Nets manager on the spot entering draft
Irving-Durant coupling a possibility following Barclays Center event
Should he or should he not?
Can he or can he not?
These are the questions looming over the head of Brooklyn Nets architect Sean Marks, as well as many of the 29 other general managers, entering Thursday night’s NBA Draft at Downtown’s Barclays Center nears.
Marks, who has helped the Nets return to relevance and made them an attractive suitor for many, if not all, of the high-priced free agents about the hit the open market, has doubtlessly been busy scouting whom Brooklyn will select with the 27th and 31st picks in less than 24 hours.
But the landmark move(s) of his three-years-and-counting tenure with our fair borough’s NBA franchise will likely come in the aftermath of the league’s annual selection process on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
Brooklyn is rumored to be the place where Kyrie Irving, a South Orange, N.J. native and life-long Nets fan, is headed via free agency following the official July 1 release of eligible players to the open market.
Several published reports also indicate that Irving, disgruntled in his current Boston digs and three years removed from forcing his way out of Cleveland after helping the Cavaliers win their first-ever NBA title alongside LeBron James, is trying to lure superstar Kevin Durant to Brooklyn with him.
Durant, a two-time Finals MVP who tore his Achilles in an ill-fated comeback attempt during Game 5 in Toronto last week, is likely to sit out all of 2019-20 as he recovers from the devastating injury.
That’s two maximum contracts and a pair of big question marks for Marks to deal with as the Nets try to load up their roster for a serious run at their first-ever NBA title, be it this coming season or in 2020-21, when Durant would presumably be healthy enough to spearhead that cause.
Escaping the NBA’s basement has been a grueling process for the Nets, who went from a league-worst 20-62 during head coach Kenny Atkinson’s first season at the helm to 42-40 and in the playoffs in his third full year.
Marks has found the talent, be it via trade (All-Star point guard and soon-to-be free agent D’Angelo Russell), or off the NBA’s scrap heap (Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie).
And Atkinson has developed that talent.
Marks has drafted well, getting contributors and potential foundation pieces like center Jarrett Allen and forward Rodions Kurucs, the past two years.
And Atkinson has found a way to make both players better.
The Nets’ commitment to a patient approach has clearly paid major dividends if players like Irving and Durant are seriously considering teaming up here.
“People are going to want to play here,” Marks noted during the Nets’ season-ending presser at the HSS Training Center in Sunset Park.
“They’re going to want to play for Kenny. They’re going to want to play in Brooklyn. They’re going to play for this ownership group. And I think we have a lot of things going for us.”
They certainly do.
But those “things” will undergo a massive renovation process the moment Irving and/or Durant walk through the doors of the team’s Industry City complex.
Atkinson will instantly be charged with delivering a title to Brooklyn, something the borough has not seen at the major pro sports level since the Dodgers finally got over the hump against the hated Yankees back in 1955.
And Marks will have to keep those players happy, not just with the Nets’ checkbook, which has nearly $47 million of cap space following the departure of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson earlier this week, but with the players who surround what would be the biggest superstar tandem in the history of the franchise.
He’ll also have to jettison Russell elsewhere on Draft night, or simply renounce his rights, making him an unrestricted free agent two weeks from now.
“He’s obviously one of our more talented players,” Marks said of Russell when asked about the playmaker’s pending status.
“You said we’ll have decisions. D’Angelo is going to have decisions, too. That is a little bit of the nature of this business. But at the end of the day, our job is to continue to put talent on the floor for Brooklyn.”
It would be safer for Marks to keep Russell here, add the long-missing Stretch Four to the Nets’ lineup via free agency in the form of Philadelphia’s Tobias Harris, a Long Island native, and let Brooklyn take its chances against the best of the Eastern Conference with its roster at least close to intact from a season ago.
However, playing it safe with players like Irving, Durant, Kemba Walker, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler available may make it even more difficult for Brooklyn to jump into the stratosphere of title contenders going forward.
So, does he or does he not?
Should he or should he not?
Those questions will have to be answered soon by Marks, whose status as a brilliant team builder here in Brooklyn is undeniable through his first three years.
What he does Thursday night during the Draft and two weeks from now in free agency, and the aftereffects of those decisions, will almost certainly define his legacy as the Nets’ GM.
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