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Sean Marks & Kenny Atkinson Exit Interview: Three Takeaways

Nets GM and coach met with the media to close out 2018-19 season

After inheriting a 21-win team, Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson have guided a turnaround to 42 wins and a return to the playoffs in their third season. Two days after the 2018-19 season ended, they closed out the year with a media session at HSS Training Center.

Here were three prime topics from the session:

THE FREE AGENT MARKET

The Nets have the potential for significant cap space this summer with veteran contracts coming off the books. They’re counting on being an attractive destination for free agents following the trip to the playoffs.

“Well, I think the process that we went through this year -- and again, there’s a lot of positives that have come out of this year – can only help,” said Marks. “Again, it goes back to really establishing an identity and establishing that we’re going to go out there every night and our guys are going to compete. Kenny and the staff have got them playing at a high level, competing, they’re never out of games. It’s going to attract free agents. People are going to want to play here. They’re going to want to play for Kenny. They’re going to want to play in Brooklyn. They’re going to play for this ownership group. And I think we have a lot of things going for us.”

The other element of the equation is how the Nets choose to approach current players who are eligible for free agency.

“Again, without obviously naming players and so forth, I think it’s the part of free agency is continuing to keep your own, continue to develop your own,” said Marks. “And the other part is how can you continue to add pieces that fit with what you already have, fit with your style, fit with your – honestly almost where your team is in your little life-cycle here. Can we take a couple steps forward? And if that’s the case, and if the right talent wants to be here and they fit with what we’re trying to do, and you mentioned before the age factor, there’s a lot of factors that go into that. So I think Kenny and I both think we’re going to be in search of a lot of things for as long as we’re here.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR D'ANGELO RUSSELL?

Named or not, guard D’Angelo Russell is on course to be a restricted free agent. In his fourth season — second in Brooklyn — Russell blossomed into an All-Star while leading the Nets in points (21.1), assists (7.0), steals (1.2) and 3-point field goals made (234) while starting all 81 games he played and averaging a career-high 30.2 minutes per game.

“He’s obviously one of our more talented players,” said Marks. “You said we’ll have decisions. D’Angelo is going to have decisions, too. That is a little bit of the nature of this business. But at the end of the day, our job is to continue to put talent on the floor for Brooklyn.”

In his own interview Wednesday, Russell referenced that this is the organization he knows, and he wants to return. Other teams are unfamiliar ground. That shared history, Marks suggested, carries more weight than any pitches or conversations that will take place over the next few months.

“I think the conversations that have taken place are over the entire time that he’s been here,” said Marks. “And those conversations are between he and Kenny, they’re between myself and D’Angelo, they’re between the doctors and the performance team, the staff. And it’s really about a holistic view about how we care for our guys. and I would think I could put D’Angelo and the rest of our guys, lump them all together; l think they know how we appreciate them, how we care for them, how we want to develop them. And that’s part of the restricted free agent pitch, if you will, for him. It’s not going to happen in one day or one hour or a 15-minute conversation. This is something that’s happened for 18 months or two years or however long these guys are here. I think D’Angelo knows how we feel about him.”

FRONTCOURT SIZE

Last summer, the Nets made a concentrated effort to address issues in interior defense and rebounding, primarily with the addition of veteran center Ed Davis. Davis played 81 games and led the Nets in rebounding with 8.6 per game while putting up the best rebounding rates of his career in terms of percentages and minutes, teaming with second-year center Jarrett Allen to give the Nets a consistency at the position that was missing the year before.

But the Nets also played pretty regularly with smaller options at the power forward spot with Jared Dudley, Treveon Graham and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, none of them taller than 6-foot-7, before 6-foot-9 rookie Rodions Kurucs moved into the starting lineup later in the season.

But Davis is a free agent and both Allen and Kurucs have some maturing to do in putting on muscle and bulk, leading to queries about whether the Nets would be targeting those traits in potential offseason acquisitions to deal with more physical opposing centers.

“I would say this year I was pleased,” said Atkinson. “Obviously Jarrett is a young guy and we all understand that and still gaining strength and we expect him as the years go on to be more resistant to those type of players and then we had Ed Davis as our backup who I was thrilled with and was a great system fit, so I think we have to be careful with the rebounding thing, the size thing because I think, especially the rebound thing, it’s not just the center position, it’s all around the roster. You have to rebound at all positions in today’s game. Quite honestly, when you look at the playoffs last night I see a lot of 6-7 guys running around out there. So we also have to understand where the NBA’s going but I liked our roster this year and I was pleased with the size we had so it’s not necessarily a target for us just getting one big guy.”

Allen improved across the board, including not just the obvious numbers of points and rebounds but assists and screen assists. Dudley described Allen as a key for the franchise both after the Game 5 loss in Philadelphia on Tuesday and in Wednesday’s exit interviews.

“I agree with Jared (Dudley). I think it’s one of our priorities this off-season,” said Atkinson. “Keep him on an improving plane. I was really impressed with how he improved during the playoffs alone from Game 1 to Game 5 and how he just kept getting better. His rebounding improved this year but he’s a key cog and still 21. I think in our exit meetings yesterday we talked to him about the things he wanted to work on. I expect him to listen, and in two-three years, to be an elite center in this league. He’s going in that direction. I’m really thrilled with his development so far.”

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