Nets’ GM, Head Coach Aggressively Pursuing Russian Point Guard
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
After managing just 20 wins this past season — their least yet during the Brooklyn era — the Nets are scouring the globe for more talent.
Nets general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson will be in team owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s native Russia Thursday night to watch CSKA Moscow point guard Milos Teodosic compete in a EuroLeague playoff game against Baskonia.
Teodosic, a 30-year-old Serbian playmaker who some deem as the best pure passer on the planet, would fit nicely into the Brooklyn backcourt, be it as a back-up to starter Jeremy Lin, or in tandem with Atkinson’s point guard/quarterback.
The 2010 EuroLeague Most Valuable Player is averaging 13.9 points, 6.9 assists and 2.4 rebounds this season, and his pick-and-roll mastery would mesh with the talents of Nets center Brook Lopez, who continues to be Brooklyn’s most reliable and productive players entering what will be his 10th season in 2017-18.
“Brook in both of our minds is one of the elite centers in the league, there’s no question there,” Marks said of the always-affable 7-footer out of Stanford.
“You look at the way his game has translated, not only in Kenny’s system, but in the offseason, how he’s worked hard on performance aspect, changing his body and changing his game and adapting a bit. Does he fit in Kenny’s system? I think we’ve seen that he does.”
Prokhorov, the former owner of CSKA’s basketball, hockey and soccer clubs, was expected to meet with his Brooklyn brain trust on Wednesday before the trio went to take a closer look at Teodosic, who will be a free agent following the completion of his team’s run through the Euro postseason.
On Monday, Marks hinted that the Nets, who will have over $30 million in free-agent money to spend this summer, aren’t looking to pour that money into a major star on the open market.
Instead, they will try to spread the wealth in an effort to continue the culture-building, patience-preaching philosophy they have followed religiously since this renovation project began following the 2014-’15 campaign, the last season that resulted in a Nets’ playoff berth.
“We know that none of us are happy — and that includes our players — winning 20 games,” Marks said from the team’s HSS Training Center in Sunset Park.
“We know we have to build on this, we have to continue to build and continue to get the right caliber of players to fit into this group and be strategic along the way.”
That strategy may rely heavily on having a first-rate option behind Lin, who missed 45 games this past season with a pair of nagging hamstring injuries.
When Lin did play, and it wasn’t often enough, the Nets showed signs of being a relevant franchise again, including going 11-13 after March 1.
Brooklyn endured losing streaks of 16 games overall and a franchise-record 16-game skid at Barclays Center this season, watching home attendance drop steadily after filling the building virtually every night during its first three seasons in our fair borough, each of which resulted in a postseason appearance.
Lopez, Lin and blooming young players like Caris LeVert and Brooklyn’s own Isaiah Whitehead provide some hope that the Nets won’t just be watching on television the next time the NBA playoffs come around.
So, Marks hopes, will the June NBA Draft, which will see the Nets make two first-round picks as well as their second-rounder.
Brooklyn won’t be in position to draft first overall despite the league’s worst record as it continues to feel the burden of the blockbuster and, some say, franchise-killing 2013 deal that sent the Nets’ rights to that potential pick to Boston in exchange for aging stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
Thus far, Marks has done well with what he’s inherited, but going forward he will have to start proving his worth in the win column.
“The objective for us is to be in the playoffs. When that comes, we’ll see,” Marks said wistfully.
“You don’t want to go and sign free agents and then the next thing you know your payroll is capped out and you’re a 25-win team. We’re going to have to build this strategically, have patience with it.”
That patience was rarely exhibited by Prokhorov during his first four seasons at the helm here in Brooklyn. The Nets fired Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo and Lionel Hollins while interim head coach Tony Brown was relieved of his duties and Jason Kidd forced his way out of our borough and into a higher-paying job in Milwaukee.
That brought us to Atkinson, whose positive approach and diligence has begun to energize his developing players, as well as the more seasoned veterans on the squad.
Losing 62 games wasn’t easy to swallow for the Long Island native and first-year head coach, but he, like Marks, saw signs of improvement throughout the otherwise dismal campaign.
“Obviously the losses weren’t easy, but we understood what we were getting into,” Atkinson said. “I know in the long run that the adversity we had to face — it’s almost like you deserve to face that, this is what it is — I think it made me a better coach.”
“It made our players better players just to go through that struggle,” he added. “So I liked the process and looking back on it, having to fight through some tough times. I think that will make us better in the long run.”
That long run began in earnest with a long flight to Russia this week, one that Marks and Atkinson hope will result in the signing of a player they deem worthy of their new Blueprint for Greatness.