New Zealander Sean Marks is looking to the All Blacks for inspiration as he tries to lift the battling Brooklyn Nets out of the NBA basement.
Marks, the first New Zealander to be drafted in the NBA, played 11 seasons for six teams, and averaged less than three points and just over two rebounds a game. Not a star by any means. Yet just six years after retiring, he's found himself in what what is arguably one of the hardest roles in the league - general manager of the Nets.
He's in charge of a team, which because of past decisions, doesn't really have any assets. They're viewed as not having anything going for them. Despite finishing with the worst record in the league, hobbling to just 20 wins last season, they didn't get to pick in the draft until 22nd. Had they not made previous trades, they could have picked first.
Marks hasn't been thrown a hospital pass. It's one he called for.
"These are just the cards we've been dealt, but let's see what we can do with them It's certainly fun. It's fun seeing everybody grow, and that's myself included. We're all having to grow on the job."
He's still managing to lure quality players though. Marks and the rest of the Nets setup are taking a 'we'll scratch your back if you scratch ours' approach this off-season. While they've had to take on what are viewed as unwanted contracts, they're also getting something in return. An example is a deal with the Los Angeles Lakers: they had to take on a big, unwanted, overpaid deal by acquiring centre Timofey Mozgov. But they also received guard D'Angelo Russell. Picked second in the 2015 NBA draft, Russell's yet to flourish. But his career average of 14.3 points shows potential; potential Marks can develop and build a team around. He's added in other handy players and is looking forward "to seeing where it goes". But it's just one of the ways he's managing to skin the cat.
Marks, as always, is humble. Whenever he's asked about himself, it's deflected to "we" and "our group". He isn't worried about personal aspirations at all. "I never really have been. I'm enjoying life everyday. When you come to work every day, it isn't really a job. I'm very fortunate to be able to say that," he said.
Marks' home connections are one of the places he looks to for success. A massive fan of the All Blacks, Marks would love to see that sort of prosperity follow his team.
But their culture alone isn't what he looks to for guidance. "Culture's a funny thing. It gets thrown around a lot. It starts with the people and it isn't something you can just say 'hey we've built a culture'. Your culture is never set, it should be continually evolving. As much as we can take from teams like the All Blacks, which we certainly will, it's not exactly easy to take a basketball team in the US and get them to try and be like a rugby team. They're playing for their country first and foremost, and that may mean more than when you're playing for a pro team. That's a dynamic we're looking to try and change."
There are some further aspects of the All Blacks he'd like to implement. Marks laughs when it's pointed out the colour scheme is already on track, with both teams wearing black and white. "I think it's just everything they do. It's really rare to see a group of young men holding themselves accountable to the country as much as they do, and when you've got that you're on to something pretty special."
Marks admits they've talked about bringing the Brooklyn Nets to New Zealand. "I think it'll be great to have a game, whether it's a regular season, a pre-season or even just an exhibition game down there. You're seeing how the game of basketball has grown ... think it's only a matter of time before you see another Kiwi in the league."
With three Australian NBL teams are heading to the US to play NBA teams in pre-season games, it would've been nice to have Kiwi Steven Adams' Oklahoma City Thunder playing the New Zealand Breakers.
On that note, if you want an NBA team to support, and don't want to be on the Adams bandwagon, jump on the Nets.
It'll be a ride with as many stops and starts as the New York subway, but it'll be a fun one.