Marks has spent the past 18 months solely focused on accumulating as many assets as he can. That’s meant taking on bad contracts to add draft picks. That’s meant throwing big-money offer sheets to restricted free agents such as Tyler Johnson, Allen Crabbe, Donatas Motiejunas and Otto Porter. And that’s meant making trades such as Thursday’s, when Marks sent Trevor Booker — and his $9 million expiring contract — to the Philadelphia 76ers for Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas and a 2019 second-round pick.
“It’s about having some patience, the need for patience” Marks said here Thursday, before his Nets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 100-95, in front of a sellout crowd at Mexico City Arena. “We’re not trying to get this all back in one fell swoop or anything like that. We’ll see what opportunities arise over the next year or 18 months, two years, three years and so forth. [That is] the same thing we’ve done over the last 18 months.
“That [means] players, picks and everything.”
For an asset-deprived team, the Okafor trade makes plenty of sense. It’s the classic “second draft” scenario: Find a player who was a high draft pick (Okafor was the third pick in 2015) who has fallen on hard times, and hope a change of scenery leads to a change in performance.
Marks made a similar move in June, trading Brook Lopez — and his $22.6 million expiring contract — and a 2017 first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 pick in 2015, and Timofey Mozgov.
In both instances, Marks was betting on potential and determined it was worth giving up a variety of assets — cap space, players and draft picks — to acquire a pair of 21-year-olds who, not long ago, were considered stars in the making.
That’s not to say both came without risk. Russell has played well (20.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists) when healthy but has been out for three weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Mozgov, on the other hand, has done nothing to change the notion that his average of $16 million in salary for this season and the next two is the definition of dead money.
The Okafor trade comes with far less risk but arguably also far less potential value. He averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds as a rookie, but a knee injury derailed his season last year, and the emergence of Joel Embiid as a league-changing force relegated Okafor to the scrap heap as Sixers General Manager Bryan Colangelo openly tried to trade him for months. That’s why both Okafor and his agent, longtime NBA power broker Bill Duffy, publicly asked for a release.
But part of the difficulty is that Okafor’s skill set is a better fit for the NBA of 10 or 20 years ago than today’s. In a league where pace-and-space reigns supreme, a traditional low-post scorer with questionable defensive and rebounding abilities doesn’t merit the same value he once did.
The same value, however, doesn’t equal no value. Acquiring undervalued assets and rehabilitating them into valued ones is an essential part of the Nets’ plan.
That’s where the other important aspect of the path Marks has taken the Nets down comes in: a reliance on his coaching staff, led by Coach Kenny Atkinson, to be able to develop the talent he’s given.
“Well, I think in any trade or acquisition, you’re essentially going to bet on your staff,” Marks said. “That’s what we’ll do.”
It’s easy to see why. Atkinson, a former assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks, is considered by many to be the league’s best development coach. And while the Nets are still short on high-end talent, the improvement of the young players under his watch — most notably Spencer Dinwiddie, who has established himself as a rotation player while filling in for the injured Jeremy Lin and Russell at point guard — give the Nets hope there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Still, that light seems very far away. The Nets likely still are searching for the cornerstone player of their next contending team, though Russell has the potential to be that player. Brooklyn still has to suffer through one more draft without its first-round pick, one of the final remnants of the trade for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The franchise will have limited cap space next summer, then will have to eat into a chunk of what could be considerable space the following year to re-sign Russell (assuming he plays anywhere near the way the franchise hopes he does).
But the fact there is a light on at all is a sign that things are headed in the right direction in Brooklyn. And the biggest reason is Marks.
“We’ll take our patience,” he said. “We’re not going to just do every risky scenario that comes along. They’ll be the ones that fit our timeline moving forward. It could be the next three months, the next six months, the next six years. Who knows?
“But we’ll take that approach and be systematic in how we look at things. This was one of those deals that, for us, in the big picture, this is something that works.”