Basketball: Kiwi Sean Marks ready for any eventuality after NBA coronavirus shutdown

As the NBA season teeters on a knife-edge, Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks is just trying to stay one step ahead of the deadly pandemic that brought it a halt two months ago.

"I'm not sure we could have stayed ahead of this one," muses the Kiwi basketball trailblazer.

Twenty-two years after becoming the first New Zealander to play in the world's premier professional league, he now oversees the resurrection of a franchise that had fallen into disrepair.

In a desperate bid to finally break their title drought, the Nets frittered their future away for an ensemble of fading stars past their prime and were left empty-handed.

Since ascending to the GM role in 2016, Marks has resourcefully masterminded their return to the NBA playoffs after a three-year absence and now has them poised to challenge for the crown, by snatching megastars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency.

But this latest challenge transcends basketball and has him balancing his competitive nature with the greater good for mankind.   

"I would say I'm a strategic optimist," Marks tells Newshub. "I look at the various pathways and avenues this can go, but at the end of the day, I want to believe in humanity, first and foremost.

"I'm going to prepare that we're going to play, I'm going to prepare that we have a draft, that we have free agency and so forth, because not preparing could lead you down a rabbit hole." 

Since the season was suspended, training facilities have also been closed, leaving players scrambling to maintain fitness. The first step towards resumption may come within the next week, when some states allow those gyms to reopen.

"It's really difficult from the players' standpoint, because they're tasked with being in elite shape and when you're limited with what you can do while confined to an apartment in self-quarantine, that makes it a difficult task for those guys," explains Marks.

Sean Marks in action for the New Orleans Hornets
Sean Marks in action for the New Orleans Hornets.

"For the most part, the resilience they've shown has been pretty remarkable. These guys are all quite different in their set of circumstances - some have families, some have young kids, some are home-schooling, some are living by themselves.

"It's important for us to acknowledge each one as an individual and try to cater as much as we can to their needs, whether that's delivering food or checking in with them, or making sure they can get as much training and rehab as they can."

When the NBA closed down, the Nets sat seventh in the Eastern Conference with 30 wins/34 losses, well on track for a second consecutive playoff appearance.

They had just parted ways with coach Kenny Atkinson, but won on the road against Western Conference frontrunners Los Angeles Lakers (49-14), before the curtain fell.

As the team went into quarantine, several of their players - including Durant - returned positive COVID-19 tests, then the organisation was criticised for allegedly jumping the testing queue, while poorer victims struggled for treatment.

Now, with each passing day, the prospects of a return grow more uncertain, with some teams and agents reportedly calling for abandonment.

If the NBA does return, will it play out the remaining regular-season games or move straight into playoffs? What form will those playoffs take?

Marks is determined not to get caught on the hop by whatever eventuates, but understands there's more at stake than just basketball.

"It's not like we're not throwing stuff on the wall, because we are," he insists. "We're throwing stuff up there like, 'what if this happens, what if that happens… what are the circumstances we would need to return'.

"Nobody quite knows what the new normal will be. The new normal we were predicting a week ago is vastly different to the one we're predicting right now… things are changing so quickly.

"But it's a heck of an opportunity. We're going to take advice from a lot of people, and we'd be doing ourselves and the industry a huge disservice, if we just came back expecting things to be the same.

Kevin Durant sits on the Brooklyn Nets bench
Kevin Durant sits on the Brooklyn Nets bench. Photo credit: Getty

"But this has affected people, their livelihood, our fanbase and their families in catastrophic ways, so we need to acknowledge that, first and foremost."

Brooklyn have seen little of their newly acquired stars during the 2019/20 campaign.

Durant, a two-time championship winner with the Golden State Warriors and former MVP, was expected to sit out altogether, as he recovered from an Achilles tendon tear suffered 12 months ago, while Irving, who won a title with Cleveland Cavaliers, has made just 20 appearances and seems questionable to return this season with a shoulder injury.

But the coronavirus hiatus may just have opened a window of opportunity for Durant in particular, if the schedule now continues deep into the year.

"That's a $110m question," chuckles Marks. "In all seriousness, we've tried not to talk about his timeline a lot.

"He knows his body better than anybody. Our performance team and training staff have done a tremendous job getting him to this point, but I just don't know how coming out of this pandemic will affect anybody, let alone Kevin.

"When you've got enough invested in a player like Kevin, we're never going to push him to come back. When the timing is right, he'll be 100 percent when he gets on the court.    

"I can tell you this though - before the pandemic, he looked like Kevin Durant and that's a good thing."

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