, be very cognizant of what you eat. Understanding rest, the weight room. It’s a full effort that’s necessary to extend your career and have longevity,” said Hill, who played until 40, finishing with the Clippers in 2012-13. “As he’s transitioning and wants to play a different role, I think back to when I left Orlando and went to Phoenix. And all of a sudden I’m a non-shooter, a slasher, a guy who played a certain way for the bulk of my career and sort of had to reinvent myself in a different system.
“Sort of got comfortable with the 3-point shot from the corner. It is possible. I think Wade does have some talent down on the low block. I think all of his years as a 12-time All-Star, 34 years of age, he’s become more efficient and doesn’t have to use his athleticism every time, every possession down the court to beat you, but instead really use his intellect.”
Wade said at the time of his signing that Chicago is Butler’s team, meaning he will no longer be the ball-dominant player he was in Miami. He will have to resort to making the most of limited offensive chances as he did during the Heat’s four-year Big Three era with LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
“I think you saw that [sacrifice and adjusted game] last year at times with the Heat. I think he can do that but he’s just got to be willing to do that,” Hill said. “And the fact that he’s talked about doing that and is aware of the changes necessary will help extend his career.”
Miller played until he was 39, and actually contemplated a comeback with the 2007-08 Celtics before declining Doc Rivers’s offer.
“It’s about reinventing yourself,” he said. “I would not be surprised if you’re [Chicago coach] Fred Hoiberg . . . No. 1, Fred’s going to have to do a better job of managing his minutes, the older you get. I was blessed to have Rick Carlisle later in my career and he did a great job of practice minutes as well as game-time minutes to make sure I was fresh throughout the season. Once you pass the All-Star break, you up your minutes a little bit to get your focus ready for the playoffs.”
Wade has nearly 5,000 assists and averaged nearly six per game over his 13 years in Miami.
“I would not be surprised with that Chicago Bulls team, you could put Dwyane Wade at point guard because of his dribble penetration and let him be more of a facilitator as opposed to going to the midpost and taking the beating,” Miller said. “As a younger player in Miami, there was a commercial, ‘Fall down eight times, get up nine,’ and I think that took a toll over the years on Dwyane Wade.
“Because of his ability to break down the defense, his vision as a shooting guard, I would not be surprised if he could be a backup point guard to Rondo, and on the second unit when Rondo goes to the bench. It’s all about reinventing yourself but Grant’s right, you’ve got to be committed to it and you’ve got to understand that. We all talk about Father Time being undefeated but there’s ways to stave off Father Time and it’s all about nutrition, fitness, and taking care of yourself.”
McHale believes in young Walton
Kevin McHale was asked about new Lakers coach Luke Walton, who is 36 and justa 6-year-old when his father joined the Celtics for the ’86 championship run. McHale couldn’t contain his laughter at seeing Bill’s son become a head coach.
“I’ve known Luke since he was a baby. I remember Luke drawing with a permanent marker on his couch and going, ‘Luke you shouldn’t do that’ and [him saying], ‘No, just flip over the cushion, don’t worry about it.’ ” McHale said. “I’ve known Luke since he was a little kid and Luke will have some gray hair at the end of this year, so I can’t wait to run into Luke and talk to him.
“He’ll do a great job with that team but I think it’s on the defensive end where they really have to grow together.”
As expected, the Cavaliers locked up J.R. Smith after the well-traveled veteran held out long enough to get the money he desired. Smith signed a four-year, $57 million deal with the first three years guaranteed at $45 million. It more than makes up for Smith opting out of a $6 million final-year contract with Cleveland a few years ago only to return for $3 million. The Cavaliers appear set with Smith back but there was pressure on Cleveland to sign Smith after the 76ers, one of the few teams with cap space enough to offer a respectable contract, made a bid . . . Former Northeastern swingman Quincy Ford didn’t remain on waivers long as he was claimed from Utah by the Pelicans. The Jazz were hoping Ford would clear waivers and they could assign him to their NBADL affiliate, but there could be a bigger opportunity for Ford in New Orleans, whose roster is loaded with players looking to prove themselves. Ford has been able to remain on the NBA radar after going undrafted in June . . . The Kings are going to eventually have to decide what to do with DeMarcus Cousins because his four-year contract expires after 2017-18 and he enters this season as the league’s 50th-highest-paid player. The Kings want to win desperately after opening their new arena and finally shedding the relocation discussion. Cousins will get a maximum contract after 2017-18, which will be an estimated $30 million per season because of his status and service time. Cousins does not want out of Sacramento but he also wants to win. The Olympic experience changed him, as he spent an entire summer around winning players and wasn’t expected to produce franchise numbers, just capable ones. The Kings need to acquire another star-caliber player to join Cousins if they plan to keep him because Rudy Gay has never reached expectations and he wants to be traded . . . LaMarcus Aldridge is reportedly unhappy in San Antonio after the Spurs promised him a more prominent role in their offense, which hasn’t happened. Aldridge averaged 19.9 shots per game in his final year in Portland but that dropped to 14.1 last season. That’s not likely to increase with the presence of Kawhi Leonard and the addition of Pau Gasol, who will take more shots than the departed Tim Duncan.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.