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GM Sean Marks grooming Nets as favorites to claim NBA title

Nets general manager Sean Marks speaks to the

Nets general manager Sean Marks speaks to the media during a press conference at the Nets HSS Training Center on Sept. 24, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

When Nets general manager Sean Marks held his season-opening news conference on Tuesday with head coach Steve Nash, he embraced the Nets’ status as consensus favorites to win the 2022 NBA title, noted that James Harden and Kyrie Irving have made significant progress rehabbing injuries and suggested those two players soon will receive contract extensions similar to the four-year deal worth $198 million signed recently by Kevin Durant.

But the road to a championship is full of obstacles. Injuries to star players derailed the Nets last season, and now they must deal with New York City’s strict vaccine mandate for people over the age of 12 who enter a covered premise without a medical or religious exemption. That means every player must be vaccinated to play in New York, and Marks admitted that’s not the case right now.

Citing privacy laws, Marks declined to reveal the names or the exact number of unvaccinated Nets. But he said he has had "candid conversations" with the entire team.

"These are individual decisions," Marks said. "Obviously, it’s out of our control. We are supporting getting the vaccination and putting out a healthy squad. We don’t see these — whether it’s a citywide mandate or a league mandate — being any sort of hindrance to putting out a team."

The NBA has encouraged but not required players to be vaccinated but has issued a mandate requiring all other league personnel — front office staff, coaches, medical staff, security, communications staff and scorer’s table workers — to be vaccinated. Also, the Nets are one of three teams, along with the Knicks and Golden State, who are requiring all of their players to be vaccinated, and Nets owner Joe Tsai and wife Clara Wu have sponsored vaccination sites in Brooklyn.

Training camp begins next Tuesday in San Diego, and the Nets return to Brooklyn after an Oct. 3 game in Los Angeles against the Lakers. They play their first home preseason game Oct. 8 and open the regular season Oct. 19 in Milwaukee.

Asked if all the players would have been available if the season started now, Marks said, "There obviously would be a couple players missing from that picture. I won’t get into who it is, but feel confident in the following several days before camp everybody would be allowed to participate."

Ultimately, the vaccination issue should be resolved but that leaves the big-ticket items of the health of Harden, who was compromised by a strained hamstring, and Irving, who suffered a severely sprained ankle early in the seven-game second-round loss to the eventual NBA champion Bucks.

"They feel good and look great," Marks said of the Nets’ superstar guards.

When Durant signed his extension over the summer, Marks expressed confidence Harden and Irving would be signed by training camp. "We’ve had very positive conversations with both those guys," Marks said. "I think it always helps to do those things in person…We’re looking forward to sitting down with them over the course of the next week, two weeks."

Marks emphasized he doesn’t see contract talks as a distraction. "Those guys know exactly how we feel, and I think they’ve been vocal about wanting to be a part of this and build this together. I think we’ve got an opportunity to hopefully build something special here for the foreseeable future."

After a productive offseason in which he re-signed veteran big men Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge and signed veteran forwards Paul Millsap and James Johnson plus sharp-shooting veteran guard Patty Mills, Marks expressed confidence in his team’s title aspirations.

"Our goal is to be the last team standing," Marks said. "For us, it’s about owning that and not shying away from it and doing everything we possibly can putting people into place . . . in order to try and accomplish that."

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