NBA: Kiwi general manager Sean Marks steers Brooklyn Nets back to playoffs

Kiwi basketball pioneer Sean Marks has an NBA championship ring to his name - but has probably trumped that achievement with his post-playing role as Brooklyn Nets general manager.

When Marks took up the role three years ago, the Nets - New York's 'other' team - were drowning in the toilet, after one of the most horrendous draft-night trades in league history.

On Monday (NZT), they dragged themselves out of the mire to secure an Eastern Conference playoff spot that has Marks, 43, heralded as one of the top young executives in the NBA.  

Their 108-96 win over Indiana Pacers means they cannot slip out of the conference's top eight. Brooklyn currently hold sixth spot, with a projected match-up against the Philadelphia 76ers in the opening round.

In 2013, the Nets traded five players and three first-round draft picks to the Boston Celtics for aging stars Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry.

The Celtics converted those picks into Kyrie Irving, Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and are now among the title favourites. Garnett and Pierce, who had helped Boston to the 2008 NBA crown and the 2010 finals, guided Brooklyn to two playoffs, but never delivered on the high price paid for them.

When they departed, the Nets' future was in tatters.

The first Kiwi to play in the NBA, Marks carved out a 13-year NBA playing career that included six teams and a championship with the San Antonio Spurs, before moving to coaching and front-office roles with the Spurs, where he learned how to run a successful organisation.

In 2016, he accepted the near-impossible task of resurrecting the Nets and set about his task by recruiting in his own image - high-character battlers looking for a chance to prove themselves.

"The biggest thing about this was the challenge," he told ESPN in March. "That stood out for me - and the chance to do it in a great market.

"Can it be done? I like to have that chip on my shoulder, like most of the people in here - they have something to prove."

Marks hired feisty Atlanta Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson and developed his roster by trading for unwanted players, with young prospects or high draft picks attached.

"The identity obviously takes after Kenny, being number one," said Marks. "He's the first line of fire, he's going to compete and the players have taken after him.

"We've had to take a look at players that may not have fitted in certain places, but for whatever reason, we think they fit here."

Sean Marks dunks for the Tall Blacks at the Athens Olympics
Sean Marks dunks for the Tall Blacks at the Athens Olympics. Photo credit: Photosport

Perhaps the key pick-up in this process was D'Angelo Russell, who fell out with the Los Angeles Lakers during his rookie year, after filming a teammate's boasts of infidelity and posting them on social media.

"I didn't know what it was like to be a pro, so everything that every naysayer or critic said about me was probably true," Russell told ESPN.

This season, Russell has matured into a first-time All Star, averaging a team-leading 21 points and seven assists a game.

Still, no-one gave the Nets any chance of making it back to the post-season this quickly.

"It's another great little stepping stone in how we're trying to build this," says Marks. "You have to try and go through teams that have had success, and they'll show you how to perform how to prepare and so forth."


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