Spencer Dinwiddie never hid his intentions, or hopes.
"I would love to have an extension," said the third-year Nets guard back on Nov. 29. "I would love to be here for a long time."
Five days after he became eligible for such an extension on the two-year anniversary of his initial signing, Dinwiddie and the Nets made their deal, with a three-year agreement that could keep Dinwiddie in Brooklyn through the 2021-22 season, with the final year being a player option.
"It goes back to trying to keep one of our own guys here," said Nets general manager Sean Marks. "Again, I give Spencer a lot of credit. He had to make that decision as well. Again, for him to say, ‘Hey, look, I don’t want to hit free agency. I’d like to be here. I want to be part of what everybody is building in Brooklyn.’ It starts with the players."
It was the second time in less than six months the Nets had locked up one of their own players on a new deal. Like Dinwiddie, Joe Harris was out of the NBA when he got an opportunity in Brooklyn. Like Dinwiddie, he rebuilt his career to the point where substantial possibilities loomed in free agency. Like Dinwiddie, he was outspoken in advance of his pending free agency that this was the place he wanted to be.
"My hope and what I’ve expressed to everyone is that I’ve enjoyed being here," said Harris at last April's exit interviews. "I love being in Brooklyn. I like being a part of this organization. I think they’re about the right stuff. I don’t really envision myself being anywhere else.”
It's one thing to want to come back. It's another to put it out there so publicly in a way that a lot of agents might have been grabbing their guy by the sleeve and saying, 'Dude, you're giving away all our leverage here,' or pushing them to test the open market more aggressively.
Maybe that little extra transparency says a lot, about the players and about the program they're a part of.
"They never wavered," said coach Kenny Atkinson. "They said 'we want to be here.' I'm not sure with other teams, how it works with other guys, but they've been vociferous, they've been adamant that they wanted to be here. Even though the negotiations, I'm sure there was doubt, and you throw the money into it and all that, but the fact that they made that statement early and kept with it, that means a lot, a lot to Sean, a lot to me, a lot to the organization."
"I think it means the world," said Marks. "And not just to me. There's a heck of a lot of people here that are putting a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears into building this thing. Obviously the coaching staff, we've talked before about the performance staff, but ultimately it's about the players. And when they're sitting here, and their actions speak a lot louder than words sometimes, and for instance Spencer saying, 'I want to be here, I want to be part of something,' and that's great. That's terrific."
From the start, Marks has preached "culture" since arriving from San Antonio to take over Brooklyn's basketball operations in February 2016. On its own the word can mean a lot of different things, or be so vague as to mean nothing.
In Brooklyn, it's meant a full commitment to players both on and off the court. Personal touches in the locker room and personalized treatment for families. A continuing investment in facilities and staff to maximize players' potential.
"This is definitely one of the most comprehensive player development programs I've been a part of," said Dinwiddie. "Obviously physically, whether it be athleticism-wise or skillset on the court has expanded thanks to Kenny (Atkinson), Adam (Harrington), performance staff. Just being here and being able to actually get minutes, get reps, I've adapted even better to the NBA game than in previous seasons because I've actually been able to play. And obviously there's been growth as a human being and as a man, just in terms of years in life. It's been a great situation for me."
"This is a place where we got an opportunity first and foremost," said Harris. "So obviously when you're looking at it I guess that there is some sort of sentimental value in the fact that this is where we had an opportunity to play, opportunity to grow, to learn, learning through our mistakes and really develop as players.
"And then also, our experience being here, we know that this is a top-notch organization just in the way they conduct themselves, the way they handle the players, the way everyone treats one another, the people that they bring around. We don't have any bad people in the organization, top to bottom. Everyone who comes in here gets along with each other. It's a good environment just to go and work every day. I think ultimately that's the reason why I wanted to come back."
Brooklyn's efforts in scouting and player development have been rewarded with Dinwiddie and Harris. A college knee injury sent Dinwiddie's path to the NBA off track and dropped him to the second round in 2014. The Nets signed him out of the G League after he was traded by Detroit and cut by Chicago. He's elevated his game each season in Brooklyn, becoming a finalist for the Most Improved Player award last season and looking like a strong candidate so far for Sixth Man of the Year with his 17.2 point per game scoring average.
Harris, selected just five spots ahead of Dinwiddie in that same 2014 NBA Draft, was traded by Cleveland midway through his second season and quickly waived by Orlando. He lifted his 3-point percentage over 40 percent last season while adding an efficient driving game. This season, he's a top 10 NBA 3-point shooter with a 45.5 percent mark and he's started all 28 games he's played.
With the opportunity they found in Brooklyn, both players feel like they got in at the start of something good. And they want to see it through.
"I think it was ground zero," said Dinwiddie. "I think we're maybe in the infant stages and this summer will dictate a lot in terms of how quick the upward trajectory is. But it's something that obviously me and Joe want to be a part of, it's something a lot of those guys in the locker room want to be a part of. And that's what we're excited about. We really believe in the talent we have, and we really believe in the direction going forward." "You realize that you are part of this foundation for an organization and what they're trying to build off of," said Harris. "Obviously we're in a completely different spot than we were last year, and especially two years ago. You can really feel this thing moving, the momentum moving and going in the right direction. You want to be a part of that momentum and you can see it and you can feel it. You just want to grow with it."