The Brooklyn Nets are coming off one of their best season in the last five years. Now they have the opportunity to become even better.
After reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2015, the Nets have become one of the most talked about teams this summer, recently acquiring two of the best players in the league: Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. While other teams, such as the Lakers and Knicks, took a step back last season in order to prepare to create a title contending team this summer, the Nets were able to maintain a competitive presence on the court while prepping for this year’s class of free agents. How were they able to do it?
When Sean Marks was hired as the team’s General Manager in 2016, the franchise’s future looked bleak. The previous General Manager, Billy King, had traded away many of the team’s assets in order to acquire aging veterans such as Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson in order to win right away. Of course, that plan completely backfired, with the Nets only winning one playoff series during King’s tenure.
Normally when teams struggle on the court, they are rewarded with high draft picks that often produce very good players. Unfortunately for the Nets, this strategy would not work, as during King’s reign, the team had traded away 11 first-round picks that stretched from 2011 all the way to 2018.
Marks took over midway through the 2015-16 season after King’s departure, but there was little he could do from preventing the Nets from finishing the season in the cellar of the Eastern Conference. Furthermore, Marks couldn’t do much during the offseason, as the team’s books were filled with inflated contracts and the only draft pick the team controlled was deep into the second round.
However, Marks made the most of what he could control, trading away the expensive contract of Thaddeus Young to the Pacers in exchange for first-round selection Caris LeVert and a future pick, officially beginning a rebuild and attempting to gain back the assets that King had lost.
Marks knew it would be impossible for the team to be successful in the short term, so he used the 2016-17 season to acquire a collection of cheap young players on multiyear deals and reacquire draft picks. During the season, Marks signed future team staples Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie, and a midseason trade gave the Nets a 2017 first-round pick that would become Jarrett Allen.
Finally having something to work with, Marks was ready to make his first big move during the 2017 NBA Draft. Equipped with two late first-round picks, Marks decided to keep Allen with the 22nd pick, but he elected to put the team’s 27th overall pick on the trading block. In a bold move, Marks decided to ship franchise stalwart Brook Lopez along with the 27th pick, Kyle Kuzma, to the Lakers for Timofey Mozgov and D’Angelo Russell.
On the surface, this trade seemed like a questionable move for the Nets. They were trading away the franchise’s all-time leading scorer and a promising draft pick for an average center with an extremely bloated contract and an unproven, injury-prone guard.
However, Marks had faith and a plan. Before Marks’s tenure, the franchise went through six coaches in seven years, but Marks was determined to end this coaching carousel. One of his first moves as General Manager was hiring former Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson as the team’s head coach. While Atkinson didn’t have initial success, Marks had faith in his hire, and Atkinson still remains in charge of the team today.
Marks would trust Atkinson to develop players like Russell on the court, while he handled the financials off of it. In his first season with the team, Russell looked strong right out of the gate. Unfortunately, he was sidelined for months after receiving arthroscopic surgery in October, but he came back even better than before after returning to action in late January. While the team finished the season with only 28 wins, it was a clear improvement on the team’s previous seasons, and their future looked promising.
Along with Russell, the rest of the team had started to come into their own. Spencer Dinwiddie was a finalist for the Most Improved Player award, while fellow Marks acquisitions Joe Harris and Caris LaVert took big steps forward in their second year with the team. In addition, Marks was able to sign former UConn star Shabazz Napier, giving the team an energetic option off of the bench for the next season.
While Marks was preparing a solid short-term team during the last offseason, he also kept an eye on the future. In the midst of preparing his team for the 2018-19 season, Marks also made moves that would allow the Nets to go after many of the high profile free agents available this offseason. By trading away Mozgov’s massive contract and making a series of smaller moves, Marks cleared enough cap space for two max players to join the team.
Even while looking towards the future, the Nets were able to have a successful 2018-19 season. Under Atkinson’s system, a fully healthy D’Angelo Russell thrived, having a career year and earning his first All-Star appearance. Led by their star guard, the Nets put up a winning record, reaching the playoffs for the first time since Marks arrived.
Now, the Nets are title contenders, if not favorites. Marks worked his magic once again, luring Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and DeAndre Jordan to Brooklyn to join a promising roster. Just years after inheriting one of the worst situations in the league, Marks now has a squad that has a realistic shot of winning the franchise’s first ever NBA title, and while the superstars may get all the attention, none of this would’ve been possible without Marks’s magic.