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Sean Marks Says Nets Took a Step Back: 'The Culture Isn't What It Once Was'

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVMay 11, 2022

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Beyond improving the roster this offseason, Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks acknowledged he has some work ahead to address deeper organizational issues.

"Did we take a step back? Without a doubt," Marks told reporters Wednesday. "The culture isn’t what it once was."

Nets Videos @SNYNets

"We have prided ourselves on finding players with a chip on their shoulder...we're going to have to go back to that, and look more at development"<br><br>- Sean Marks <a href="https://t.co/Aw4PlBvJrs">pic.twitter.com/Aw4PlBvJrs</a>

Brooklyn's painstaking rebuild finally began bearing fruit in 2018-19 as the team won 42 games and reached the playoffs. More than the success on the court, Marks and then-head coach Kenny Atkinson established a clear culture within the franchise.

"I think you’re definitely a reflection of your coach, and he’s tough," Nets sharpshooter Joe Harris told The Athletic's Michael Scotto in March 2019. "He definitely is the type of guy who has that chip on his shoulder. He’s worked his way up to get to this point, and I think that’s reflective of everybody in this locker room and we kind of take on that persona."

That overall structure helped make the Nets an attractive landing spot for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Matt Brooks @MattBrooksNBA

Joe Harris says there was a perception "across the league that we had the best culture," and that's how the Nets landed Kyrie &amp; KD (and now Harden, Griffin, Aldridge, etc). Says "the culture has stayed the same" but the talent has just improved.

As it began building around those two stars, though, Brooklyn shed the identity it had forged and along with that seemed to lose its direction. Harris is the lone holdover from the 2018-19 squad, with D'Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen all shipped out in search of more proven talent.

Beyond just overhauling the roster, the Nets have leaned harder into player empowerment more than perhaps any other NBA team.

Atkinson was fired midway through the 2019-20 season. Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill reported in March 2020 that Irving had "soured on Atkinson early." Shams Charania and Alex Schiffer reported at the same time that DeAndre Jordan, who came to Brooklyn as a "package deal" with Durant and Irving, was upset that Atkinson was starting Allen ahead of him at center.

Eventually in Atkinson's place came Steve Nash, who was a two-time MVP as a player but unproven as an NBA coach. After Nash's hiring, Irving famously said in October 2020 that "I don’t really see us having a head coach," alluding to how different voices could be guiding the way on a given night.

But the 2022 playoffs showed the limits of that approach as Nash was out-schemed by his counterpart, Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka.

Kristian Winfield #NFTAllStar @Krisplashed

Everyone's takeaway from this series so far is that Steve Nash is getting outcoached. <a href="https://t.co/8kmvZGoiG4">https://t.co/8kmvZGoiG4</a>

Stefan Bondy @SBondyNYDN

one coach’s game plan (Udoka’s) is working and the other coach (Nash) has done nothing to counter except hope talent bails him out. That’s being outcoached.

In general, the entire season was a direct broadside against Brooklyn's approach. 

Catering to Irving and allowing him to be a part-time player alienated James Harden, whom Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer reported in January "has been vocal to Nets figures and close contacts alike about his frustrations" with the situation.

And that's to say nothing of how trading for Harden in the first place—and losing Allen, LeVert and draft picks in the process—blew up rather spectacularly in the face of Marks and the front office.

As long as Brooklyn's fate is wedded to Durant and Irving, returning to the standard Atkinson helped set might be difficult given how everything has unfolded since then.

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