With the acquisitions of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Brooklyn Nets accomplished what the New York Knicks have been attempting for what seems a life time, attracting the big time, game changing free agents. Landing both Durant and Irving on the first day of free agency is a franchise changer instantly, but the true culture change and leg work took place in February 2016 with the hiring of General Manager Sean Marks.
When Marks took the reins of Brooklyn basketball, the Nets were in the worst situation I have ever seen. Due to the previous front office incompetence of trading a kings ransom for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce who were on their last legs, the Nets had no present or future. With no control over their draft picks until literally this past season, and no foundation of core players when Marks came into control, the Nets literally started at the bottom with no light at the end of the tunnel. However Marks would quickly put his imprint on the team with a number of savvy moves that were often under the radar.
Hiring Kenny Atkinson as Head Coach
I wrote an article a few months back explaining the importance of Kenny Atkinson to the Nets success. Atkinson changed the culture of the Nets, and coached them up into a hungry, pesky team over the past few years. He developed guys to heights they likely wouldn’t hit without his coaching and support. D’Angelo Russell shedded the “bust” label and became an all-star, Spencer Dinwiddie who was a second round pick and nothing more than a D-League success story, became a break out player and a true combo guard in the league that any team would love to have. We also seen his impact on guys like Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen who have become key components of the Nets. When you think about Durant and Irving coming to Brooklyn, don’t bypass the importance of Atkinson.
Savvy Trades and Value Signings
Sean Marks and the front office had to get creative just to bring in talent that you could run out to be somewhat presentable. It was done by taking on massive contracts of under performing players on teams who wanted cap relief in return for either draft pick compensation, or a young player with potential. The prime example of this is the heist they pulled off when they acquired D’Angelo Russell from the Los Angeles Lakers because they also took on the awful contract the Lakers had signed Timofey Mozgov to. Russell would lead the Nets to the playoffs this past season, possibly putting the spot light on the Nets, not the Knicks, as the team in New York that free agents would be attracted to.
Under the radar moves include trading Thaddeus Young to the Pacers for the 20th pick, which turned into Caris LeVert, signing Joe Harris after the Cavs released him, signing Spencer Dinwiddie, dumping Bojan Bogdanovic contract to the Wizards for a draft pick that turned into Jarrett Allen, and the latest move of sending Allen Crabbe to the Hawks for Taurean Prince and cap space to land that second max contract.
When you combine all of the savvy moves above, a stable front office, great head coach, young players, and a growing winning culture, Brooklyn became an attractive destination for Durant and Irving.
If I am James Dolan, Steve Mills and David Fizdale, I would take notes from the blue print Sean Marks and the Nets have laid out to build a successful team.