In early July, Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks signed veteran power forward Trevor Booker to a two-year deal worth $18,375,000. Marks honed in on Booker early, making his interest known from the beginning of the free agency process and then the two sides agreed to terms on July 2.
But years before Marks and Booker were at the negotiating table, they were actually teammates in the same frontcourt rotation. During the 2010-11 preseason, they played together on the Washington Wizards.
Marks served as the elder statesmen, but he was ultimately waived prior to the start of the regular season and later signed with the Portland Trail Blazers (for what would be his final year in the NBA). Booker was a rookie on that Wizards squad, having just been drafted 23rd overall and acquired by Washington in a draft-night trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. While they never appeared in a regular season game together, they formed a friendship.
Now, the two men are on the same team once again – albeit in very different roles. Marks has traded in his frontcourt spot for a front-office job, and he now faces the unenviable task of rebuilding a Nets team that lacks first-round picks and attractive trade chips.
But Marks had a smart approach to this offseason, extending poison-pill offers to restricted free agents like Allen Crabbe of the Portland Trail Blazers and Tyler Johnson of the Miami HEAT. While the Nets ultimately missed out on Crabbe and Johnson since their offer sheets were matched, the moves show that Marks is getting creative as he tries to dig the Nets out of this hole.
He also wants to sign veterans who will help Brooklyn develop the right kind of culture – one with a focus on putting the team first, working hard and being professional.
This explains why the 28-year-old Booker was one of Marks’ first acquisitions. The team also added veterans Jeremy Lin, Luis Scola, Greivis Vasquez, Randy Foye and Chase Budinger among others.
Booker is a strong leader who has earned a reputation for being a good glue guy and hustle player. He’s coming off of a solid season with the Utah Jazz in which he averaged 5.9 points and 5.7 rebounds in 20.7 minutes while shooting 49 percent from the field. Last year, Booker posted career-highs in Win Shares (4.3), Defensive Win Shares (2.6), Total Rebound Percentage (16.2 percent), Box Plus-Minus (1.4), Value Over Replacement Player (1.4) and Defensive Rating (102).
In Brooklyn, it seems that Booker is poised to take on a bigger role. He has always been more of a complementary piece throughout his career, but he could be given more responsibilities with the Nets. He’ll be the third-highest player on Brooklyn’s roster this season (trailing only Brook Lopez and Lin) and Marks clearly has faith in his abilities.
Basketball Insiders recently talked with Booker about his free agency decision, the Nets’ roster, whether doubters have motivated Brooklyn’s players, what this team’s identity will be and more.
Alex Kennedy: You were one of the first free agents to agree to terms, coming off of the board on July 2. How nice was it to sign so early, and why did you decide on the Nets so quickly?
Trevor Booker: “Brooklyn was one of the teams pursuing me from the beginning and I knew [Nets general manager] Sean Marks because we had a short stint together in Washington when he was still playing. I know what kind of a guy he is and what kind of an organization he came from with the Spurs, which is an A-1 organization. Coach [Kenny] Atkinson came from a great organization in Atlanta too. After doing a little research on him, I was comfortable with him and I was comfortable with the whole situation. I bought into what they are doing.”
Kennedy: When you look at this roster, how would describe the team’s identity? And what have you heard from Sean and Coach Atkinson about what kind of team identity they want to craft?
Booker: “When I look at the roster and the guys that we have, we have brought in players who are all hard-working guys. We have some nice veterans mixed with some nice young talent, but everybody is going to work hard. And another main thing is having high-character guys. That’s what we have. If you want to build a franchise, the first thing that you have to do is make sure you have the right pieces – no big egos and just making sure you have high-character guys. That’s how you build that chemistry and get that franchise off on the right foot.”
Kennedy: On this team, there seems to be a lot of underrated guys and players who want to prove themselves. Can that be a collective feeling that helps unite a team?
Booker: “Definitely. We have a lot of players that have something to prove. They didn’t get the opportunity that they wanted somewhere else and they saw a great opportunity in Brooklyn or whatever the case is. I think we have a lot of players that have something to go out there and prove, and I think we’ll see that come out in Brooklyn.”
Kennedy: As season predictions have come out, expectations have been pretty low for this team. Do those kind of rankings or projections motivate you and your teammates?
Booker: “People are obviously going to have their opinions of the team. We don’t have any superstar names on the team, but I think we do have some solid pieces that will go out every night and compete. We’re not going to set a goal of going out and competing for a championship, but we’re going to compete, play hard and measure our success based on how we improve over the course of the season.”
Kennedy: What are you trying to bring to this team from a leadership standpoint? It seems like you and some of the other veterans were brought in to put the right foundation in place and help build a winning culture.
Booker: “I’ve been on a lot of different teams – winning teams and terrible teams. When I first started with the Wizards, we were the laughing-stock of the league. I was there through the thick and thin, and I finally saw them make the playoffs my final year there and got to be a part of that. In Utah last year, we had a great, young team and missed the playoffs by just a couple games. So I’ve been through it in the NBA. I can come here and share those stories with the young guys when we hit that adversity in the season. Not just as a team, but as an individual, you’re going to take your lumps. The younger players will need somebody to step up and be there for them during the season, and I think I can be that guy.”
Kennedy: As you mentioned, Utah is a talented team on the rise. Was it tough to leave the Jazz and your teammates there for a rebuilding team like Brooklyn?
Booker: “It was definitely tough. I miss those guys already because I was very close with my teammates, the coaching staff and the front office. Everyone there was great. The fans were tremendous. I loved the city too. It was definitely tough. But at the same time, I saw an opportunity in Brooklyn for myself so I rolled with that opportunity.”
Kennedy: What kind of season do you expect from Jeremy Lin?
Booker: “Jeremy is a tremendous player. He’s had his ups and downs, which we all do. But the Jeremy I saw last year probably had his best NBA season yet, and I’m looking forward to him just building off of that. [He can] come in, be a leader as a point guard and be very vocal to build off what he did last year.”
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