Sean Marks may very well have the eye, personality, and talent to successfully overhaul the league’s most mismanaged franchise. Unfortunately for basketball’s newest general manager, though, accomplishing that arduous task doesn’t fall on his shoulders alone. An organization is only as good as its synergy from top to bottom, and it’s never been more apparent how hard that will be to come by for the Brooklyn Nets.
In a recent interview on Sirius XM Radio, Lionel Hollins – who the Nets dismissed alongside longtime personnel decision maker Billy King in early January – touched on the difficulty of coaching effectively when front office honchos step outside the boundaries of their expertise.
The league veteran, it bears stressing, didn’t specifically cite Brooklyn or anyone within the franchise as the means behind his gripes. Perhaps Hollins was simply speaking out of general experience gleaned from nearly three decades roaming the NBA sidelines as a head or assistant coach. That’s a possibility. What seems far more likely, though, is that the 62-year-old was indirectly referencing the Nets and their notoriously overzealous owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
Here’s Hollins, helpfully transcribed by Brian Lewis of the New York Post.
“But the micromanaging, the meddling of who should play and how you should talk to this guy and how you should talk to the media, what you should say or shouldn’t say because how it looks for the organization versus just speaking the truth — those things weigh on you when you spend so much time trying to massage everybody instead of just coaching.”
“I think for me, a coach is the guy in charge. His relationship is the most important with the players,” Hollins said on SiriusXM. “I think GMs have tried and wanted to be closer with the players, the marketing people want to be closer with the players, and they want to sell, and they want the players to feel good about their experience. The only experience you can feel good about in this league is winning and having success. Losing and being marketed will never make you feel good.”
Prokhorov made no secret of his win-now ambitions in advance of his organization’s ballyhooed move to Brooklyn before the 2012-13 season. The Nets mortgaged their future by acquiring aging superstars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce upon their move to New York, teaming them with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez to form a star-studded starting five that had some thinking championship.
Those hopes were always outlandish, of course. Not only were Garnett and Pierce past their primes, but Brooklyn didn’t have the depth or even top-level talent to compete with a juggernaut like the LeBron James-era Miami Heat – or even Eastern Conference sub-contenders like the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers.
That was made abundantly clear in 2012-13, a reality that forced the Nets to come to grips with increasingly dim prospects for the future. King, with Prokhorov guiding him, surrendered unprotected first-round picks in the 2014, 2016, and 2018 drafts for the basketball twilights of Pierce and Garnett. It was a risk, obviously, but one Brooklyn’s owner was willing to take with the trade-off of immediate league-wide interest in his franchise and knowledge that his pockets were deep enough to continue paying massive luxury tax bills to make up for a lack of young, cheap players who were locked into rookie contracts.
Much more than anything else, dealing for Garnett and Pierce is what makes the Nets’ road to legitimate contention more difficult than that of any other team in the league. Their traded draft choice come June could be the No. 1 overall selection; playoff-bound Boston has the right to swap picks with the nets in the 2017 draft; and there’s a chance the selection Brooklyn will convey to the Celtics two years from now will be a high lottery selection, too.
Making a mistake, even one of that magnitude, isn’t a death-knell in the NBA. Smart roster and cap management that puts an emphasis on the future will certainly help dig the Nets out of their current hole, and there’s ample reason to believe Marks has the mind for it.
“He’s going to be a star,” Gregg Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News of his team’s former assistant GM. “He really has a great feel for talent and has a great personality, really commands respect and gets along with people. He is going to have a bright future.”
But given Hollins’ damning assessment of working with the Nets and the common knowledge of Prokhorov’s debilitatingly controlling approach to ownership, it’s fair to wonder if Marks will be afforded decision-making reins without interference. Prokhorov and right-hand man Dmitry Razumov, to their credit, convinced the league’s most sought-after personnel man that would indeed prove to be the case before he accepted the position with Brooklyn.
Maybe the basketball world really will get a glimpse of a Nets team built by Marks going forward. Until further notice, though, it seems his vision in Brooklyn will be one that aligns with Prokhorov’s – and by proxy, all the mistakes that put his new team in this unenviable position from the beginning.