Brooklyn Nets GM Sean Marks Sees Squad Going in Right Direction
Nets stand pat at trade deadline with four players headed for All-Star Weekend
The NBA's trade deadline is past and All-Star Weekend is coming. The Brooklyn Nets will be much more active at the latter than they were at the former. That says a lot about the state of the Nets as general manager Sean Marks met with the media before Friday evening's game against the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center.
Marks picked up a future second round pick in a deal with the Toronto Raptors shortly before Thursday's deadline. Meanwhile, D'Angelo Russell, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs are bound for Charlotte next weekend to participate in the 2019 All-Star Game and its ancillary events.
"We're headed in the right direction," said Marks. "I'll copy Kenny (Atkinson) here where he says, 'we've got a long way to go. We're still grinding. We haven't achieved anything yet.' And I think that's the mentality we're all going to continue to have. Our players have that, the staff has that. Our guys have a chip on their shoulders. I think people enjoy maybe proving people wrong. I like the trajectory. Obviously we all do. But I think we're humble and we realize that these things change pretty quickly and we've got to stay focused and driven."
The positive direction for the franchise is in evidence with the 29-28 record -- one more win than the Nets registered all of last season -- and the contingent headed for Charlotte. Russell, acquired by Marks in 2015, is headed to the All-Star game in his fourth pro season, becoming Brooklyn's first All-Star of the Marks regime.
"It’s a combination of him really capitalizing on the moment when, unfortunately, Caris (LeVert) goes out," said Marks. "This is a great opportunity for others to step up and I think the team as a whole has really stepped up. There’s a belief that they believe they can win games. I think that’s terrific. That’s contagious. DLo is one of those leaders out there. What he’s done, his habits on and off the court have put him in a place now to have the success, and he’s well-deserving of it."
Russell will be joined in Charlotte by Harris, competing in the Saturday night Three-Point Contest, and Allen and Kurucs playing in Friday night's Rising Stars game. Marks and his staff have built an impressive draft record, selecting Caris LeVert at No. 20 in 2016 and a 19-year-old Allen at No. 22 in 2017.
With Kurucs in the second round at No. 40 last June, Marks nabbed a player drawing accolades as one of the steals of the draft. Like Allen, he's moved into the starting lineup as a rookie, and the two will face off in the United States vs. World format of the Rising Stars game for first- and second-year players.
“Obviously pleasantly surprised, yeah; it's terrific," said Marks of Kurucs. "He’s another guy that’s capitalized on the opportunity, the opportunity with a couple guys being hurt at that particular position. Rodi’s come out there and that’s the only way he knows how to play, for better or worse. So he’s out there, he plays with a great intensity, a great pace about him, it's obvious he has a nose for the ball. So it's been great. we know he has a long way to go and I think he’ll be the first person to admit that he’s just kinda scratching the surface of where he could be.”
Marks spoke shortly before LeVert saw his first game action in just about three months. The third-year pro was off to a sizzling start, leading the Nets with 18.4 points per game and notching a pair of game-winners over the season's first four weeks.
But he suffered a dislocated foot on a drive to the basket in Minnesota on Nov. 12. The Nets received news the next day that the injury was not as severe as it initially looked and no surgery was required. There was still an arduous rehab process for LeVert before he could return to the court.
"The way he attacked his rehab was phenomenal and a lot of credit to the performance team and (assistant coach) Jacque Vaughn specifically who was really with him through this whole thing," said Marks. "The performance team did an amazing job and honestly, it was led by Caris. That's terrific. We're obviously ecstatic to have him back on the court, in the mix and participating and we'll just keep bringing him along as it comes."
LeVert's return followed Allen Crabbe by one game, and the Nets will also be getting back Spencer Dinwiddie after he recovers from surgery on his thumb. One of the remarkable aspects of the Nets' growth this season -- particularly the 21-10 record since Dec. 7 -- is that they have rarely been whole.
That should change before the end of the season. While no players were added to the roster before the trade deadline, the Nets are able to work Crabbe and LeVert back to the mix -- with Dinwiddie on the horizon.
"As it pertains to our particular trade deadline, maybe one of the biggest things was getting guys back healthy," said Marks. "That might have been the biggest addition to our group without trying to cause too much disruption to the culture and to the group. Let’s see what we’ve got first and foremost."
Thursday's maneuverings did leave the Nets with an open roster spot. They released Mitch Creek from his 10-day contract in order to take on Greg Monroe from the Raptors, but quickly waived Monroe. So they have the flexibility to add a player if they see an attractive fit surface on the post-buyout market.
"We’ll try and be as strategic as possible," said Marks. "I think it’s going to take a little bit of time. We’ll see how the new guys get back into the fold, get their minutes, see how all that transpires, and then, we’ll see how we use it."
After that, Marks knows things will be fluid as the Nets approach the summer with a significant amount of cap space and several players who will be restricted or unrestricted free agents. The Nets are in the process of a significant leap from the 20 wins from Marks and Atkinson's first season. The next step will be determined by the moves that are made after the close of the season.
"The players have decisions to make, we have decisions to make," said Marks. "So, it’s going to be an interesting three months, but I give our players a heck of a lot of credit for how they’ve handled over half of the season. It’s really been led by them. They took the reins of this thing and they’ve been pushing and believing. I think you guys have commented on the camaraderie they’ve shown on the bench. It’s been terrific. Again, it’s contagious. When guys have a belief – and it hasn’t come from Kenny or I or anybody else having to sit down with them and say this is the trajectory of the team – it’s been led by the players."
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