BROOKLYN – As Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov walked out of Wednesday afternoon’s grand opening of the franchise’s $50 million practice facility here in Industry City, one that sits atop a warehouse with a spectacular view overlooking New York Harbor, the Russian billionaire pointed to the walls.
“It needs pictures,” he said with a smile, professing a desire to make the facility feel more like a home.
If only that was the biggest problem the woebegone franchise faces moving forward.
This was supposed to be a celebratory day for this franchise – the day that the Nets could finally be, as Prokhorov himself said during Wednesday’s press conference, “100 percent in Brooklyn,” with a state-of-the-art practice facility to go with Barclays Center, their home one subway stop and a 10-minute walk away.
Instead the day focused on other happenings, all flowing back to the fact the Nets face one of the biggest and most difficult rebuilding jobs in the entire NBA on their hands. The topic of the day Wednesday was who would lead that effort.
Like the rest of the team’s rocky recent past, the team’s in-season search for a new general manager was similarly bumpy. Brooklyn named San Antonio Spurs assistant general manager Sean Marks as its selection for the post Thursday morning — a little less than five hours before the trade deadline — only a day after word began to spread around the NBA that the 40-year-old New Zealander had turned down Brooklyn’s offer.
When asked Wednesday about whether Marks had been offered the job, Prokhorov said flatly, “I’ve never heard this name before.”
For those who don’t know Prokhorov, or haven’t followed his nearly six years running the Nets, they may not have understood what he was doing. But if you’ve paid attention, this felt very much like when Prokhorov said of Jason Kidd, after the Hall of Fame point guard left Brooklyn to go to Milwaukee two summers ago, “Don’t let the door hit you where the Good Lord split you.”
Still, things wound up working out for the Nets and Marks, after the two sides came to an agreement to bring him aboard Thursday morning as the replacement for former general manager Billy King. Now Marks must begin the daunting task of turning things around in Brooklyn.
Because of the fateful trade with Boston that brought Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett here in 2013, the Nets still don’t control their first-round pick until 2019, and lack a first-rounder both this season and next. The loss of this year’s pick is particularly painful, given the Nets will begin the second half of the season tied with Phoenix for the third-worst record in the NBA. And while the Nets do have a couple of solid veterans on good contracts in Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, as well as two athletic and intriguing rookies in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough, that’s the extent of their core assets entering free agency, where they’ll have to spend the approximately $40 million they have in cap space wisely in order to begin turning things around.
Those are just some of the reasons why this job, despite the beautiful homes the team has for both game nights and practice days, the location and the money Prokhorov has to spend, isn’t exactly atop anyone’s list of attractive jobs around the NBA. That is why it never made much sense for the Nets to move on from King when they did, making the unusual move to not only fire coach Lionel Hollins back on Jan. 10, but also fire King and kick off an immediate search for a new general manager. Going through a thorough search for a front office executive in the middle of season is a highly unusual move, as teams often prefer to wait until the end of the season.
But while the Nets hired Marks, focusing on who is running basketball operations is irrelevant. Instead, what the Nets need now more than anything is something they’ve rarely had during Prokhorov’s ownership: a long-term plan of action to which they’re fully committed.
Throughout his time running the team, Prokhorov has cited the need to chase championships. His team has followed those orders, spending tons of money and shipping out tons of draft picks to construct rosters that have made the playoffs three times, but only won one playoff series.
Things have to be different now in Brooklyn. Marks, beginning this summer, must chart a more strategic course. If the Nets can get some team to give them a significant return for either Lopez or Young – the kind of players locked into long-term deals that will look better and better as the cap skyrockets – they should strongly consider trading them.
Regardless, they should then go into free agency this summer and try to get as many assets as possible. Go after players like Golden State’s Harrison Barnes, Orlando’s Evan Fournier and other restricted free agents that may prove too expensive for their teams to retain. Perhaps use their cap space as trade fodder for teams looking to shed money to sign other players. Search for undervalued players on the market that can turn into potential assets down the road.
Will it be a long, hard road for the Nets back to respectability? Of course. That’s why they are in the situation they find themselves currently, with a 14-40 record heading into the final two months of the season and with no first-round picks on the horizon to help rescue them from the abyss.
But the situation is not hopeless – if they have the patience to allow a plan to take root, and to follow it to its conclusion.
To this point, nothing has indicated the Nets are willing to do that. Perhaps the pain they are enduring now will help those lessons take hold this time under Marks.