Sean Marks moves into Spurs executive role
Somewhere along the way Sean Marks was clearly taking notes. After 11 years as the NBA's ultimate journeymen, he's now morphed into one of the league's fastest rising young executives.
The suit and tie clearly become him.
A year ago the San Antonio Spurs started Marks on a front-office apprenticeship as a basketball operations assistant. Now, he's on the sort of fast track he could never quite master as a player who spent time with six clubs over a trail-blazing, but nomadic, career.
Marks, a Spurs backup big man from 2003-06, was in the right place at the right time when over the summer Danny Ferry and Dennis Lindsey both left to take up general manager positions elsewhere. The dominos were falling.
The Spurs being the Spurs, they looked within, and clearly saw potential in the likeable Kiwi with the big work ethic. So when Marks reported back for duty in the leadup to the new season he did so as the director of basketball operations, and general manager of D-League affiliate the Austin Toros.
To put it mildly, he's now kinda a big deal at the Spurs. Only GM R C Buford and his No 2 Scott Layden are above him in the front office pecking order, which probably makes Marks the most influential New Zealander in a major sporting league.
On the phone from his office, with the Spurs' NBA season opener against the Hornets just days away, Marks admits it's been a whirlwind front-office ride so far.
"I'm certainly challenged, no question," says the first Kiwi to play in the NBA. "I get to pick these guys' brains. R C and Pop [head coach Gregg Popovich] have led one of the best franchises in all of sports for the better part of two decades. For me to sit in on meetings and ask all kind of silly questions and get the right answers, there's nobody better to learn from."
Marks is certainly immersed. Last year he was all about helping the team be as good as they could. His role was very hands-on. This year it's all about the business.
So now it's bigger picture stuff like player scouting and evaluations, trade discussions, contract negotiations, future planning, and he's even getting to put together his own team at the Toros. "I'm finding out the intricacies that go into running an NBA team, and in all facets I'm trying to get my feet wet," says Marks.
He has no doubt his career as a hard-working, towel-waving backup big who practised hard and knew his role has prepared him ideally.
"The relationships I've formed are a huge asset," he says. "There are a lot of people I can lean on for advice. I've seen how it's been done and learnt a bit from everywhere I've been. For me to make a team I needed to pay close attention to what the team was expecting, what they needed, and then fill a role."
A veteran-heavy and familiar Spurs lineup will have their work cut out this season keeping pace with the young, improving Oklahoma City Thunder and the tooled up LA Lakers. But Marks knows his men will give it a lick.
"We've got to be confident," he says. "We've got the same group back, and it's a fun group who enjoy coming to work each day. I guess people get a little bored by the same old Spurs, but we've been doing this here for some time and I'm glad to be part of it.
"We'll keep on ticking as long as Timmy [Duncan], Tony [Parker] and Manu [Ginobili] can keep it going before we get a new breed coming in."
Plus it's not like the Spurs were that far off last season, when only the Thunder stood between them and a place back in the NBA Finals.
"Some teams like OKC, obviously Miami and now the Lakers have gotten themselves better, and we've certainly got our hands full with those guys. But it's a long season and anything can happen in 82 games."
Whatever happens, be sure of one thing: the one time kid from Torbay is still living a dream that started when he was drafted 44th overall by the New York Knicks and promptly traded to Toronto.
Now he's happily married (to Jennifer), has just welcomed his fourth boy - a bright and bouncy Elliott - into the world and looks like he's heading for the sort of territory as an executive that was just out of his reach as a player.
"Yeah, I'm still livin' it," he smiles, "but also keeping everything in perspective." That's Marks. Still knowing his role.
SEAN SURVEYS THE NBA
BEST OF THE WEST
"You've got to respect the Thunder. They've got so much youth and talent. LA will be great too, with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and now Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. I don't think people realise just how good Steve is and how much easier he's going to make the game of basketball for all those guys. He can dominate a game with scoring a point. And you can't forget the Clippers. Chris Paul is another hard, fierce competitor, and he's going to demand the best from his team."
BEASTS IN THE EAST
''Everybody's chasing Miami right now. The way LeBron James stepped up his game has been remarkable. I don't think there's a player in the game like him right now. What he does on the court is pretty special. His supporting cast isn't too shabby either. You still can't write off Boston either. They're like us, they've got some wily veterans, and with age comes a lot of experience. They've got fierce competitors in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and they'll be formidable.''
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