Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson Break Down Brooklyn Nets Big Deals
GM and coach meet the media at NBA Summer League
LAS VEGAS — From the first trade reports to the social media posts to the official announcements, the Brooklyn Nets roster has been transformed in an unprecedented way going into the 2019-20 season.
Three players with All-NBA resumes — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan — are bound for Brooklyn. They’ll be joined by Taurean Prince, Garrett Temple and Wilson Chandler in reshaping the team.
Tuesday afternoon, general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson met with the media at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center to discuss the changes for the first time.
“We’ve talked about how this is really a players’ league, it’s become that,” said Marks. “At times it’s about taking advantage of that and using it to your benefit. Those three guys, or two guys, you’ve seen it all the time, go on and pair off with different franchises. With this particular opportunity they wanted to play in Brooklyn.”
Here are five takeaways from Marks and Atkinson’s session:
It was not an enviable situation that Marks and Atkinson inherited. Marks was hired in the midst of a 21-win season and Atkinson hired shortly after. From the beginning they preached culture, which can easily be interpreted how players interact, but is equally about the foundation that supports them and the way they’re treated by coaches and the front office.
They poured resources into support staff and facilities at every level of the organization and went from 20 wins in Atkinson’s first season to 42 and the playoffs in year three.
The way they did it — their playing style, their enthusiasm, their commitment — changed the perception of the franchise around the league. Two months after the season ended in the first round against Philadelphia, two of the world’s best basketball players committed to Brooklyn.
“Quite honestly, it did surprise me,” said Atkinson. “Obviously we improved a lot last year but it wasn’t a so-called star system. It was a group of guys that play really well together. I think it gives more credit to the guys that are coming here that say I like that style of play, I like the way they play. I think they want to participate in something like that. Yeah, it surprises me just because we’ve come a long way in a short time. That’s the biggest surprise. And it happened quicker. I know Sean was strategizing and thinking big picture. I was kind of focused more on the day to day. It was a surprise they chose to participate in this type of system that we’re running.”
The new additions add up to significant turnover, half of the current 14-man roster when you include rookie Nic Claxton. But players who played their own part in defining a new era for the franchise — Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen — served as ambassadors, and a bridge to the next stage for the franchise.
“The biggest credit goes to our returning players, the Joe Harrises, Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert. I think at the end of the day, all the free agents, that’s Garrett Temple and DeAndre, they looked at it and said those are guys we want to play with,” said Atkinson. “You know how this league works. It’s very special among the players – and Sean knows from being a player – it’s a very small circle. I think information bounces back between players. I think our returning players and our guys from last year and even the year before, they deserve most of the credit for all those guys wanting to come here and play.”
IT’S A PLAYERS LEAGUE
Marks and Atkinson have spoken often about how they prefer the culture in the Brooklyn locker room to be player-led. Increasingly around the NBA, particularly with the elite players, that’s how team-building and player movement is being driven as well.
In this case, Marks said, Durant’s social media post announcing he was bound for Brooklyn came before the organization even knew if they would be able to meet with him on the evening of Sunday, June 30 at the first opportunity.
‘You’ve got the Instagram post that The Boardroom put out, he put out, saying he’s made his decision,” said Marks. “Then there was a little bit of nervous anticipation of, OK, is he coming in, are we going to get a meeting tonight, is it a teleconference, how that goes.”
He got the player before he got the meeting, but that came later that evening.
“He came in that night,” said Marks. “We ended up having an in-person meeting. He came over to the facility. That’s been talked about a little bit before. Again, I don’t know if it was that much of a pitch. It was more along the lines of…Kenny talked about how he wants to use him and how he would play and the style of play and so forth. We both discussed the culture, we both discussed the makeup of the team and so forth. I think it was pretty evident in terms of his excitement and the look on his face and the expressions that he had come to a decision pretty quickly.”
IT’S KYRIE’S BALL
Atkinson was succinct when asked about the plan for Irving.
“Give him the ball,” said the Nets coach.
Atkinson’s track record in working with guards and playmakers, from Jeremy Lin, Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder to Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and D’Angelo Russell, is well-established. In the 27-year-old Irving, a two-time All-NBA selection and NBA champion, he’ll be opening a relationship with a player with a far more established resume at the starting point.
“I’m definitely starting to do my homework on him,” said Atkinson. “It’s still recent. I think the challenge is to get the best Kyrie. I want him to have his best season ever and continue that improvement and that’s tough because he played well last year. I know there’s a lot of talk out there, but you look at his numbers and I think the way he played really well. Definitely going to challenge him to keep improving. We play a system I don’t imagine changing a ton. You’ll have to ask him that. I think that’s part of the reason he was interested in coming here our style of play. I think we’ll come to a meeting of minds between me and him and how that works within the group.”
CENTER WILL BE SORTED OUT
Call him the surprise, call him the bonus addition, but DeAndre Jordan gives the Nets a third addition with an All-NBA resume. Unlike the additions of Irving, and eventually Durant, the Nets have an established starter who’s a centerpiece of their young core at Jordan’s position.
While Jordan has started every game he’s played since the beginning of the 2011-12 season, Allen has started all 111 games he’s played since taking over the starting spot in the middle of his rookie season, missing just three games in that time.
“I’m excited about the pairing,” said Atkinson. “Jarrett and DeAndre and DeAndre being able to push Jarrett and Jarrett being able to push DeAndre. DeAndre, two years ago, he was an elite, elite center in this league. That’s where I want him to get back to. We really want to push him to his previous level. I think Jarrett will help him do that. As far as starting, not starting, Jarrett Allen said, ‘hey I want to be the starter,’ which I love. It’s great. I think we embrace the competition. I think that’ll play out. I do think it helps us matchup-wise. If Joel Embiid maybe JA gets two quick fouls or something we do have a heck of a player to support him and potentially starting different guys too. I think that’s possible. I think it’s a great tandem to have.”
Jordan was the All-NBA First Team center in 2015-16 and a Third Team selection 2014-15 and 2016-17. He was also named to the All-Defensive First Team in 2014-15 and 2015-16. After playing his first 10 seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, Jordan signed with the Dallas Mavericks before last season and was traded to the New York Knicks during the year.
“We have to figure that out,” said Atkinson about maximizing the soon-to-be 31-year-old. “Watch film from his really good years, see how we can utilize him best, and listen I think there’s different types of motivation, right? I don’t know what it looked like for him from a motivation standpoint. I do think with the talent we brought in. I do think there will be a heightened sense of motivation on his part. And obviously a nice long-term deal too, that always helps I think with player performance. We’re going to find that key to get him back to that elite level.”
NO TIMETABLE ON DURANT
When Durant injured his Achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, it threw a twist into the plans for teams that eyed him as the centerpiece of their free agency plans.
“At that moment, I got to be honest as a basketball fan, I’m watching the games and to see anybody go down and get hurt, saw the same happen to Klay, that’s devastating,” said Marks. “For it to happen in that moment, at that time, irrespective of free agency, obviously I’d be lying if I said, oh, it didn’t bother us at all or we weren’t at all taken. Then we had to dig in and say, okay, what does that look like, how does that work with our franchise, how does that fit with the dynamic.”
“We were texting right away,” said Atkinson. “Jeez. This could change things. Took a couple of deep breaths, obviously got more information, to make a decision easier.”
Durant’s surgery was performed by Nets team doctor Dr. Martin O’Malley, who previously operated on the player’s foot in 2015. Marks said a full evaluation of Durant’s condition was conducted Monday and a program is in place going forward, but the team is not setting any timelines.
“He will be evaluated with the performance team and so forth,” said Marks. “I think a timeline will be given in due time, but as of now, we’re certainly not going to comment on when or if and make any sort of hypotheticals. It’s too early.”
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