After a 21-win season to wrap up the 2016 NBA season and a 20-win season the following year, it looked as though the losing would never stop for the Brooklyn Nets. With no extraordinary young talent on the roster and no draft picks in the foreseeable future, how were general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson supposed to build a title contender?
Fast-forward two years, and that is exactly where the Brooklyn Nets stand: a title-contender. Now home to two of the best players in the league in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Nets became something out of nothing. Sean Marks won the 2019 NBA offseason.
I could cite just one reason for this statement and be done there, and his name is Kevin Durant. When you sign the most unstoppable player in the league today, you win the offseason. But while Brooklyn Nets fans rejoiced when Kevin Durant announced his decision to join the team, the ten-time All Star was in rehabilitation, working to get back to the level he was at before he ruptured his right Achilles tendon.
Durant will not play next season, a shame, as NBA fans will have to wait a year to witness the all-time great showcase his talent on his new team. But the two-time Finals MVP will be back, pulling up from thirty feet or splashing contested turn-around fadeaways. He will still be able to use his unaffected left foot to gain the first step on opponents, and with his work ethic, he will stop at nothing to get his right ankle up to speed and make the Nets a favorite to win the title in the 2020 NBA season.
It doesn’t just stop at Kevin Durant, however. Sean Marks knew that a serious title contender isn’t made up of just one star; Durant needed a co-star. With their second max contract slot, the Nets managed to add Kyrie Irving to pair with Durant, a dream scenario originally meant for the New York Knicks yet transpired five miles away in Brooklyn.
Irving is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro, statistically. Without Durant, Irving will take D’Angelo Russell’s role in the offense, with the ball in his hands a ton. Atkinson loved going to the pick and roll continuously last year, so expect Irving to see an uptick in these opportunities as the ball-handler. There will be a lot of similarities between the Russell-led Nets and the Irving-led Nets.
As one of the few players on the roster with playoff experience, the six-time All-Star will have to be a better leader than he was in past years for this young Nets core. If he can play and lead at a high level, the Brooklyn Nets will be successful, even without Durant.
Marks also added some solid pieces to fit around his star players. Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler, and Garrett Temple bring size and versatility to the team, with the ability to knock down an open three and lock in defensively. The front office also took a flyer on David Nwaba, a solid young piece who specializes on the defensive end of the floor.
Additionally, the Nets convinced Irving and and Durant to take less than the max to bring in their friend DeAndre Jordan on a four year, $40 million deal. Jordan is past his prime and isn’t the active force on the defensive end as he once was in his Clipper days, but he can still prove effective in the pick and roll game with Kyrie Irving, Caris Levert, or Spencer Dinwiddie, setting solid screens and rolling to the rim. 21-year old Jarrett Allen should still take the starting spot over Jordan, however.
Sean Marks became one of the contenders for the Executive of the Year award, but this was not a fluke. This offseason was the product of years of stressing the importance of culture. Marks and Atkinson took the 20-win team to a 42-win season by changing their play style, developing the young players over time, and voicing their enthusiasm with the team, creating a culture that would attract big-name free agents like Durant and Irving.
Now, the lowly Brooklyn Nets, seen as a joke of an NBA franchise just a few years ago, are poised for a long playoff run over the next couple of years, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving leading the way.
Sean Marks is a genius.