By Steve Lichtenstein
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As far as sports theory goes, a woebegone franchise such as the Nets would not be unwise to pick off the fruit of a winning team’s tree when looking to cultivate a new culture.
Hence, Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s offer on Tuesday to Spurs’ assistant general manager Sean Marks for the Nets’ vacant general manager position, as reported by Yahoo.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The 40-year-old native of New Zealand has not accepted the job as of this writing, but if he is indeed billionaire Prokhorov’s top choice, I can’t imagine money becoming an issue.
Marks has only worked in the Spurs’ organization since 2012, but has been placed on a fairly fast track. He rode the bench for 11 seasons in the NBA before becoming the general manager of the Spurs’ D-League affiliate in Austin. A year later, he was assigned to the big club as coach Gregg Popovich’s assistant. Marks moved back into the front office prior to last season, apprenticing under general manager R.C. Buford.
Buford and Popovich, of course, are the brains behind San Antonio’s five NBA titles.
The Nets, on the other hand, are a very, very long way from winning their first championship.
Entrenched near the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a 14-40 record coming out of the All-Star break after recently-reassigned general manager Billy King’s five-year demolition project, the Nets are not the most attractive of jobs.
Brooklyn doesn’t even own its first round draft choice — assuredly a very high lottery pick — this coming summer. The 2018 selection also belongs to Boston and the Celtics have the right to swap slots in the 2017 draft.
As for the expected $40 million-plus in salary cap space that the Nets (and many other teams) will have this offseason, Brooklyn has never been deemed a prime destination, despite what Prokhorov and the hipsters in town will tell you.
Wojnarowski inferred that the Spurs could counter the Nets’ offer by ironing out a succession plan that would include a promotion for Marks.
That’s as good a reason as any for Prokhorov to secure Marks’ signature on a contract as soon as possible.
Then there’s the tiny matter of the looming trade deadline, which is at 3 p.m. on Thursday.
The Nets’ top players, center Brook Lopez and forward Thaddeus Young, have been rumored to be headed in this, that and every other direction. Holdover assistant general manager Frank Zanin has been fielding all actual phone calls in the interim, but I can’t imagine that he would have the authority to pull off anything major when the Nets are this close to a hire.
How would that work exactly? If indeed any of the trade speculation was accurate, would Prokhorov call Marks and the other finalists for the job (reportedly former Phoenix and Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo, Denver assistant GM Arturas Karnisovas, and Houston VP of basketball operations Gersson Rosas) and ask, “What do you think?”
Prokhorov has previously stated his desire for the franchise to build around the Lopez/Young front court duo, supplemented by young players such as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough, Bojan Bogdanovic and Markel Brown. He acknowledged that the Nets are still several pieces (like the other three positions on the court) away from contention, but that won’t be accomplished by Thursday.
Marks’ experience with the Spurs, an organization that excels at finding value late in drafts and developing international players, was what likely attracted him to the Nets’ search committee (reportedly Prokhorov, chairman Dmitry Razumov, CEO Brett Yormark, and board member Sergey Kushchenko).
Colangelo was the early favorite and I would have put my money on Karnisovas solely based on the hometown advantage (ESPN reported that his interview was conducted in Russian), but Marks just might be the best fit here.
Though this would be Marks’ first attempt at running an organization, he wouldn’t have much pressure to produce significant results for at least a year or two. Marks could have the freedom to bring along an ally from San Antonio in assistant coach Ettore Messina, a highly-regarded basketball mind who it is assumed would have an opportunity at some point to succeed Nets current interim coach Tony Brown.
For Nets fans, the hope is that this gets wrapped up before Marks starts having second thoughts and decides that Texas and titles make for a better life than Brooklyn and a bleak immediate basketball future.
Prokhorov is in town this week for Wednesday’s unveiling of the Nets’ new practice facility in Industry City, Brooklyn. The bet among experts was that he didn’t want the GM talk to overshadow his estimated $50 million baby.
Good luck with that.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter at @SteveLichtenst1