The Brooklyn Nets are ready to go from a hypothetical to actual NBA team

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images /

Sean Marks spoke with the media today about James Harden, Landry Shamet and the Brooklyn Nets moving from a hypothetical to an actual team.

Sean Marks, general manager for the Brooklyn Nets, answered a question that wasn’t quite about James Harden, but absolutely wasn’t not about James Harden, in the careful way any NBA GM must.

“It’s very difficult to discuss hypotheticals; we just don’t know what’s out there, we don’t know when it’s going to come to fruition,” Marks told reporters on a Zoom Friday. “All you can do is prepare yourself to put the best roster you possibly can forward. We like what we have right now.”

But the reality of the Sean Marks Era in Brooklyn is that the team has existed almost entirely as a hypothetical, a series of connected ideas that have yet to reach reality on the court for perfectly understandable reasons.

Marks took over as general manager in 2016 at a time the Nets’ immediate future called for pain and dreams deferred, with all hope packaged along with the team’s draft picks to Boston in the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett deal. And so it was culture preached and players added to fit that idea around the Marks partnership with head coach Kenny Atkinson. The ability to find talent in hard-to-reach corners of the market brought the ambient level of play up steadily, even to playoff levels, but always there was the larger idea present, just around the next corner, of what the Nets would look like once they drafted or developed or, best of all, signed a superstar. A signing would accelerate the moment of winning from someday to, immediately, now.

Then came the addition of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, which was unlike typical free agent signings in a similar way, chronologically, that the initial Marks project was like a rebuild. Now meant later, with Durant injured and set to miss his first season in Brooklyn, and even before Irving went down with a shoulder injury, the Nets remained an idea, though the ambient level of competence and culture meant another playoff appearance. Even that served as a delightful pathway to dreaming — if the Nets could be this good without their future, well, what will it all mean when Durant and Irving return?

Even the specifics of how they’d play have changed, with Atkinson gone and Steve Nash, assisted by Mike D’Antoni, empowered to oversee this co-op of a basketball team. There’s little in the way of precedent, let alone any information about this group as it now exists, to let us understand what they can be or how well they will fare.

But after a wait that must have seemed interminable for Sean Marks, with two very different dreams deferred, we’re about to find out what it all looks like. Even so: he’s been forced to build this offseason in a real vacuum of information. The Nets are well-staffed in their analytics department. But one needs stats and film to break down to utilize all that brainpower.

What can Landry Shamet give the Brooklyn Nets this season?

What the Nets have in a concrete way, mostly, is some first-person observations from newly-acquired Landry Shamet, who worked out with Irving and Durant prior to being added in a draft-night trade.

“That’s who I was primarily playing pickup with at Mamba Sports Academy, this summer, or this fall, I guess,” Shamet said of Durant and Irving, while relatably confusing seasons. “So over my offseason, I’ve been able to play with them, get to know them. I’m excited: I like how they both play. They both move, they want to set screens and play in space. They’re unselfish, willing passers. And my mind’s been spinning about how I can get them the ball, get them shots, and how I’ll be able to contribute as well.”

There are some general principles that make the logic in acquiring Shamet and Bruce Brown sound ones for the Nets. Both are young, with obvious upside and a floor that already includes a plus skill to ensure value and playing time — for Brown, on-ball defending, for Shamet, an ability to stretch the floor with his shot.

Shamet, too, knows that the stakes are for a team with multiple stars to figure things out. He saw first-hand what not to do, first in Philadelphia, then Los Angeles, and what he described as the necessary process sounds more psychological than statistical.

“Identity-wise, that won’t be established until we all get under the same roof and start working together,” Shamet said. “And we’ll figure it out quick. We have smart guys on this team, if you look at the roster.”

But precisely what the team can be, and whether it can match the championship aspirations set by new coach Steve Nash, is more ephemeral in Shamet’s view. And that won’t be revealed until after he finishes his move to Brooklyn, his girlfriend currently taking on the twin responsibilities of selling off his furniture and watching their dog ahead of her joining him in a new city, a 23-year-old preparing to live life as a vital cog in the long Brooklyn experiment.

“From a fan’s perspective: honestly, if you’re a basketball fan, you’ll just know,” Shamet said. “You get it, you understand if guys are clicking and jelling, playing together. And as a player, you get it, too. You understand each other… I’m not sure when it will be, I’m not sure how soon, but I have a lot of faith in the coaching staff, and these players, to get us to that point as quickly as possible.”

For his part, Marks sounded like someone very comfortable with the roster he has. He’d previously expressed a desire to keep Joe Harris, a free agent whose skills overlap somewhat with Shamet’s — even so, Marks reiterated the wish to keep Harris, no doubt subscribing to the theory that more shooting is not a bad thing for an NBA roster.

But he also left open the possibility that he could make a big move and said he’d been in conversation with his players about that potential outcome.

“We just have to be ready and flexible for whatever happens, and hopefully the decisions we make put the best roster available on the court,” Marks said. “I couldn’t tell you how we’d make trades and whether that involves going after a bigger piece or whether that involves playing around the edges.”

If the move turned out to be Harden, it would necessitate a revamping of the roster, yes, but it would also reset the clock for figuring everything out to zero once more.

That once didn’t matter in Brooklyn, with a seemingly endless stretch of time ahead and only second-round picks and veteran minimum free agent acquisitions to sustain Marks and the Nets along that desert march. But Irving and Durant are about to debut in Brooklyn, their contracts and bodies are very real and very human, and the Nets don’t live in the parallel world any longer.

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