- ESPN.com NBA writer since 2010
- Covered Cleveland Cavs for seven years
- Author of two books
Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks has had to deal with numerous high stress days and get through a handful of uncomfortable news conferences over the past year.
Tuesday was particularly rough.
Marks had to explain why he mutually parted ways with coach Steve Nash just seven games into the season — while apparently already having engaged in a complicated process to name a controversial potential replacement, reportedly Ime Udoka.
All of this news as Kyrie Irving had thrown the team into yet another tempest, which the Nets publicly had done little about, with Marks having to address numerous questions while Irving was spared from facing scrutiny for a second consecutive day.
In facing tough questions over these past months, Marks often would do it alongside Nash, a longtime friend. Nash was relieved of this duty as well, and the general manager handled it alone.
He’s an annotated look at what Marks said — and didn’t say — as the franchise faces drama on at least three different fronts:
Editor’s note: Interview edited for brevity
On whether Nets players were consulted in the decision to move on from Nash:
“Zero. There was zero input from any of the players on this. I think this was a decision that we didn’t need that. Steve and I didn’t need that. Obviously I’ve talked to [owner] Joe [Tsai] about this, but the players were not consulted. They were told ahead of time that this was the direction we were going.”
After Tuesday’s 108-99 loss to the Chicago Bulls, Durant said he was “shocked” and that he learned the news by seeing it on ESPN.
On the timing of the mutual decision between the Nets and Nash:
“When we’re having these conversations, [Nash] is aware of ‘they’re not responding to me right now,’ or ‘that was not the performance I needed to see out there,’ and so forth. We were open with that dialogue always happening. And so you know, over the course of, you know, the last week, 10 days, we’ve just been talking and talking, and I think it came to a head.”
It’s exceptionally rare for an NBA coach to be let go on a game day, much less roughly 12 hours after a win (the Nets beat the Indiana Pacers 116-109 on Monday night).
Marks explained the business decision had been in the works for days. If the timeline he refers to here is accurate, these conversations would have actually started only a few days into the 2022-23 regular season.
If Marks and Nash knew where things were headed, it would have allowed the Nets to already begin the process of vetting Ime Udoka’s situation with the Boston Celtics.
On whether the Nets have determined their next coach:
“No. Absolutely not.”
Marks could debate the meaning of the word “determined,” but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported within hours of Nash’s departure that Udoka was likely to replace Nash within a day or two.
Considering the situation with Udoka serving an opaque suspension while under contract with the Celtics, it is ostensible the process of bringing in Udoka and sending out Nash has been going on for some time now.
On what a new coach would bring to the Nets:
“When I look at the group of guys out there, I would love to see them competing at the highest level. I mean, we saw games this year where, I’ll be honest, I don’t think we brought it. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. There were times where a quarter was taken off, a half was taken off, a game was taken off. We didn’t compete. … The candidates that we’re looking for, are going to be looking for, that’s going to be one of their attributes. Competitive and having a voice to hold guys accountable.
This is the only time Marks was truly critical of Nash and the players throughout the news conference. Referring to a voice to hold players accountable might be a tell for the imminent hiring of Udoka, who crafted a reputation for doing just that with his star players during his one season as the head coach in Boston.
On whether the Nets would be comfortable hiring Udoka:
“Obviously, there’s a reason why we made this move when we did, because time is ticking. So we do want this process to be a thorough one. We’re not going to skip steps on that. And we’ll do our due diligence.”
This was a coded question about Udoka and his suspension for improprieties in the workplace. Marks gave a coded answer, implying the Nets have looked into it but are still ready to make the hire because the season is already underway.
On how Nets fans should react to the latest news and controversy:
“Look, it’s understandable. I’m completely empathetic to what’s going on here. I’m certainly not proud of the situation we find ourselves in, you know? … As it pertains to Kyrie, we are having discussions. … From the highest levels [that] we’re involved with the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) and getting their advice and just hopefully they can advise us. We can bring something to the table that both parties, all parties can be at least understandable to one another here and understand that there is no tolerance and no room for any hate speech, any antisemitic remarks whatsoever, whether it’s in this organization or any organization for that matter.”
When Marks said this, Irving’s social media post referencing a movie with antisemitic tropes was five days old. Irving’s comments in which he defended his choices were three days old, as were the formal statements condemning them by both Nets owner Joe Tsai and the team itself.
Irving had deleted the post one day before. It is unclear the nature of the discussions that Marks and the Nets have had.
On possible punishment for Irving:
“As I mentioned before, we’re talking to the ADL right now. That’s on the Joe Tsai level, our CEO and myself and the group, and really just trying to weigh out exactly what the best course of action is here. Part of it is going to be getting sides together so they can understand where people are coming from. There’s an education piece for everybody here. There’s an empathetic piece to this and understanding that we need to move on and we need to do the right thing without a doubt.”
Marks implied there is going to be some sort of meeting between Irving, the Nets and the ADL, but he wasn’t clear on any such details.
Beyond a punishment, the topic of Irving still playing with the Nets is addressed:
“We have tried to do a little bit of both to be honest. By keeping him — he did not do media last night, he’s not going to do media tonight. At some point he will come up here and do media again, but I think at this point it’s, we don’t want to cause more fuss right now, more interaction with people. Like, let’s let him simmer down and let’s let this whole, I guess let’s let cooler minds prevail. We need to go out and educate ourselves, educate the whole group and get some direction, seek from the experts, and the experts is one of them, is certainly the ADL.”
This is perhaps the most remarkable answer of the news conference. Marks admitted the team will continue to violate league rules by not letting Irving talk to the media because it might cause “a fuss.” Whether true or not, this could imply Irving is not ready to apologize while the team is not ready to take substantive action regarding his previous actions or comments.
The league did not announce any fine Tuesday for violation of media policy. Irving declined to speak to the media Monday night after he scored 28 points in helping the Nets break a four-game losing streak with eight fans sitting in the front row at Barclays Center wearing “Fight Anti-Semitism” T-shirts.
On why Irving still isn’t talking with the media:
“Everybody knows he’s going to have to answer these questions at some point, and he hasn’t sort of shied away in the past, but I think the last postgame meeting didn’t go well and we’re not trying to cover it up. I think this is something that has to be addressed, but let’s address it in the right form or fashion, and when that is we’ll let you guys know.”
The Nets are off Wednesday. Irving, who played one of his worst games as a Net on Tuesday night, scoring just six points, will not have addressed the media for four days. Players’ contracts and league rules require speaking to the media following each game.
On whether the Nets can still chase a title this season:
“… My job here is to put this team, this organization in the best possible place to succeed, not only now but long term. We don’t want to skip steps. We don’t want to fast track it here. But we do realize, I’m going to be honest, we have a window here and when we have this group of players and this salary cap, and where we are, we hope to achieve that. I think we’ve all seen what’s happened over the course of the last few years, there’s been plenty of teams that at one point looked a certain way and made some moves and they changed. We hope to be one of those teams, by [arriving] at the decision we will [make] in the next few days, hopefully, that will be a catalyst for a turnaround.”
The Nets have a $185 million payroll and are scheduled to pay $108 million in luxury taxes, so the investment in the team is more than a quarter billion dollars this season. Between 2023 and 2027, the Nets’ own first-round picks are owed to the Houston Rockets either outright or in swaps that dull any rebuild discussions.
There have been calls by some for the Nets to consider tearing it down and trading Irving and Durant. Marks seemed to make it clear with his answer: That is not happening. Replacing the coach is about giving this team every chance at success.
On how the Nets’ recent actions and changes will affect Durant:
“You know, I think we have to factor all of these things in. I mean, it’s certainly not an easy decision to get to this particular junction right now and when we make the decision on who we will hire, I think we have to look at what’s best for us now but also long term.”
Durant talked at the Nets’ media day in September about why he asked for a trade from the team during the summer: “I wanted everybody to be held accountable for their habits as a basketball player. I think a lot of stuff was getting swept under the rug.”
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