Column: Nets need to look beyond Vaughn to fix issues

For the fourth time in the past eight years, the Brooklyn Nets will allow alternate owner and general manager Sean Marks to pick a head coach. Technically, this will be the sixth time Marks has done this for the Nets, if you were to include his interim hires of Tony Brown in 2016 and the first stint of Jacque Vaughn in 2020. 

Since the move to Brooklyn in 2012, the Nets franchise has been nothing short of a disaster. The team has seen two majority owner changes, nine head coaches, two general managers and have shipped out their long-term future via trade twice. 

In exchange for this immense amount of turnover and turmoil, the Nets received two second-round playoff exits. At 457-547, the Nets have been a bottom 10 team in the NBA since their move from New Jersey. Despite this, the highest the Nets have picked in the draft in that time was 21st overall, when they selected Noah Clowney last summer.

The current state of the Nets is once again in the hands of Marks, though this time, majority governor Joe Tsai is at his side. When Marks took over in 2016, he found himself in a similar situation to where the Nets are today: zero control of their own future, a roster that lacks talent and a team that is struggling to appeal to the local market.

Marks’ solution at that time involved taking risks on players with inflated salaries in exchange for draft picks. He built a “culture” that saw D’Angelo Russell, Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris make a run to the 2018-19 playoffs under coach Kenny Atkinson.

With control in his hand, Marks made a relatively safe gamble of exchanging those young players for superstars Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. It was a bet any general manager would make at the time, and the Nets became instant title favorites.

However, when things began to spiral for a variety of reasons — multiple trade requests, a global pandemic, antisemitism to name a few — Marks and Tsai decided it was time for the team to tear it down. Harden became Ben Simmons. Irving became a reunion with Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith. Durant became Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and a variety of draft picks.

The Nets built up the core of Simmons, Bridges, Johnson, Dinwiddie, Nic Claxton and Cam Thomas in the offseason as a team built on grit. Vaughn hyped up the defensive potential of this team throughout the preseason, citing the switchability of players like Claxton, Simmons and Bridges.

The results never came. After a solid 13-10 start to the season, the Nets lost 17 of their following 21 games. The defense fell apart, becoming one of the worst in the league. The offense went dormant as Simmons missed time with an injury. Vaughn refused to make adjustments on either side of the ball, but it wasn’t enough to lose his job… yet.

What eventually sealed the deal for Vaughn was a 50-point loss to the Boston Celtics in the final game before the All-Star break. Following the game, Bridges called out the game plan, including taking a shot at Vaughn’s rotations.

“We got to know what we’re doing… We got four guards out there with Claxton, it’s a different game… We got beat by 50, a lot of shit is not right,” Bridges said.

Last Monday, the Nets officially fired Vaughn and named assistant Kevin Ollie the interim head coach. However, no matter who the coach is, not much of a difference can be made so long as the roster remains at what it is.

All indications as of now are that Marks will still be here come the offseason. He will host an extensive coaching search for the fourth, or sixth, time. He will attempt to build a similar culture that resulted in their three-headed monster of Durant, Irving and Harden. 

The question the Nets face now is whether or not they can attract the same level of talent once more under Marks. Perhaps a better question is whether or not Marks should be allowed to build this volatile culture yet again.


Featured photo courtesy of @BrooklynNets, X