June 26 became the biggest day in the Sean Marks-Kenny Atkinson era, introducing Russell and Mozgov prior to a group workout session at the Nets practice facility in Sunset Park. Marks simply calls it “steps in the right direction,” but also said the team needed to take these steps.
With Lopez having one year left before becoming a free agent and the Nets needing young, potentially superstar talent, all of the stars aligned for the deal to be made, even if it meant giving up the 22nd pick, where Jarrett Allen of Texas was selected, and eating the remaining three-year, $50 million deal of Mozgov.
Marks scouted Russell, and Atkinson spent time with Mozgov with the Knicks as an assistant coach.
“There’s a level of comfort knowing Kenny’s very familiar with them, I’m very familiar with them,” said Marks. “We’re obviously excited about what a guy like that brings to our culture. He brings a different dynamic.”
Marks also discussed his first conversation with Russell after the deal.
“The first thing he said was ‘can I come up there tonight?’” said Marks. “You can sense there was a hunger, a drive, a purpose to wanting to be here. Let’s be honest, I think we all play with a chip on our shoulder, and he has one.”
For Russell, whose name was floated around in trade rumors prior to February’s in-season deadline, was still surprised.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m here now,” said second overall draft pick in 2015. “You can tell everybody’s hungry around here.”
He also said he’s focused on things he can control, including Lakers executive Magic Johnson comments on social media about his lack of leadership.
“It’s in the past, I’m here now, it’s irrelevant,” Russell said. “I don’t feel like anybody’s going to put more pressure on me than me or my family.”
Russell said his communications with teammates so far, Jeremy Lin in particular, have been encouraging.
“I think the sky’s the limit, we’ve got a lot of great guys out here,” he said. “The front office, those guys do their thing, the coaches, they’re just as hungry as the players. Everybody really wants to win, that’s the main focus.”
Suddenly, the Nets might not be terribly far away from being a respectable, young and potentially exciting team.
“We’re always in talent acquisition mode,” Marks said. “To get a young player like D’Angelo who’s 21, we could’ve easily drafted somebody a year older. The fact that we can get someone in here who we develop with Kenny and our player development coaches, that’s what I’m banking on.”