1:51 PM ET
Nick FriedellESPN Staff Writer
- Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the Nets were swept out of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals by the Boston Celtics last month, Marks acknowledged that Irving’s part-time status with the team over the past year had an impact on Brooklyn’s play, and the GM was noncommittal regarding Irving’s potential future with the team.
“We need people here that want to be here,” Marks said Wednesday. “They’re selfless, that want to be part of something bigger than themselves — and there’s an objective and there’s a goal at stake here. And in order to do that, we’re going to need availability from everybody.”
Marks’ comments came after a tumultuous season in which Irving played just 29 games after missing most of the year because of New York City’s vaccination mandate for employees within the city.
Irving, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19 and stated several times throughout the season that he would not be getting the vaccine, joined the Nets in early January after the organization reversed course and allowed him to be a part-time member of the team. After months of publicly standing behind Irving, Marks’ admission that Irving’s decision did indeed hang over the group was notable.
“I think it’s obvious,” Marks said. “Whenever you have a key part of your team that’s not available and you’re trying to build chemistry, you’re trying to build camaraderie out on the court, that’s very difficult. And then you have people coming in at certain times of the season. We made what we felt was the correct decision at that particular time to say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to have Kyrie around.’
“And we’re going to go off and continue to build and continue to play, and then as you saw the load that that was putting on not only Kevin [Durant] but our other players, and then you have the Joe Harris injury and so forth. Then it becomes almost unfair to players and you’re asking them to take on too much. Then again, the decision was tweaked, what was best for the team, at that particular time — but there was no script.”
Despite Irving’s brilliant play at times — he averaged 27.4 points per game — the in-and-out nature of his availability had an impact on the chemistry the Nets built early in the season. It also was a factor in former guard James Harden‘s decision to leave the Nets and get dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers.
When asked specifically whether the Nets were committed to Irving long term, Marks was noncommittal.
“Look, I think that’s something we’ve been discussing and we will continue to debrief on and discuss throughout this offseason,” Marks said. “It’s honestly not just Kyrie; you bring Kyrie up, but we have decisions to make on a variety of different free agents throughout our roster. We haven’t had any of those discussions yet, so it would be unfair for me to comment on how it looks with us and Kyrie because, to be quite frank, he has some decisions to make on his own.
“So he has to look at what he’s going to do with his player option, and so forth like that. I think we know what we’re looking for. We’re looking for guys that want to come in here and be part of something bigger than themselves. Play selfless, play team basketball and be available — and that goes not only for Kyrie but for everybody here.”
Irving has to decide this offseason whether he wants to pick up his player option worth over $36.5 million for next season. Marks said he would have those conversations with Irving face to face over the next few weeks.
For his part, Irving said several times in recent weeks that he hoped to be paired with Durant in Brooklyn for years to come.
“When I say I’m here with Kev, I think that really entails us managing this franchise together,” Irving said after Brooklyn’s season-ending Game 4 loss to the Celtics last month. “Alongside [Nets owner] Joe [Tsai] and Sean, just our group of family members in our locker room, in our organization. So it’s not just about me and Kev; I don’t want to make it just about that. We’re cornerstones, but we have a few other guys on contract.
“I think we’ve just got to make some moves this offseason, really talk about it, and really be intentional about what we’re building and have some fun with it, make it enjoyable. … There’s no question about where I’m going and how this is going to happen,” Irving said. “I’m here with 7 [Durant], but also I’m here to build a great team.”
When asked whether he had gotten the sense from Durant that he was still committed to Irving as a long-term foundational player, Marks demurred, saying he hasn’t been able to sit down and have in-depth conversations about the future yet as Durant decompressed from the season.
Marks said “the culture isn’t what it quite was,” admitting that the Nets took a step back this season “without a doubt.”
But when asked whether he had any regrets in bringing Irving back, Mark said he did not.
“I don’t want to use those what-ifs,” Marks said. “I think when you have a player of Kyrie’s caliber, you try and figure out how we get him in the mix and how long can we get him in the mix for, because the team was built around saying, ‘Well, Kyrie and Kevin are going to be available.’ … For me to sit back and go, ‘Well, do I regret bringing a player of his caliber back?’ No.”
On a brighter note for the Nets, Marks said that Ben Simmons, who was acquired from the Sixers as part of the Harden blockbuster trade, is feeling “great” after back surgery last week. Marks made it a point to say that the Nets are going to do everything they can to keep Simmons around the team this summer.
“We’re going to be doing everything we possibly can to get him around our group,” Marks said. “That is the key. He needs to be in here, smell the gym again, around his friends, around his family. And to be quite frank, and participate in this and let us help build the culture together, build up together, build him up, build him back up, because as Steve [Nash] alluded to, he is a big, big part of this. He fits a lot of holes, plugs a lot of holes that we think we potentially have. And with him in there, it’s a different dynamic out there.”
The dynamic of Irving’s future continues to hover over everything the organization does. After seeing him miss big chunks of games over the past two seasons because of personal reasons and the decision not to get the vaccine, Marks spoke like a man who wasn’t sure he wanted to commit to a 30-year-old player the team still isn’t sure it can count on night to night.
“It’s a team sport, and you need everybody out there on the court,” Marks said. “And we saw this year, Kevin missed 27 games with injuries, and Kyrie being out for half the season, that hurts. That hurts from a roster-building standpoint. That’s not what we planned for. Some are avoidable, and other excuses are of individual nature. And those are the ones that we have to try to avoid.”