The NBA was the first American professional sports league to shut down operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but after three weeks of adapting to social distancing and new ways of conducting business, Nets general manager Sean Marks said the league and commissioner Adam Silver are “turning over every rock they possibly can to play.”
Marks made his remarks Wednesday morning in a wide-ranging conference call with members of the media who regularly cover the Nets. He said the four Nets players who tested positive for coronavirus, including star Kevin Durant, now are symptom-free, as is everyone else in the organization including front office, coaching staff, training staff and players.
The Nets were 30-34 and the seventh playoff seed in the Eastern Conference when play was halted on March 11. Marks indicated all options for the resumption of play still are under discussion.
“I think we’ve seen before with commissioner Silver and the league, they have a proven track record of being very creative, being very fluid and having a collaborative approach to this,” Marks said. “So, it would not surprise me in the slightest when they do come out with whatever the next couple of months look like. We’ll all be in the know, and we’ll all have had a voice and had a say in it.
“I think they’re turning over every rock they possibly can to play and looking at every different outcome. From a team perspective, we have to be preparing for everything, and that goes for keeping the schedule as is to every single outcome you can possibly have. The No. 1 priority from all sides obviously is going to be keeping not only our players safe, but it’s the fans, it’s the game of basketball and how we move forward.”
Just two games before the NBA halted play, the Nets replaced coach Kenny Atkinson with interim coach Jacque Vaughn, who is 2-0 since the change, including a win over the Lakers in Los Angeles in their last game on March 10. Marks said he has not reached out to any potential coaching candidates but is supporting Vaughn and his staff in their outreach to players who are trying to stay in shape at home.
Marks and Atkinson agreed the coach’s voice no longer resonated in the locker room, hinting in particular at disagreements with stars Durant and Kyrie Irving, who signed last summer as maximum-salary free agents. Without naming those two directly, Marks indicated they will have input to the coaching search.
“I think that’s the approach we’ve taken with everything, whether it was free agency or even the draft,” Marks said of player involvement. “We had our own players come in and watch draft workouts. I love getting their opinions … In everything, we would certainly use the expertise and the experience from several of our players and take that collaborative approach. Ultimately, I’m not going to put the decision on any one, two, four or five players. It’s going to come down to myself, the front office and our ownership, but it will be a collaborative approach."
Because the Nets’ training facility in Brooklyn has been ruled off-limits to all players for the time being, Marks admitted that conditioning and rehab programs might suffer, including Durant’s comeback from Achilles tendon surgery last June and Irving’s recovery from shoulder surgery in early March.
Asked if either of those players might be available should the NBA resume play later in the summer, Marks said, “I couldn’t even give an answer on when they’ll be able to play this season. I don’t think it’s fair to those athletes nor to the performance team to put a timeline on it . . . I do know those two players are continuing their rehab . . . We’re talking to them and FaceTiming, but it’s quite different to having those guys on the court. At the right time and when they’re 100 percent, I’m sure they’ll be making those decisions.”
Marks said he has no idea how much longer the NBA shutdown might last, but after initially telling his staff to spend time with their families when New York City went into quarantine, everyone has resumed work from a distance to prepare for the draft, free agency and possibly a resumption of play.
“I do think it’s important that we do see each other and we have that human interaction and reaching out, telling stories, maybe getting some laughs over a conference call,” Marks said. “It’s given us a lot of great discussions, a lot of great debates. Being prepared at this time as best you can is going to be really important.”