Sean Marks, Steve Nash talk Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons: ‘We’re going to need availability from everybody’

NEW YORK – Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks and coach Steve Nash met on the media Wednesday to discuss a season that went off the rails. The Nets were swept out of the first round, an almost unfathomable result when the Marks’ front office put the roster together.

Marks, who took the majority of the questions, held himself to account, saying that he had “got back to the drawing board” and looked for the kind of players that could improve the culture of the team. He said that Ben Simmons has “a new lease on life, so to speak,” after his recent back surgery. Most notably, Marks didn’t let Kyrie Irving off the hook for not getting vaccinated and missing most of the season.

‘We are going to need availability from everybody’

Sixteen days after Irving said he looks forward to “managing this franchise” with Kevin Durant, Marks and owner Joe Tsai, a reporter asked if Marks the Nets were committed to Irving long-term. (Irving has a $ 36.5 million player option next season; if he opts out, he’s eligible to sign a new contract for up to five years.)

“Yeah, look, I think that ‘s something we’ve been discussing and we’ll continue to debrief and discuss throughout this offseason,” Marks said.

He added that the front office has made decisions on “a variety of free agents,” not just Irving. Brooklyn has only six players under contract for 2022-23, excluding player options.

“It would be unfair for me to comment on how it looks with us and Kyrie because, to be quite frank, he has to make some decisions on his own,” Marks said. “So he’s looking at what he’s going to do with his player option and so forth like that. But I think we know what we’re looking for. We’re looking for guys that want to come in here and be part of. Something bigger than themselves, play selfless, play team basketball and be available. And that goes not only for Kyrie but for everyone here. “

The key word there is “available.” Irving didn’t get vaccinated against COVID-19 despite being a New York City mandate and played in only 29 of Brooklyn’s 82 regular-season games. The past season, he took a sabbatical that turned into a seven-game absence as he violated the NBA’s health and safety protocols while away from the team.

Asked if it would be necessary to tell Irving that his absences should only be injury-related, Marks said: “I think those are going to be discussed. It’s a team sport and you need everybody out there on the court. And we saw this year, when you have Kevin missed 27 games with injuries and Kyrie being out for over half the season, I mean, that hurts. That hurts from a roster-building standpoint. That’s not what we planned for. “

Marks continued: “We need people here that want to be here, that are selfless, that want to be part of something bigger than themselves. There is an objective and there is a goal at stake here. In order to do that, we’re going to need availability from everybody. “

On how Irving’s absence affected the team, Marks said: “I think it’s obvious. Whenever you have a key part of your team that isn’t available and you’re trying to build chemistry, you’re trying to build camaraderie out on the. Court, that ‘s very difficult. ”

This was the rationale for shelving him before the start of the regular season, rather than allowing him to be a part-time player. Marks said he doesn’t, however, regret returning Irving back into the fold before he was eligible to play at home, reiterating that, between Irving’s absence and Joe Harris’ injury, Brooklyn was asking Durant and other players “to take on too much. . ” The team also had a COVID outbreak, further depleting its active roster. There was “no script,” he said, for the situation the Nets were in.

“It made it difficult for all of us,” Marks said. “Again, I don’t want to make any excuses on that because I think there were a variety of teams out there, and the teams that are still playing to this day, they may not have quite the scope of the excuses that we have. Can come up with but they had to navigate COVID as well, they had to navigate injuries, they had to navigate all of this. And if I’m going to be brutally honest, they navigated it better than we did. “

‘He needs to be in here, smell the gym again’

A reporter asked Marks if he worries about the fact that both Irving and Simmons missed a significant amount of games while physically healthy – when negotiating a hypothetical contract, how does he gauge how committed the player is to fulfilling it?

“100 percent,” Marks said. “We have to factor in all of that. Honestly, where we are, when you’re giving someone a minimum contract and it doesn’t pan out, it still factors into how you’re building a roster and how much tax you ‘. Re paying and so forth. So certainly when you are looking at players that are making 30 or 40 million dollars or possibly making that, you have to factor in everything. And that is the hard part of the business. “

He continued: “What makes them tick? What drives them? Do they want to be part of this? Are they motivated by something that maybe not good for the whole team here? So those are the questions we’re going to ask. Ask yourself and also the players that we want to bring back here. “

While Irving could be a free agent in July, Simmons is already under contract for the next three seasons. Simmons will make $ 40.3 million in 2024-25.

Marks didn’t question Simmons’ desire to play. “I think he was hoping more than anybody that he could come out and contribute to the team,” Marks said. He wasn’t able to come back against the Boston Celtics in the playoffs, though, and then he had another MRI on his back.

“We could see that her herniation had expanded,” Marks said. “At that point, there was really nothing but surgery that was going to fix this. I can tell you that from the communications I’ve had him multiple times since the surgery, he was feeling relief already, feeling great.”

Marks said he didn’t want to talk about Simmons’ or anyone else’s “mental health or mental performance.” The Nets, he said, are doing “everything we possibly can” to get him around the team.

“That is the key,” Marks said. “He needs to be in here, smells the gym again, around his friends, around his family, around to be quite frank and up in this and let’s help him build a culture together, build him together, build him up, build him. back up. ”

Simmons is “a big, big part of this,” Marks said. “He fits a lot of holes, plugs a lot of holes that we think are likely. And with him in there, it’s a different dynamic out there. It’s a different dynamic for not just his teammates – what they’ll ask. to do in the roles they have to cover – but also for the coaching staff, so they can put people in places where they were honestly brought here to [be] And don’t have to try and fill a different role. “

‘You’d love people who are versatile’

If there was a message that Marks and Nash wanted to communicate, it was that they knew things needed to change. Through all of Brooklyn’s injuries, trades and shenanigans over the past two seasons, the team has always had championship aspirations. It fell far short of the goal, but the goal remained the same.

“I would have been pretty naive if I thought we could just sort of run it back,” Marks said. “Right? I think we can see not only where the NBA is going, but how defenses are now set up to guard the likes of Kevin, Ky and those sort of max players. So we’re going to have to put that right. pieces around them. ”

Without Simmons and Harris against the Celtics, Brooklyn was too small and too big at the same time. The Nets’ rotation included four small, slight guards (Irving, Patty Mills, Seth Curry and Goran Dragic) and the 6-foot-4 Bruce Brown, who played a Swiss Army Knife role usually reserved for players four or five inches taller. They also used five roster spots on big men (Nicolas Claxton, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Day’Ron Sharpe) and Boston’s wings repeatedly targeted those who made it to the floor.

“You’d love people who are versatile,” Marks said. “You’d love people who can play multiple positions and so forth. I think we look at some of the teams that are playing now, I mean, they’ve got 6-10 point guards out there. They’ve got, you You know, Golden State has a – I don’t want to knock Draymond [Green]but what is he, a 6-7 center? “

The Nets could tell themselves that, as long as Simmons and Harris are healthy next season, they’ll have the size, rebounding, defense and shooting that they were missing. “But that, I think, is foolhardy,” Nash said. Repeatedly, he said they needed to “preempt” some of the challenges they might face. I took this to mean that Brooklyn needs to build a team that is better equipped to handle potential injuries, that does not look severely deficient the moment that Harris misses a game.

“Regardless of who’s available,” Nash said, “how do we want to play? And [against Boston] I was not happy with the way we played. “

Nash sees every disappointment as a gift and an opportunity to grow. In that sense, he said the Celtics series showed them how they stacked up against a top-level defense and forced them to ask “what really matters to us and where we want to hang our hat.”

Marks said that, as Brooklyn approaches draft and free agency, it will be looking for players who fit in with the core. Nash said that “opportunities abound” for the young players who are trying to improve over the summer and become part of the regular rotation. You don’t have to be a basketball genius to see that the roster needs more shooters who can hold their own defensively, more size on the wing and more athleticism everywhere.

The vibe shift

Marks said that, because the Nets are built around highly-paid superstars, “our team is going to look vastly different every year – it has to.” When he talked about the changes that were coming, though, he didn’t mean simply shopping for shooters and stoppers. He said they want to focus on “grit” and “resilience” and “doing some of the things that got us here in the first place.”

A long list of All-Stars and Olympians has come through Brooklyn’s practice facility at Sunset Park over the past few years, some to lead the team, some to come off the bench, some to coach. For several years before that, the same facility was full of underdogs and overachievers. Marks implied that, in this transition, something has been lost.

“We have prided ourselves on finding players with the past with a chip on their shoulder, with resilience, with something to prove,” he said. “We’re going to go back to that. We’re going to go back a little bit more at development, looking at finding the right characteristics of a player that fits here.”

It sounds like what Marks wants is a vibe shift. The Nets now have time to “do some deep soul-searching,” he said, “and think about what can change.” Is it possible to build a championship team around Durant and Irving that feels like an up-and-coming team that got Durant and Irving’s attention? No. But it is possible to have more overachievers with superstars around, more two-way players, more players like Brown, who will be an unrestricted free agent in July.

Among the many things Marks has said about the nebulous concept of “team culture” is that it is always evolving, based largely on the people in the building. After a season he described as tough, disappointing and frustrating, he believes Brooklyn’s culture is in need of a course correction.

“Did we take a step back? Without a doubt,” Marks said. “Without a doubt, the culture is not what it was. And it is going to pick up our job. And between Steve and myself as leaders, we will certainly be doing that. Get to find the players that’ll drive that culture. It has to be driven by the players. “

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