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Nets GM Marks makes all the right moves

A stunning free-agent sweep puts Brooklyn atop hoops scene.

July 2, 2019 JT Torenli
Both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are headed to Brooklyn after Nets general manager Sean Marks was able to lure both to our fair borough via free agency after his massive rebuilding project at Barclays Center. (AP Photo/File)
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“If you build it, he will come,” is the line from the 1989 cinema classic “Field of Dreams” that spurred Kevin Costner’s character to build a ballpark in the middle of an Iowa cornfield in the hopes of somehow reconnecting with his deceased father.

Nets general manager Sean Marks didn’t need a whispered voice from above to drive him toward building a foundation that ultimately landed him two superstar free agents this past weekend.

He knew all along that if he built it properly, they would come.

“People are going to want to play here,” Marks noted during the team’s season-ending presser at the HSS Training Center in Sunset Park in late April.

“They’re going to want to play for [head coach] Kenny [Atkinson]. 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.”

The man wasn’t lying.

The architect of Brooklyn’s “Blueprint for Greatness: Part Two” made the Nets attractive enough to lure both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to Downtown’s Barclays Center for the next four years in the hopes of finally getting the long-beleaguered franchise its first-ever NBA title.

Though neither signing can be announced officially until Saturday, as per the league’s self-imposed embargo on free-agent deals, Nets fans are already clamoring for their K.D. and Kyrie jerseys.

And dreaming of a championship parade down Flatbush Avenue.

Marks, who took over a team that led the NBA in losses three seasons ago, hired Atkinson to run his squad, picked up players no one else wanted (Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris Levert), put his faith in an enigmatic point guard (D’Angelo Russell) and made the most of his draft picks (Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs).

The Nets went from an NBA-worst 20-62 in Atkinson’s first year to 42-40 this past season, winning their playoff opener before losing four in a row to a better-constructed Philadelphia 76ers team in the first round.

It was a season of hope and one to build on going forward, with or without Durant and Irving.

But as evidenced by NBA championship teams of the past, it is extremely difficult to be more than an also-ran in the playoffs without one, if not two, marquee players on the roster.

So, Marks spent three-plus years following the “patient approach” he was charged with by co-owners Mikhail Prokhorov and Joseph Tsai.

He charged Atkinson, a noted player-development guru, with the duty of getting the most out of Russell, coming off his first All-Star campaign, Joe Harris, one of the league’s most lethal long-range shooters, and Dinwiddie and LeVert, arguably the best one-two tandem off any NBA bench.

Marks also implemented one of the most widely admired player-performance programs in the league and a medical staff that is second to none.

Durant had his torn Achilles, suffered during Game 5 of Golden State’s eventual NBA Finals loss to Toronto last month, mended by Nets team orthopedist Martin O’Malley at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery.

Marks didn’t do all this to help Brooklyn return to the playoffs for the first time in four years or enjoy its first winning campaign in half a decade, both of which were accomplished last season.

He did it so players like Durant, a two-time Finals MVP, and Irving, an NBA champion in Cleveland alongside LeBron James four years ago, would see Brooklyn as a potential landing spot in free agency, despite the allure of Madison Square Garden just across the East River and Los Angeles’ Staples Center.

Marks made the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues the place to be for big-time NBA basketball for the foreseeable future, denying the Knicks a shot at landing perhaps the biggest free-agent windfall in either team’s history to date.

And he isn’t done yet.

General manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson spent three years building the Nets into an attractive site for big-time NBA free agents. They landed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on Sunday, making their plan a major success. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
General manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson spent three years building the Nets into an attractive site for big-time NBA free agents. They landed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on Sunday, making their plan a major success. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

On Monday, Marks worked with Durant and Irving to bring in another key piece to this ongoing construction project, hulking center DeAndre Jordan, who spent the tail end of his past season with the Knicks, but will now be used to help Allen handle the likes of Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid in the paint.

Of course, Russell was the casualty of this massive shopping spree, but he wound up benefitting from it as well, landing with the defending Western Conference champion Warriors at the reported price of $117 million over four years.

Marks orchestrated the sign-and-trade swap, grabbing a protected first-round pick from Golden State in the process.

It may go down as the greatest bit of general managing over one extended weekend in the history of the sport.

But now comes the difficult part.

Durant is likely to miss this coming season while recovering from his devastating injury while Irving, a South Orange, N.J. native who admittedly always wanted to be a Net, has had his problems dealing with organizations, coaches and even teammates in his previous two stops in Cleveland and Boston.

By adding these two players, the Nets just went from the little engine that could to the big, bad machine that should win an NBA title.

There is no doubting that Brooklyn is atop the New York City basketball landscape and that it has instantly morphed into a must-see team, both here at Barclays, which was home to the NBA’s lowest attendance a season ago, and on the road.

Jersey sales will skyrocket, the team’s valuation will soar and there’ll be 17,000-plus fans in full throat coming to see them every night, not to mention all the additional national TV games they will be featured on after years of being an afterthought on the NBA landscape.

Despite leaping over the Knicks and most of the Eastern Conference at approximately 6 p.m. EDT on Sunday evening, Durant, Irving and the rest of these new-look Nets haven’t won a single game on the hardwood yet.

Now, they are charged with delivering our fair borough’s first major professional sports championship since the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers finally got over the hump against the dreaded Yankees.

Marks built it, Irving and Durant came, and now the rest of us will sit back and watch as the Nets pursue the one thing that has eluded their grasp since leaving the ABA back in 1976.

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