NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 19: Newly hired Brooklyn Nets General Manager Sean Marks answers questions during a press conference before the game between the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks at Barclays Center on February 19, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
One would be hard pressed to find an NBA franchise that has suffered more setbacks in recent history than the Brooklyn Nets. The majority of the blame, of course, lies with the team’s former general manager, Billy King; under his ill-advised tenure, the Nets gave away eleven first-round picks in exchange for a number of washed-up big-name stars. The results were predictably disastrous – after reaching their only conference semifinals in 2014, the Nets quickly burned out and plummeted to the bottom of the Eastern Conference. It was high time for a change in New York City, and it came in the form of a man with an impeccable reputation around the league – the former San Antonio Spurs assistant general manager, Sean Marks.
Following his move to the United States in 1992, the New Zealand native joined the University of California, where he played for four years and served as the team’s captain during his senior season. Unlike most other college players about to hit it big, Marks decided not to forgo his studies; when he left the University in 1998, he left with a degree in political science. While he was drafted in the second round of the 1998 NBA draft, Marks did not see much playing time in his two seasons with the Toronto Raptors that followed. After an unsuccessful ten day tryout with the Seattle Supersonics, he played out the 2000-01 season in Śląsk Wrocław of Poland. That could have easily been the end of his NBA journey; however, Marks was never one to give up that easily.
Having impressed Pat Riley, Marks signed with the Miami Heat in 2001, where he spent the next two seasons. After a knee injury caused him to skip an entire year, he returned in style by signing with the San Antonio Spurs in 2005, where he won his first NBA title. Following the subsequent trips to Phoenix, New Orleans and Portland, Marks retired as the first New Zealand-born NBA player in 2011 having played 2,275 minutes over eleven seasons. In many ways, Marks was the quintessential NBA journeyman; while several short-lived stints with different teams was probably unfulfilling, it did give him an opportunity to observe a number of different organizations and connect with many great leaders.
All the connections he made throughout the years paid off when he got another call from R.C. Buford, the current general manager of the Spurs. Starting off his new career as the director of basketball operations, Sean Marks started moving up the Spurs hierarchy. By 2013, he became an assistant coach and played an integral part in the Spurs winning their fifth NBA title in 2014. Before the start of the following season, Marks decided he wanted to return to the front office and accepted the job of the assistant general manager for the Spurs. During his stay in San Antonio, Marks learned from the very best – R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich. As the Spurs are considered to be the most respected franchise in the entire NBA, this experience proved invaluable and made Marks a top target of many team owners in need of a general manager.
When the Brooklyn Nets started inquiring about his services, Marks assured them he was more than ready to step up.
During his playing days in the NBA, Marks learned a thing or two about the skills needed to succeed in his new job. While Pat Riley taught him how to deal with players’ egos and Popovich gave him a lesson about being adaptable, it was actually R. C. Buford who played the biggest role in grooming Marks. In one of his press interviews, Marks expressed his gratitude about Buford showing him the importance of inclusive and collaborate partnerships and stated that he hoped he would be able to bring the same kind of relationship to the Nets. He quickly proved that by appointing Trajan Langdon – another former member of the Spurs organization – as the team’s assistant general manager.
Sean Marks’ other moves let the general public know more about his vision for the Nets. By buying out the contracts of Andrea Bargnani, Joe Johnson and Jarrett Jack and trading Thaddeus Young for some much needed draft picks, Marks completely transformed the roster he started out with. In doing so, he gave the Nets a fighting chance in free agency and got rid of past-their-prime players who were both a strain on team’s cap and a poor fit for the new Nets roster. In his first draft, he gambled on a high-potential pick in Caris LeVert, a 21-year old shooting guard with a long injury history and a big upside. Every single move Marks has done so far points towards a strategy of building a young roster that can grow together and get better through internal development.
Of course, there have been some setbacks along the road as well. With their generous offers for Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe matched by their original teams, the Nets are in a precarious position; with over $20 million of unused cap space, they need to start improving their depth chart for the upcoming season. In a recent interview, Marks claimed it was time for a plan B, which probably entails signing players on short contracts and maintaining enough salary cap flexibility for the 2017 free agency class. The one-year contracts for proven veterans such as Luis Scola and Greivis Vasquez certainly give credence to this theory. With the cap rising even further in 2017, it seems likely that most players will be going to a team that can offer them the most money. If things go according to plan, Marks will have plenty of possible franchise cornerstones to choose from soon.
Back when the Nets first announced that Sean Marks got the general manager job, Mikhail Prokhorov mentioned that the vote to select him was anonymous and that the entire organization agreed with the hiring. While it’s still hard to imagine a world where the Nets are a true contender, this appointment and the moves that followed it have shown they are far from a lost cause. Provided Marks gets enough time and space to work his magic, this team should only get better in the coming years. A proper rebuild takes time, but it seems like the Nets have finally learned their lesson. Now the only way is up and the future is bright.
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