With Year 2 of the Nets’ rebuilding project in the books, general manager Sean Marks praised coach Kenny Atkinson for the way he developed key players. The glaring exception who didn’t develop and got little playing time was Jahlil Okafor, but Marks supported Atkinson and the coaching staff regarding their handling of Okafor.
Because the Nets don’t have their own first-round pick until next year, Marks said wins and losses won’t be the barometer used to measure progress. But when the Nets develop a roster talented enough to get into playoff contention, the general manager said owners Mikhail Prokhorov and Joseph Tsai, who recently purchased a 49 percent stake in the team with the option to buy a controlling interest in 2021, are fully committed to investing in the free-agent market.
“We’ve seen our scouts and front office bring in players that we saw something special in, that analytics saw something special in,” Marks said. “Kenny and his group has taken those guys and further developed them into pretty robust players, which is great to see.
“At some point, that’s going to change, whether it’s this coming year or in the future, where now we’ve got to start winning games. When the roster tweaks a little bit more and the current guys we know we’re moving ahead with develop and seize their opportunity. We already know we have an ownership group that is willing to fork out big money when the timing is right.”
The first season under Marks and Atkinson resulted in an NBA-worst 20-62 record, but even though point guard Jeremy Lin suffered a season-ending injury in this season’s opener, the Nets managed an eight-win improvement to 28-54.
Asked to evaluate the job by his coach, Marks said: “When I look at the job Kenny has done, I say look at our players that have improved over the course of the last two years. [You can] call some of them diamonds in the rough, but I don’t think we can argue with what Kenny and the staff have done in terms of developing talent.
“Obviously, with the injury situations that happened, that threw a wrench in the works for us,” Marks said of the Lin injury and a knee injury that cost D’Angelo Russell 32 games. “Kenny and his coaching staff was able to navigate that and put players in different situations to succeed. Those things were important for me to look at when I look back and say how did Kenny and his staff do over the course of the year?”
In December, Marks pulled off a trade with the 76ers for Okafor, the No. 3 overall pick in 2015, and Nik Stauskas, the No. 8 pick in 2014. But Okafor appeared in just 26 games, averaging barely 12 minutes, and played in only four of the final 24 games.
Questioned about Okafor’s lack of use, Marks said: “A lot of group-think goes into that. This isn’t one person sitting here making that [decision]. This is the front office, this is analytics, performance, coaching staff . . . Ultimately, [it’s] up to the coaches and Kenny to decide on that. Do we wish they could have played a little bit more? Perhaps, but at the same time, I respect the decisions Kenny made to play or not to play not only Jah but the whole roster.”
Asked if he consulted with Atkinson about Okafor, he was emphatic. “Absolutely,” he said.
Atkinson stressed the importance of continuity and the offseason program. “The proof will be in the pudding when we start next year’s preseason and we talk about the commitment and buy-in,” he said. “I expect full participation, enthusiasm for what we’re trying to do here from all those guys.”