The men who run the Nets have been on quite a streak the past few years, culminating in the game-changing (and, they hope, franchise-altering) recruitment of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn, a flourish that not only makes them among the league’s most intriguing teams but also kneecapped their orange-and-blue friends across the river.
If we have learned one thing about Sean Marks in his time here, it is that he is immune to the NBA scourge of impetuousness. Every move, every transaction, every comment he makes, there is belief behind it. There is time and energy and logic and reason invested in reaching those conclusions. Rebuilding a basketball team out of ashes is serious business. Marks is a serious man. It shows.
But it is also curious, then, why he would have said the following to reporters in Las Vegas the other day, regarding Durant, the crown jewel so far of what he has created on Atlantic Avenue, and the status of his Achilles injury, which it is believed will keep him sidelined for all of next year:
“He will be evaluated with the performance team and so forth. A timeline will be given in due time, but as of now, we’re certainly not going to comment on when or if and make any sort of hypotheticals. It’s too early.”
Now, this isn’t exactly Rex Ryan terrain, admittedly. But it sure does open the door toward wondering if Durant might well be able to return toward the end of next year, which would certainly throw a wrench into whatever the season might look like through 65 or 70 games.
He didn’t say: “We don’t expect to see him next year.”
Which means that Marks, careful man, has invited, at the very least, a narrative that didn’t have to be a part of next season at all. Come February, every time Marks or Nets coach Kenny Atkinson appears in front of a microphone, an absolutely fair question that will have to be asked is this: “How close is Kevin?”
Smart organizations like the Nets take pride in limiting — if not eliminating — any and all distractions for their team. Now, two full months before the team will report to training camp, Marks has introduced one, invented it out of whole cloth. It is a curious decision.
It also carries with it a few other curious effects. One of the things that soured Durant on Golden State, you may recall, was the feeling — fair or unfair — that he should expedite the clock on his return from the calf injury that preceded the blown-out Achilles — and that was without the kind of on-the-record observation Marks made in Vegas.
You may also recall that Derrick Rose’s Hall of Fame track was permanently altered — and probably destroyed — by the constant questions of when he would be returning to the Bulls after his catastrophic knee injury. The expedient path for any team dealing with an injured star is this: When he’s healthy, you’ll see him. Period.
Again, it begs a simple question: Why? The Nets were already all but drowning in praise and plaudits for pulling off the daily-double that few believed them capable of even three weeks ago — and that was with the assumption that they would be paying Durant to, in essence, take a medical redshirt next year and set their next-level sights on the 2020-21 season.
You would think Marks isn’t interested in making these remarks on the off-chance that they would bolster ticket sales. After all: If the Nets suddenly announced next January that Durant was well ahead of schedule, that it was realistic for him to play again by mid- or late March, you can guarantee that every available seat at Barclays Center the rest of the way would be sold within 15 minutes of that pronouncement.
Is it possible that the news that was revealed Wednesday — that both Durant and Irving have fourth-year player options on the contracts they’ve signed with the Nets, rather than the straight four-year deals it was believed they’d agreed to — might have gotten Marks thinking about how beneficial a best-case scenario with Durant might really be?
After all, those 3-and-1 contracts potentially narrow the window of opportunity the Nets might have to maximize their ambitions. Suddenly, if you factor in a lost year to injury and the possibility of a fourth-year exodus, that gives the Nets exactly two years to figure out a way to narrow the gap (which still very much exists, even with Durant) between themselves and the Bucks and Sixers (and, maybe, the Celtics) in the
East, to say nothing of the Lakers and Clippers out West.
Again: Marks is too smart to let his tongue get in the way of his brain, to allow himself to fall for short-term optimism in lieu of his long-term blueprint. You’d like to think he had a reason for this. It’s just hard to figure out what it was right now.
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