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Sean Marks Building Plan For Success With Nets

Citing culture and continuity, the Nets’ general manager has the team back on the right track.

Ben Nadeau

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By now, you’re probably well-versed in the Brooklyn Nets’ unfortunate position as a franchise — particularly so if you’re a fan of the Boston Celtics. With a swap in 2017 that is set to bear the highest odds of securing the No. 1 overall pick and an owed selection in 2018 to Boston, the light at the end of the tunnel is finally in sight. However, that won’t make the next two years any easier to manage, which is why general manager Sean Marks has built a road map for success in Brooklyn.

The Nets have an important summer ahead of them, composed of non-guaranteed deals, late first round picks and, of course, the ongoing issue of Brook Lopez. While much of the league is watching potential free agent targets like Andre Roberson and Joe Ingles play large postseason roles, the Nets’ brass is off scouting in Europe. Marks recently stated that this summer would be “exciting” but after the Nets struck out on all three of the restricted free agents they signed to offer sheets in 2016-17 — Allen Crabbe, Tyler Johnson and Donatas Motiejunas — these bridge years have become difficult to navigate.

With that being said, here’s how Marks and his moving pieces could shake out this offseason.

Brook Lopez

Once the Nets were well out of the playoff hunt and Jeremy Lin had returned from his lengthy hamstring issues, the franchise set their sights on some specific goals — including getting Lopez some well-deserved glory. On April 10, Lopez became the Nets’ all-time leading scorer, notching 10,440 points over nine seasons with the franchise. For many, the celebration could have served as a good sending-off point for the center — Lopez riding off into the sunset (and with a better chance at a ring) while the Nets could recoup some of their assets before the trying times ahead.

Win-win, right?

Well, it sure doesn’t sound like Lopez and the Nets are headed toward a breakup anytime soon.

On a podcast with The Vertical’s Chris Mannix this month, Lopez noted that he hopes to retire as a member of the Nets. Furthermore, Lopez wants his legacy to be remembered as somebody that started something special in Brooklyn. Following the season, Marks told NetsDaily’s Bryan Fonseca that their main aim is eventually making the postseason again.

“The objective for us is to be in the playoffs. When that comes, we’ll see,” Marks added, indicating they’ll go after the big free agent after they make the playoffs. “You don’t want to go and sign free agents and then the next thing you know your payroll is capped out and you’re a 25-win team. We’re going to have to build this strategically, have patience with it.”

In that way, on a roster that is otherwise just Lin and young prospects or D-League call-ups, it sure doesn’t sound like the Nets want to sell off their franchise center for a few more selections. If that’s the case — and it may be the most important decision they make all summer — then the attention will swing toward the rest of the roster and the choices they must make there.

The Roster

Of the Nets’ current roster, six of them have non-guaranteed contracts: Sean Kilpatrick, K.J. McDaniels, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Archie Goodwin and Quincy Acy. Given their three upcoming draft selections and current international scouting status, it’ll be nearly impossible to bring them all back. Who makes the cut then? In their own right, all six have made compelling arguments to stick around in 2017 and beyond.

Of course, Kilpatrick was the first of many D-League signings for Marks and his microwave shooting makes him a strong candidate to return. Harris was one of the Nets’ go-to three-point shooters (and a willing defender) until a concussion and shoulder injury knocked him out for the final month of the season. Dinwiddie, who the Nets’ front office chose over Yogi Ferrell, came into his own in March and April, even partially delivering the knockout blow to the Detroit Pistons’ playoff hopes, the team that traded him last June.

Marks picked up McDaniels for next-to-nothing at the trade deadline and his lengthy perimeter defense was a welcomed addition in his 20 appearances. Acy, who was a D-League signing in January, shot his socks off from three-point range for Brooklyn (43.4 percent through 32 games). Finally, there’s Goodwin; a young, athletic playmaker that must improve from behind the arc, but the front office loves his explosive scoring and ability to get the rim.

Before entering free agency or the draft, the Nets must determine the direction in which they’re looking to take this roster. Luckily for Marks, there’s plenty of flexibility. With Lopez and Lin under guaranteed deals alongside Trevor Booker, Andrew Nicholson, Justin Hamilton, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead, the early leaders to return are Dinwiddie, Acy and Kilpatrick.

The International Landscape

Given Marks’ experience with the San Antonio Spurs’ organization, it should come as no surprise that the Nets are heavily scouting European players this spring. While they’ve been reportedly watching Facundo Campazzo and Shayne Whittington among others, the crown jewel would certainly be their chase of Milos Teodosic, the 30-year-old Serbian maestro at point guard. For years, NBA front offices and scouts have waited for Teodosic to make the jump, frequently receiving votes as one of the world’s best basketball players not currently playing in America.

Teodosic is a former EuroLeague MVP, FIBA Europe Player of the Year and a three-time member of the All-EuroLeague First Team. Currently with CSKA Moscow, Teodosic is averaging 16.3 points, 7.2 assists and 2.7 three-pointers per game. For a team that struggled massively without Lin on the floor in 2016-17, there may be no better bridge for Marks than Teodosic. Hailed as Europe’s best passer, Teodosic even fared well against the United States during the 2016 Rio Olympics, scoring 18 points and tallying six assists during their pool play matchup.

Teodosic did admit that the NBA must meet his financial and competitive standards before he moves overseas, but with the Nets in desperate need of a league-ready point guard and the money to spend, there’s much to like about this developing situation.

Other scouted names include the draft-eligible Mathias Lessort and Anzejs Pasecniks, so the Nets’ new regime is truly leaving no stone unturned in their never-ending search for talent.

The Draft

While the Nets don’t have any premier picks in the upcoming draft, they do hold selections 22, 27 and 57, which should give Marks a bevy of possibilities throughout the next few months. Marks hasn’t ruled out selecting an overseas stash with one of their picks given their massively in-flux roster, but they’ll need to nail their picks either way.

The Nets will certainly lament missing out on Markelle Fultz and company in June, but without a first round pick in 2018, they’ll need to choose wisely. Understandably, the Nets will likely look toward the front court in this draft at some point. Hampered by Nicholson’s long-term contract, Lopez’s free agency in 2018 and Hamilton’s rocky first season with the franchise, the Nets would do well to snag somebody like Duke’s Harry Giles or Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo should they slide that far.

Additionally, Marks has recently mentioned the need to address the small forward position this summer with Hollis-Jefferson seemingly settled into his small-ball role at the four spot. Other names that should intrigue the Nets are Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon, North Carolina’s Justin Jackson and Latvia’s Rodions Kurucs.

While their upcoming picks may not bear fruit in 2017-18, the Nets have their eye on the future so a European stash or raw project could fit the bill in June’s draft. Frankly, the Nets have a need at every position currently, so Marks can again be flexible with his selections.

Free Agency

For most franchises, free agency is where teams make themselves contenders, just as the Nets attempted to do last summer. However, this time, it seems as if free agency is the one area in which the Nets may go a little light on in July. With their lack of long-term assets and draft picks, Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson have preached culture and continuity above all else. This points at the Nets keeping around a large chunk of their roster from last season, for better or for worse.

With the non-guaranteed contracts, their overseas scouting and three more draft picks, there may not be much room to chase another round of restricted free agents. While there’s certainly no harm in reaching out to Otto Porter Jr., Kantavious Caldwell-Pope or the aforementioned Roberson for their desired contract range, many free agents will likely price themselves out of the Nets’ plans this summer.

The franchise-wide eye is focused on unearthing and developing their own talent instead of making the expensive mistakes of regimes in past years. That may disappoint some that wish for the Nets to pursue the likes of Blake Griffin or Paul Millsap, but as their cross-town rival Knicks found out the hard way this season, there’s no shortcut to success.

At the end of the day, there’s a fair chance the 2017-18 Nets roster won’t look all that different from how it stands now. The team is a few years away from competing again in the Eastern Conference, so Marks has his building blocks in all the right places so far. Unless they look to move up in the draft or trade one of their valuable pieces like the gritty fan-favorite Booker, the Nets will settle for normalcy — something the franchise hasn’t had in years.

With Lopez looking more and more likely to remain with the team and roster spots somewhat limited, Marks has a plan in place to bridge these final two summers without their own draft picks. It certainly differs from the Philadelphia 76ers’ “Trust The Process” mantra by way of waiting for their high-selection prospects to get healthy, but the Nets have created their own long-term road map for success. We’ll just have to wait a little longer before it’s fully revealed.

Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his third year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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NBA Daily: Marcus Morris Thriving Off Bench

Marcus Morris has been one of the Clippers’ most dependable reserves this season, David Yapkowitz breaks it down.

David Yapkowitz

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When Marcus Morris Sr. came over to the Los Angeles Clippers last season near the trade deadline, he stepped right into the starting lineup at power forward. He started all 19 regular season games – including the bubble – and when the team re-signed him this past offseason, he looked like a lock to remain in the starting lineup.

But he’s been one of the main anchors of the Clippers’ second unit this year and coming off the bench was something he requested of new head coach Tyronn Lue. Along with Lou Williams, the pair have spearheaded one of the most formidable bench units in the NBA. The pair has combined for 24.8 points per game on the season and they’re both shooting lights out from three-point range.

On a call last month with media, Morris admitted that this dynamic pairing with Williams was exactly what he was envisioning when he initially asked to be part of the second unit.

“Building that chemistry with me and him both coming off the bench, we’ve to be one of, if not the best bench in the league. Both of us are proven vets, proven scorers in this league,” Morris said. “I think our camaraderie, us being really good friends, I think that helps on the court. Not just scoring but just being vets, being able to talk and being able to lead our unit.”

As well as he’s played this season, it wasn’t always such a smooth transition to the Clippers. Morris’ numbers dropped last year from his career averages and he shot 31 percent from the three-point line; the lowest he’s shot since his second year in the NBA. Like most of the team, he faded a bit during the team’s second-round playoff debacle against the Denver Nuggets.

This season, although his scoring isn’t as high as it used to be at 12.4 points per game, Morris’ shooting has been much more efficient. His 46.3 percent from downtown is a career-high. He looks much more comfortable in the flow of the offense and he’s played his role to perfection. Naturally, Morris credits Lue with helping him establish his role.

“I think the biggest difference is just having that exact from [Tyronn Lue] just talking to me and telling me exactly what he’s wanting me to do. Last year, I thought I was a lot of times in no man’s land, I couldn’t really put my finger on my role,” Morris said.

This year, I’m coming off the bench to be aggressive, coming off to bring energy, shoot the ball, the guys I’m playing with just playing off them. Lou does a great job of drawing the defense and you have to have guys that can knock it down. I’m just here to do whatever it takes, whether it’s to bring energy or to score.”

Morris began the season missing the first eight games due to a knee injury. But he’s always been one of the more durable players in the league and since then, he only sat out one game. Thankfully for him, he didn’t end up needing surgery only rest.

Lue has been quite pleased with Morris’ contributions this season. He credited Morris’ conditioning while acknowledging the extra work he’s put in to be as effective as he has.

“Just putting in the work, just trying to get his body right, just trying to adjust to the speed of the game, when you’ve been out for so long it is kind of tough to just step back in and play well,” Lue said. “We’ve been needing and asking more from him in the post, rebounding the basketball and, of course, shooting the basketball. He’s been great and he’s been putting in the work. You see the results.”

Like the rest of the team, Morris has been able to shut out any lingering effects from the bubble. He knows the Clippers have championship aspirations this season and, because of the way they flamed out in the playoffs, there will doubt as to whether this team is capable of winning a title.

“Seeing how many people jumped ship last year, I think it definitely helped us. That’s how it works when you have a good team and doesn’t work, people tend to jump off the ship,” Morris said. “We get back to work and we get a championship, people will jump back on the ship. That’s just how it works. We are going to continue to find our camaraderie and we are going to continue to get better. Come playoff time, we’re going to be ready.”

And for the Clippers to win their first championship in franchise history, they’re going to need Morris to be at his best. His versatility is key to their attack, while that ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting –plus putting the ball on the floor or posting up – is a big part of what makes the Clippers so dangerous.

He’s willing to do whatever needs to be done.

“I’m a hooper. Whatever you need me to do. One thing I do, I don’t just talk,” Morris said. “I’m just playing. I’ve been in the league for a long time, going on my eleventh year. It doesn’t change for me. One thing you’ll find out about me is I’m never too high, never too low.”

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NBA AM: Defensive Player of the Year Watch

Will we see Rudy Gobert win another Defensive Player of the Year Award? Or will we have a new winner this year?

Dylan Thayer

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In the fourth edition of the Defensive Player of the Year Rankings, Basketball Insiders continues to look at the players excelling on the defensive side of the ball. The Utah Jazz continues to be a powerhouse in the Western Conference amidst a surprising season, and they will still be well represented in these rankings. But there’s another newcomer to the list, an MVP-caliber player looking to lead his team to the NBA Finals. Ready to take look at the rankings? Let’s get into it.

1. Rudy Gobert (Previous: 2)

The 28-year-old center out of France is one of the best defensive big men the game has seen in recent years – and this year is another example of that as Gobert has been the anchor of the best team in the NBA. Better, he has been a vital piece to their unanticipated success by taking part in all 35 of the Jazz games thus far.

Looking at Gobert’s numbers, he is still second in the league in blocks with 2.8 blocks per game, trailing only Myles Turner in that category.  Gobert has had three or more blocks in 18 games, even reaching four in 12 of them. 

In the defensive rating category, Gobert ranks third in the league with a rating of 103.0, per NBA Advanced Stats. This number is just enough behind Lebron James at 102.6 and teammate Mike Conley, who leads the NBA with a rating of 100.8. These three players are also in the top three for defensive win shares, with Gobert sitting in third with a DWS of 0.154. Gobert should be the current frontrunner as he has led the best team in the NBA on defense through the first half of the season. 

2. LeBron James (Previous: 4)

As a reminder, LeBron James has not made an All-Defensive Team since 2014. How about breaking that streak with a DPotY award as well? He very well could.

Without Anthony Davis, James is unarguably the tone-setter for the defense. The Los Angeles Lakers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 26 is a prime example of this. During that contest, James had 3 blocks and 4 steals as the Lakers won by 9. Furthermore, James has managed to average 1 block and 1.3 steals per game since the injury to Davis.

Notably, James ranks in the top three in both defensive rating and defensive win shares. James is just behind Conley in defensive rating at 102.6 compared to Conley’s 100.8 rating. Keep an eye on James’s defensive impact for the defending champs as the season continues to unfold.

3. Joel Embiid (Previous: N/A)

Embiid has been very neglected on this list, but now is the time for him to make his appearance. Yes, it is very high for a player to debut on this list, but he’s been on a tear as of late. 

In his career-high night on Feb. 19, Embiid went off for 50 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks in a matchup with the Chicago Bulls. This is the game that put the league on notice of Embiid’s brilliant season, both offensively and defensively, as he leads the first-place Philadelphia 76ers. As things stand right now, he’s averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game.

Taking a deeper dive into Embiid’s floor presence is what makes him stand out. He’s 13th in the NBA in defensive rating at 106.6. He also ranks 10th in defensive win shares with 0.131, per NBA Advanced Stats. The coaching change in Philadelphia has allowed Embiid to run the Sixers’ offense and, as things stand right now, he’s certainly in both the MVP and DPotY conversation. 

4. Mike Conley (Previous: 1)

Since an extended absence, Conley returned to make an instant impact in the Jazz lineup, averaging 2.0 steals over his last five games. The unexpected success has been due in large part to Conley’s improved play. Of course, Conley is high up on this year’s All-Star snub list, but his significant individual improvements won’t go unnoticed here.

Conley is currently tied for third in the league in steals per game at 1.5. He is also first in defensive rating with a rating of 100.8. Beyond that, he then ranks second in defensive win shares with 0.168. Without Conley, it’s hard to see the Jazz having the success they’ve enjoyed this year. Watch out for him as the season approaches the midpoint as he tries to become the first guard to win the award since Gary Payton during the 1995-96 season. 

5. Myles Turner (Previous: 3)

Despite a slip in the standings for the Indiana Pacers, Myles Turner has been a very bright spot for the team defensively. He leads the league in blocks with 3.4 per game and has a pretty sizeable lead over Gobert in that category. Add in the fact that he is averaging 1.1 steals per game, it’s easy to see why Turner is so high in these rankings.

If the Pacers can manage to get things back in order amidst a sub-.500 record thus far, Turner could rise into the upper part of these rankings again.

Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Previous: N/A)

While voter fatigue may hinder the chance of Giannis earning his second consecutive DPotY award, he should be in the conversation again. The Milwaukee Bucks are amongst the top three in the Eastern Conference standings, thanks to the stellar defensive play from the two-time MVP. 

It will be interesting to see where he finishes in the voting after the season’s end. Maybe he gets this award for a second-straight year, while the voter fatigue towards him takes place in the MVP ballots.

While these rankings have gotten competitive as of late, there’s still plenty of time for rising and falling in Basketball Insiders’ weekly Defensive Player of the Year rundown.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are Good Now?

The Washington Wizards went from 5-15 to 13-18 out of nowhere. Much improved from their early-season play they make a run? Dylan Thayer examines.

Dylan Thayer

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After the swap of John Wall and Russell Westbrook, the Washington Wizards did not look like they were going to be a playoff team. 20 games into the season, the team found themselves at 5-15 with trade rumors constantly buzzing. At one point, they even had the worst record in the NBA, while looked like a trade of Westbrook, Bradley Beal or even both was a certainty with the team was set to pivot into a true rebuild.

Now, all of a sudden, Washington has the look of a team that could make the postseason play-in game. 8-5 in their last 13 with wins over the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, the Wizards have started to climb the conference, now just 2.5 games back on the Charlotte Hornets for the East’s eighth seed.

But what’s changed? Let’s take a step back and look at what exactly made them start the season out so slowly.

Early in the year, the former MVP Westbrook was playing through a left quad injury. He wasn’t nearly explosive with the ball as he’s always been, settling for low-percentage jumpers and outside shots, perhaps the biggest weakness in his game. Between the injury and COVID-19 postponements, Westbrook and many other Wizards were away from the court for a significant time — the whole team was in flux.

Then, on Valentine’s Day, the team took the floor in Boston and destroyed the Celtics; the 104-91 final doesn’t truly reflect that, but at one point the Wizards led by as many as 25. A national game beatdown, their play led into the best stretch the Wizards have seen this season.

Westbrook, over his injury, looked like his former explosive self. He’s posted six triple-doubles since, while he came within a point or assist of doing so in three other contests. And, back on the court, the entire team was also able to spend some time together, which allowed them to further jell as a unit and build some momentum toward future games.

It was a surprise when Beal came out and said he did not want to be traded from Washington, with more than a few curious as to how the NBA’s leading scorer could be satisfied with such subpar play from the rest of his roster. But he “shared a consistent viewpoint” with the team, according to Shams Charania, as to what they have done to build around him. The Wizards’ clear leader, Beal has signaled he’s in it for the long-haul, while additions like Westbrook should only serve to solidify that commitment.

Beyond their two stars, the Wizards roster has also stepped up in their most recent stretch. Sophomore Rui Hachimura has proven capable alongside the star-duo in the first unit, while Robin Lopez has stepped up in the absence of Thomas Bryant, who was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Deni Avdija and Garrison Matthews have both flashed as well, with Matthews shooting 41.3 percent from three and even earning a starting role.

If they can sustain their recent success, Washington could easily make the postseason in an underwhelming Eastern Conference. In fact, the tightly-packed nature of the East — while they’re 2.5 games behind Charlotte, just four games separate the Wizards and the fourth seed Celtics — should only serve to benefit Washington in their quest for their first postseason berth since the 2017-18 season. And, if the Wizards want to bolster their team for a playoff run and look to buy at the deadline, they certainly have the pieces to make some interesting moves. With most of their draft capital for the foreseeable future, along with some interesting contracts they could flip for more win-now type players, anything could happen.

The Beal-Westbrook, while it started rough, has not nearly been as bad as most people would think. For the team, the 2020-21 season has proven more promising than they may have thought and, if they can continue to elevate their game, don’t be shocked to see the Wizards on the big stage come May.

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