With most of the offseason business completed — “Maybe it's 90% complete, 99% complete,” said Sean Marks — the Brooklyn Nets general manager addressed a slew of acquisitions and looked ahead to the 2021-22 season in a media session on Wednesday afternoon.
The upcoming season brings significant expectations after a wild 2020-21 season that featured the blockbuster trade that put James Harden alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, with the Nets going on to post the highest winning percentage in franchise history and the highest offensive rating in NBA history. With Irving and Harden injured in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Brooklyn’s season ended in overtime of Game 7 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Returning guard Bruce Brown said on Monday that the team had unfinished business, and Marks acknowledged that vibe runs throughout the organization.
“Without a doubt. A hundred percent. We talk about it a lot,” said Marks. “We acknowledge it. We have honest conversations about it. It’s really important not to shy away from that. Let’s call it what it is. We all know what our aspirations here are, what we’re gunning for, what the goal here at the end of it is. And to have a group of 15 guys that are in alignment and there’s really, hopefully, nothing that’s going to stand in our way – there’s no individual pressures and so forth – this is about a team of not only players but the staff that are all pushing in the same direction for that ultimate goal. We know there’s unfinished business here, and we hope that we can get there. That’s certainly the plan.”
Here are five key topics Marks addressed:
ON KEVIN DURANT’S CONTRACT EXTENSION
The Nets announced on Sunday that Kevin Durant had agreed to a multi-year contract extension. Durant, the leading scorer in points per game average among active NBA players, averaged 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 5.6 assists while shooting career-high percentages of 53.7 percent overall and 45.0 percent from 3-point range in his first season on the court for Brooklyn.
James Harden and Kyrie Irving are also eligible for extensions, and Marks spoke confidently that they would be joining Durant in doing so.
“They’re all individuals in regards to what they're looking for in the future and their timing for this,” said Marks. “I think we have definitely had conversations with all three of them. Kevin was honestly extremely straightforward, and very upfront about ‘I want to be here, this is it, get it done, and I want to get it done immediately.’ And I don't blame him. Again, he's coming off a gold medal and wanting to really focus on — first and foremost — probably recovery and getting himself ready for the season, which will take a little bit. So I think from him, from peace of mind standpoint, just putting that aside. And it was obviously very important for us. I can't tell you how important it was, and this is franchise-changing when you can lock a person like Kevin up and he wants to commit to being here for the foreseeable future.
“And as it pertains to Ky and James, we're having those conversations with them. And I think there's no immediate hurry to get any of these guys done in terms of the first day of free agency. These are opportunities for us to sit down, break bread together, meet with Joe Tsai and really get on the same page. But I feel very confident that first day of training camp we'll be looking at those three in particular, being signed, sealed, delivered and being a part of the Brooklyn Nets for a long time to come.”
Both Harden and Irving are coming back from injuries that sidelined them for multiple games during the Milwaukee series.
“I've seen both of the guys over the last week,” said Marks. “Seen James working out, I've seen some videos of him and he's really trending in the right direction. Looks great, has really devoted himself this summer to rehabbing one the hamstring and just getting himself into top basketball shape. So that's really exciting for us to see James and I was with Kyrie yesterday and Kyrie, very positive spurts. It was a bad ankle sprain, there's no question there, so that set him back, but he's recovering and he's progressing well and is back in the gym and I have no doubt by the time training camp rolls around and even prior to that the guys will be together and be live on the court together playing and working out. But from a health standpoint no reason to be concerned about either one.”
ON CAM THOMAS, DAY’RON SHARPE, AND DRAFT CLASS
With the NBA Summer League underway in Las Vegas, Cam Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe got their first taste of professional action on Monday. The two first-round picks are part of a hefty draft class that also includes second-rounders Kessler Edwards, Marcus Zegarowski, and RaiQuan Gray.
Thomas debuted with a team-high 19 points — 10 in the fourth quarter — while Sharpe had eight rebounds in 15 minutes.
“Very positive with both our young guys who got to play in their first games,” said Marks. “And I’m so excited to see the rest of the young guys play in the upcoming week here. There’s always an adjustment when a guy hasn’t played basketball really in five or six months since the end of their college season, and this season was quite unlike anything else where in some cases … they didn’t have full seasons and the draft process and the workouts were spread out. And we’re dealing with free agency and Summer League a month on down the road here, so it’s certainly been a while since those guys have played organized ball outside of draft workouts, but we’re very positive in what we saw specifically from Cam and Day’Ron in Day 1, and as they continue to get in shape and get acclimatized to the system we’re creating, we’re very positive and bullish on this next week for those guys.”
ON BROOKLYN’S TURNAROUD AND CONTENDER STATUS
As the Nets approach the 2021-22 season, their roster includes four of the top 13 active leaders in scoring average with Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Blake Griffin. They’re widely considered among the favorites to win the NBA championship. It’s a long distance from the 21-win team that Marks inherited when he took over basketball operations in February 2016.
“It’s not like I wake up and pinch myself and say, ‘Wow look how far we've come,’ because I think we realize it looks a certain way on paper but we really haven't done anything yet,” said Marks. “So we have to remind ourselves there's a long, long road ahead and there's a lot of great teams that we need to try and get by. It doesn't mean our aspirations aren't ones with championships. That's the plan here without a doubt. We wouldn't be signing the players we are and Joe Tsai wouldn't have given us the support to go out and spend financially not only on the roster but in terms of — whether its arenas or practice facilities and everything else if we didn't have these aspirations to win a championship. But we have to be realistic about this. There's a certain amount of luck that's involved without a doubt, but I think you prepare for that as much as you can. And I think our job right now is preparing; whether that's tweaking the roster or the guys individually making sure they're in the best possible shape they can be and doing everything they can this offseason because they know what's at stake here. Doesn't take away from our goals but at the same time I don't look back and say look how far we've come because I realize we have a long road to go yet.”
ON BUILDING AROUND THE BIG THREE
The depth of high-end talent that the Nets have in Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving, along with their broad skillsets beyond scoring, gives Marks flexibility in how he constructs the roster around them. He also said he values their input on the roster. So far this offseason the Nets have added four NBA veterans via free agency or trade in addition to their rookie draft picks.
“Those three are incredibly talented without a doubt,” said Marks. “We’re very fortunate to have those guys on the roster and also participating in — and we talk about this a lot — participating in the roster build. There’s no surprises for them. They knew what we were doing as we go through the first three, four, five days of free agency. And it’s not just those guys. We involve a lot of the players in these decisions because with their up-close and personal playing against these guys, who am I to tell them who can’t play and who’s better? I’ve gotta take their opinions and I enjoy those conversations, honest conversations. We don’t always agree, but at the same time, I think it’s great to have those conversations.”
ON NIC CLAXTON
Nic Claxton played a significant role in shoring up a center position that was fluid throughout the season. After returning from knee tendinopathy to make his season debut on Feb. 23, Claxton gave the Nets rim protection and exceptional perimeter defense while averaging 6.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 18.6 minutes per game, appearing in 32 games. The 22-year-old has played in 47 games over his first two NBA seasons but is not with the Summer League squad in Las Vegas.
“Nic has been in the gym very consistently this offseason working with our coaches,” said Marks. “He’s obviously not on the Summer League roster. We felt, not only from Nic’s side but from an organizational standpoint, there were some things that maybe he needed to focus on and he could do that better on an individual basis working out with coaches. He’s doing that in Brooklyn. We’ve been very pleasantly surprised with where he’s coming. He knows he’s got a long way to go. I think for him to get consistent minutes and to play at the level where not only he’s expecting him to play but the organization is he’s got to put the time in and put a lot of work in and so far we’ve seen that. This is under six weeks to get to training camp so plenty of time. He has all the intangibles. You guys have talked about the athleticism and his tenacity to attack the rim and his ability to put the ball on the floor. Can he do those things at a high level? Can he expand his game? Is he working on his shooting ability? Can he stretch the floor? Can he hit corner threes? Ultimately, he’s gonna have to stay healthy. In order for him to really take advantage of all those things he’s gotta be out on the court and help us predominantly on the defensive end.”