As they return from a successful 2-1 trip to Atlanta and Mexico City, the Nets must hit the reset button in order to accommodate newcomers Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas, who were acquired in a stunning trade with Philadelphia on Thursday.
The Nets sent veteran leader Trevor Booker to the 76ers and waived Sean Kilpatrick to make room for Stauskas. The popularity of both players in the locker room was such that Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson talked individually to the remaining players to explain their reasons behind the deal.
“I think we were devastated,” said veteran DeMarre Carroll, who just joined the Nets himself in a trade last July. “They were like our brothers, Sean Kilpatrick and Trevor. But [Marks and Atkinson] came to talk to us and try to make us see the bigger picture, see why they did the trade.”
Point guard Spencer Dinwiddie added, “It always hurts to see guys you grew with leave. But at the same time, we’re excited about the future. We’re just going to try and get better and win as many games as possible. The goal doesn’t change.”
Atkinson expressed faith in the players to welcome Okafor and Stauskas into the fold. “Sean and Trevor were loved in that locker room, but there’s also the business side of this,” Atkinson said. “It happens with every team, and it’s difficult. But young people are very adaptable. I think it will be a seamless transition.”
That’s the hope, but Okafor played in only two games with the 76ers this season and Stauskas saw action in only six games. The Nets first must determine their conditioning and get them up to speed. The new players also must learn the Nets’ fast-paced offensive system and fit in with their help defense principles. Neither is a strong defender, but the Nets are best when they play effective defense that feeds their transition offense.
“Okafor went to Duke and Stauskas went to Michigan, so they’ve got to be smart guys,” Dinwiddie said. “I’m sure they’re going to hop right in and be great pieces. Really, blending depends on basketball IQ and willingness to do it. I’m sure those guys have the first, and I’m presuming they’re going to have the latter as well. I think they’ll be fine and we’ll be fine.”
Despite questions about Okafor’s work ethic and conditioning, his low-post scoring ability is something the Nets lack. As the point guard, Dinwiddie will be working closely with him to bring that out.
“He’s extremely talented,” he said of Okafor. “We’ll find ways to get him shots, and my job is to give him the ball in positions he likes and hopefully make his transition as easy as possible.”
When the Nets made the trade, Marks said he was counting on a strong locker room culture to educate Okafor and Stauskas in how the Nets go about their business. “Now we’ve got to try to jell them into the system and the culture that we’re trying to build,” Carroll said. “I feel like that’ll be easy because if you don’t fit in, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb.”