Nets highlight energy, effort as issues to address

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Tim Bontemps, ESPNFeb 20, 2024, 08:49 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks said Tuesday night that his decision to fire head coach Jacque Vaughn was not because of a single event.

Marks also asserted that one specific event -- the Nets choosing to sit most of their roster for a game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 27, a decision that eventually cost the franchise $100,000 for violating the league's player participation policy -- was not the root cause of the team's spiral ever since.

"I don't think we lost the team that day," Marks said at a news conference prior to Brooklyn's first practice with Kevin Ollie as the team's interim coach. "I appreciate the fact that players want to play. They want to play night in and night out.

"Again, I don't think there was one decision that ultimately affected the record or [making] this decision this day. I think a lot of things went into that."

Brooklyn went from 15-15 on the morning of the Bucks game to 6-18 since -- tied with the Detroit Pistons for the third-worst record in the league over that span and ahead of only the Charlotte Hornets (6-20) and the Washington Wizards (4-21).

When asked for specifics on what led to Vaughn's firing, Marks pointed to a lack of energy and effort plays that equate to winning basketball.

"It's about the level of compete," Marks said. "We're not going to be the most talented team in the league. I'm not an idiot. I totally understand that. But at the same time, this is a talented group of young men out there. And my expectations, and I think their expectations, should be to hold each other accountable to do the little things. The effort plays, the loose balls, the contested shots and so forth, diving on the floor.

"These are things that should be expected when you're in a place that we're at right now, where we're clawing and grappling for every single thing we can. That's what I would hope to see over these next 28 games, and that's probably, to be quite frank, some things I haven't seen. The level of effort and the level of compete has not always been there."

It certainly hasn't been over the past several weeks, as the Nets (21-33) have gone 6-18 beginning with that Dec. 27 loss, falling out of the play-in picture.

The task of changing that moving forward will now fall to Ollie, who won a national championship as head coach at UConn in 2014 and also spent 13 seasons as an NBA player before joining Vaughn's staff as an assistant coach this past summer.

When asked how he would go about changing that lack of energy and hustle plays, Ollie had a plan to address that.

"I got something called EGBs, which is energy generating behaviors, and it's 17 behaviors of those things. And we went through the list extensively today," Ollie, 51, said with a smile after conducting his first practice in his new role. "[They] have nothing to do with talent but everything to do with heart and will. And I think that's what it comes down to.

"Remember, I played 15 years professionally, 13 years in this league, and never once [had] a coach call a play for me. I had to get it with grit. I had to get it with determination. I had to get it with a mindset that we're going to get better each and every day. That's how I coach, that's what I'm going to demand. I want them to demand that from me, and that's from day one."

Ollie then went on to cite the team's lack of aggression in going after loose balls (No. 25 in the league, per NBA.com's tracking data) and in drawing charges (the Nets have drawn only six in 54 games).

"We can't have those things," Ollie said. "That's losing basketball, to me. Winning and losing, that's part of the results, but it's also the process, and the process is these EGBs and how we get lost in those things and how we hunt for 'em each and every day.

"I want hunters. If you hunt, you're going to play. If you don't hunt, you're not going to play."

One of those "hunters," Mikal Bridges, said several times after practice that the Nets need to have more detail and organization. When asked specifically about what happened following the Dec. 27 game -- when Bridges publicly expressed his displeasure over being pulled after the first quarter -- he echoed Marks in saying the Nets' struggles can't be traced back to one event.

"I know a lot of guys are out, and in and out of the lineup, but I think just -- we just weren't locked in enough on both ends in doing what we're supposed to do," said Bridges, who added he found out about the decision to let Vaughn, 49, go just before it was announced by the team on Monday. "And things we were doing, I think we just had to be a little bit more detailed. It was just tough on all of us. Coaches, us ... we didn't play to our standards, and that's how it is."

Where Marks, Ollie and Bridges all agreed is that across the 28 games in 55 days the Nets have to close out their regular season, there is still time for this group to get back into the play-in mix.

But whenever their campaign is over, Marks said Nets owner Joe Tsai will give him the opportunity to hire a fourth coach during his tenure with the franchise -- one that began eight years ago this week.

"Joe and I have always been in complete partnership," Marks said. "And it doesn't mean we always agree. I mean, you have to have good discussions and robust discussions, but Joe and I will make this decision, and he has given me no reason to believe that I won't be able to make that decision.

"We'll take a lot of factors into account as we make this. We've got time. We're not going to be in a rush. There's going to be a robust search. And by the end of this, I have no doubt that we'll come and find the best person fit for this job."

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