SAN ANTONIO — First-year Nets general manager Sean Marks returned to his NBA home again Saturday night at AT&T Center, where he played and later learned the management side at the knees of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford. Since taking over the Nets, Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson have made it clear that their organization is rooted in the principles that have made the Spurs so successful over the years on the court and in human terms.
The big difference is that Marks and Atkinson don’t have an all-time great like Tim Duncan to build around. “Well, I tried to get Timmy out of retirement, and he wouldn’t come,” Marks joked. “That backfired.”
As much as he credits Popovich and Buford for his development, Marks understands that he and Atkinson must deal with their own set of circumstances. “I think it’s also important that what we establish is, ‘This is Brooklyn. This is our culture here,’ ” Marks said.
“We’ll take as many of the things as I possibly can from San Antonio, and Kenny will do it from Atlanta. But we’ll make it our own. That’s important. We have a great group of people that we’ve brought in from all around the world.”
The Nets’ record doesn’t reflect it yet, but the difference in organizational culture is overwhelming. The playing style has changed to something modern and efficient, there is a strong emphasis on player development, and the organization has taken what point guard Jeremy Lin has described as a “holistic approach” to the care and training of every player.
The template Marks applied came from the relationship between Popovich and Buford that he witnessed. “Really, that was everything,” Marks said. “They’ve both been coaches, and Pop was a GM. So they’ve seen it from all different angles. They were so inclusive. There were no hidden secrets. That’s what we were all about and they let me run with it from the D-League to my opportunities down here, which was amazing.”
Marks planned a front-office career, but when Popovich asked him to spend a season as an assistant coach, he grabbed the opportunity. As Marks said, “I remember the conversation vividly when Pop called and said, ‘Look, I’d like you to be an assistant. You’ll see it from my perspective; you’ll have a new appreciation for your staff when one day you have an opportunity to do it.’
“I relished that experience with Pop to sit there in the coach’s meetings and see what makes him tick and the stress levels that the coaching staff goes under. To be given that opportunity by arguably the best coach who’s been is pretty remarkable.”
Describing the relationship he enjoyed with Marks, Popovich sounded like a proud mentor. “Sean was a joy to work with because he was cordial, humorous, ready to go every second he was in the office,” he said.
“He was just fun to be around, highly intelligent, fun to talk basketball with. But mostly, just talking about life and eating dinner together and having a glass. He’s a great teammate and a great guy.”