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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

Nets drawing a crowd now by building for the future

Nets general manager Sean Marks speaks to the

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

There wasn’t an empty chair to be had at Nets general manager Sean Marks’ preseason news conference Tuesday  in Brooklyn. Not only was every seat taken, but reporters and photographers occupied almost every foot of wall space on either side of the room.

It is one thing to pack a room with reporters, and quite another to pack the Barclays Center with paying fans. No NBA team averaged fewer fans than the Nets did last season, despite the fact they exceeded even their own expectations by making it to the first round of the playoffs.

This season, however, could be the one where the team breaks through. For the first time since the Jason Kidd era in the Meadowlands, the Nets have a young, talented core, big-name stars, solid management and unlimited aspirations. That won’t be enough to dethrone the Knicks as the most popular team in New York, despite the fact that the Knicks are lacking in all four of those areas.

But it doesn’t have to be.

“We’ve never been focused on winning over New York, or even being the team in New York,” Marks said. “We’ve got different goals than that. I think if you go out and build something that’s sustainable, you put an entertaining group on the floor that’s passionate and competes every night, people will automatically gravitate toward that. People will want to be a part of that.”

One thing is clear. Two of the most important free agents on the market this summer decided they wanted to be a part of what Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson are building in Brooklyn. The signings of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were transformational for a number of reasons.

First, it proved that it takes more than a great arena and a blindly loyal fan base to attract top talent to your team. If they didn’t already, Marks and Atkinson have to feel great about what they have been building. It was no secret that the Knicks had been gunning for these two players all season. By coming in and stealing their cheese, the Nets confirmed what we all sort of suspected: This generation of players, just like this generation of fans, doesn’t care all that much about tradition. They would rather be a part of a Brooklyn startup than a legacy franchise.

Second, even though Marks said Tuesday that Durant is likely to miss the entire season while he rehabs his torn Achilles, he transforms the Nets from a team hoping to make the playoffs to one that is aiming to contend for a title in the near future if not this season.

The Nets are smart to be cautious with Durant. Because if he can get back to even 80 percent of his prior MVP form, he is going to be a force to be reckoned with when he returns. The Nets don’t need to risk another injury controversy – like what happened with Golden State in the Finals – by bringing back Durant before he is ready.

In the meantime, it will be up to Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert to hold the fort until Durant’s return. And Marks is expecting big things.

“I think we would be in the wrong business if we said our goal is to be sort of sustainable and along for the ride of mediocrity,” Marks said. “None of those words exist with us. We’re going to compete at the highest level, and we expect the ultimate goal. That is why we’re all in this business.”

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