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Behind the Nets’ Success Is a Carefully Crafted Culture and, Finally, a Clue

“There probably are very few people who had careers as long as Sean had while getting as few minutes, and there’s a good reason for that,” said R.C. Buford, the San Antonio Spurs’ general manager, for whom Marks played for two seasons and apprenticed as an assistant coach and front office executive.

“In every role he’s had, he’s been a culture builder,” Buford said.

Around the N.B.A., that word — culture — has become like a convenient catchphrase, an opening statement for best intentions.

“People use it all the time — they’re going to work hard, play defense, play for the team — but how many actually do?” said P.J. Carlesimo, whose N.B.A. stops in coaching and broadcasting have included San Antonio and Brooklyn. “Because of his time with the Spurs, Sean knows what a good locker room is like.”

For contrast, take the Knicks. Their new management team also talks up culture creation, but their stylistic approach in Coach David Fizdale’s first season has been archetypal Y.M.C.A. choose-up. The Knicks’ front office claims operational independence from the team owner, James L. Dolan, but can’t even call an informal news conference without tailoring the guest list to his petty grievances.

In San Antonio, where the Holt family has without question left the basketball people alone, Marks was told in no uncertain terms that he could well be a bridge to a future without Gregg Popovich, the 70-year-old head coach and team president.

But the blank slate in Brooklyn — where ownership is a largely absentee and ambiguously directed partnership between Mikhail Prokhorov and Joseph Tsai — presented a clean-slate challenge that was more intriguing than daunting.

“We knew there were going to be some dark days,” Marks said. “But we all gave up good jobs because we thought we had a chance to build something special.”


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