Sean Marks spoke to reporters at his summer press conference where he tempered expectations but coined a phrase that would stick throughout the season.
"We have [this] year to prepare for summer of 2019."
The conference was Marks extolling expectations for the season in an optimistic way. Everybody knew the Nets could potentially clear enough cap space for two max players -- depending on the moves they make. But nobody expected the team to make the playoffs this season.
Something the Knicks can't say.
The difference is evident given the trajectory of the Nets and Knicks. When asked about the season, Knicks head coach David Fizdale told reporters at baggie day, "It went according to plan." The Knicks finished tied for the league's worst record. He and the Knicks lack humility despite their confidence to land a free agent.
Meanwhile, Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson sat at a podium after a dogfight playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers and told reporters, "We still have a long way to go… I'm very proud of what we accomplished this year."
They exceeded expectations and the playoffs further showed why the Nets are going to be considered by marquee free agents around the league, according to league sources.
"When you're talking about the Knicks and the Nets, you look at the young core of Brooklyn, the winning culture being built here - it's a lure. Not to mention the general manager and head coach turning this thing around so fast without having any draft picks," Jared Dudley told SNY. "Just think of what they can do with draft picks and with money heading into this offseason."
The Nets shared an 8-18 record with the Knicks, but they finished out the season with a 34-22 record compared to the Knicks' 9-47.
"You also gotta think Brooklyn has a stable base," Dudley continued. "They have two or three guys in their prime ready to go in Joe Harris, the best three-point shooter in the NBA. Spencer Dinwiddie, a sixth man candidate right there. So, you have those guys, you add another older player in his prime, then you have the young core who will one day be able to take the torch."
Marks and Atkinson's young core showed their stripes against a star-studded 76ers team. Caris LeVert - Brooklyn's cornerstone guard - had a terrific series averaging 21 points, 4.6 rebounds and three assists with a terrific shooting percentage (.481) and three-point shooting (.517). Jimmy Butler praised him after Game 4, "The kid can play. That's for damn sure."
They didn't back down from Joel Embiid - who delivered a very hard elbow to Jarrett Allen's lip.
Somebody close with Allen told me, "He could've broke his jaw if he hit him in a different spot."
In Game 4, Embiid nearly close-lined the 21-year-old Allen.
The second flagrant didn't warrant a flagrant 2, but 12-year veteran Dudley came running and blindsided Embiid with a light shove that escalated into a scrum that carried into the front row. Dudley, a huge advocate for Brooklyn's culture, was just one of many to protect his young teammates and demand respect rather than being O.K. with the cheap shots from Embiid.
Marks pulled a no-no and walked into the officials' office. He believed Embiid's flagrant 1 fouls in Games 2 and 4 should've been deemed a 2. It was also a message to his team - a means of showing he has their back and he's going to fight for what they believe in.
It showed leadership, even if it's frowned upon among the league. New owner Joe Tsai tweeted his support for Marks as well as the "players and fans expect things to be fair." He was fined $35k for the tweet.
Meanwhile, Knicks owner James Dolan is banning fans from Madison Square Garden. No fines.
Brooklyn's strategy was unorthodox, but it showed they all have each other's back. The New York City market, winning culture, young core, leadership and competence within the coaching staff and front office all made Brooklyn a desirable destination for free agents.
The Knicks have Madison Square Garden, but otherwise, they lack everything else the Nets have.
As one league source said, "The league is different than it was in the early 2000's. Players want more. They [the Nets] have that."