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NEW YORK -- Jordi Fernández got his start in the NBA in 2009 when Mike Brown hired him as a player development coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Fifteen years later, after adding assistant and head coaching experience in the G League and international competition to his resumé, the Brooklyn Nets hired him off of Brown's staff in Sacramento. At his introductory press conference at their training facility on Wednesday, the Nets' new head coach called Brown "my American basketball father" and Sergio Scariolo, with whom Fernández won a gold medal as an assistant coach of the Spanish national team at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, as "my European basketball father."

Fernández, a first-time NBA head coach, thanked Brown, Scariolo and his other mentors: Byron Scott, David Blatt and Tyronn Lue with the Cavaliers, Steve Hetzel with the Canton Charge, Michael Malone with the Denver Nuggets. (Hetzel left the Portland Trail Blazers to join him in Brooklyn, per ESPN.) He said that he "would not be here without Canada Basketball," for whom he served as head coach last summer when they won bronze at the World Cup and qualified for the Olympics.

As a get-to-know-you session for Brooklyn's fan base, the press conference was effective. Fernández talked about the pride he takes in representing "Spanish basketball, Catalan basketball and the basketball of my hometown," i.e. Barcelona, which he described as "probably one of the best basketball cities in Europe and I would say in the world." 

As a primer for the Nets' offseason, though, Wednesday's festivities were less enlightening. After finishing 32-50 and 11th in the East, without a lottery pick to show for it -- Brooklyn owes its pick to the Houston Rockets as a result of its 2021 trade for James Harden -- the franchise's near-term outlook is hazy. Fernández repeatedly said he's excited about the youth of the team and the opportunity to develop players. He also said that the Nets' "flexibility" and "resources" give them "a perfect recipe for success."

The most notable comments, roster-wise, were the ones that both Fernández and general manager Sean Marks made about free-agent-to-be Nicolas Claxton.

"Nic is the No. 1 priority for us," Marks said. "There's no doubt about that. We hope he's a Net for a very long time. We hope we can continue to build around him and build with him and so forth. I think it's been fun to watch Nic develop from from his days at Georgia coming all the way through here. I think he's scratched the surface on who he could end up being one day." 

Claxton, drafted No. 31 in 2019, became Brooklyn's full-time starting center in 2022-23. Defensively, he's one of the most versatile big men in the NBA. The 25-year-old is not the only player on this season's roster approaching free agency -- Dennis Smith Jr., Lonnie Walker IV and Trendon Watford will all hit the market -- but he is by far the most significant for the Nets' future. 

"I believe he'll be Defensive Player of the Year," Fernández said. 

Fernández praised Claxton's ability to put pressure on the rim as a roll man, but emphasized that he can also be an offensive hub with his dribble-handoff game. Fernández spent the last few years with the Kings, whose offense runs through big man Domantas Sabonis, and it sounds like he wants to generate ball and body movement in similar ways in Brooklyn.

"When everybody touches the ball and everybody's involved, everybody's happier," Fernández said. "You're harder to guard because you're not that predictable [compared to] just playing pick-and-roll. So [Claxton] fits perfectly what we want to do moving forward."

'He could do various different pathways'

Will Marks' front office make a blockbuster trade this summer? Will Cam Thomas have a 29.6% usage rate again next season? Will veterans Dorian Finney-Smith and Dennis Schroder be back? Beyond what happens with Claxton, there are all sorts of variables here. Neither Marks nor Fernández made the answers to these questions obvious, nor did they gave any indication that there's pressure for the team to a big, immediate leap.

Fernández said that the Nets will be "process-oriented" and that it's on him and his staff to develop their returning young players. "Winning is extremely important, but the way we want to do it, like, we want to sustain success and we want to do it in the long run," Fernández said. Marks said that he and Fernáandez were "brutally upfront with each other" when discussing players throughout the hiring process, and the two are "in complete alignment with how we're going to continue to build this thing and who we're going to build with." Part of the appeal of this particular candidate, though, was that he profiled as someone who could coach teams with varying levels of experience and talent.

"I think there's context around every hire that's made, and it suits maybe the roster better than others at certain times, where you are on your timeline," Marks said. "I think something that separates Jordi from a lot of the candidates [was] that we found that he could look at a developmental roster, he could do various different pathways. I mean, he's coached stars before. I mean, he's been the director of [player] development before." 

Marks added that Fernández has "worn many hats, and I think there's no roster that he's not going to be able to get the respect of those guys." 

For now, Marks said, the team is focused on the draft, free agency and "to be quite frank, seeing how all of these playoffs transpire, because that will dictate, sort of, the direction of a lot of the teams and the league landscape." Brooklyn does not have any first- or second-round picks in the upcoming draft, but that could change.

"If there's a guy that you like, you've got to have the conviction to go after it and go after them," Marks said.

Marks pointed to the rebuilding process that put the Nets in a position to sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the summer of 2019, saying that it's possible to "build quicker than in some other markets" because star players see Brooklyn as a destination. At the same time, he said, "Let's not lose sight of developing our own and having success and continuing to draft well." Marks didn't plead for patience or make any promises, other than saying fans should expect the team to play with a high level of competitiveness.

"The fans got behind a group, early days here, that they weren't household names but they came and they brought it every single night," Marks said. "I think that's important. Fans got behind the stars as well. We can take a variety of different pathways. We have to be prudent, patient, systematic with who we go after, when we go after them and just make sure we do it the right way." 

Nets supportive of Fernández's Olympic plans

Fernández said he plans to "get to know everybody" right away, from the players to the front office, the performance staff, the medical staff and people who work on the business side. Building relationships will be trickier than it might be for other new hires, though, because he has another job this summer: coaching Canada's national team at the Paris Olympics. 

"The challenge will be to be extremely organized," Fernández said. "I think the opportunity that I have in front of me will make myself better and the organization better. Being able to coach in the Olympics is a dream come true."

Fernández thanked Marks and Tsai for allowing him to do it despite his new responsibilities. Last summer, Fernández got the gig because Nick Nurse, having been hired by the Philadelphia 76ers, decided that his new NBA team needed his full attention.

"Right now we have time to organize our summer, start working, then I'm going to have six weeks to work on the tournament and then be back here right around before mid-August," Fernández said. 

Marks said that there will need to be "communication back and forth" with Fernández, and that, "for us, it's going to be a matter of making sure our summer program is an incredibly robust one." He said that Fernández will be "in alignment" with the players' individual development programs "the whole summer," even when he's not physically present in Brooklyn.

"I would never take the opportunity to play for or coach a national team away from anybody," Marks said. "I think that's a chance of a lifetime to go and do that. Especially on that stage, right? When you get to go to the Olympics, that's very rare. And the more opportunities Jordi has behind the clipboard, the better." 

Simmons' health is 'paramount' 

Ben Simmons, who had back surgery in March and played in only 15 games this season (and only 57 since the Nets acquired him during the 2021-22 season), is rehabbing in Miami, per Marks.

"All signs point towards him being available for the start of next season," Marks said. "With Ben, it's very unfortunate. We looked like we were a completely different team when Ben was healthy out there. So it's paramount that we get him back and we get him healthy and I think Ben wants it just as much if not more than anybody else."

Dariq Whitehead, who had surgery on his shin in January, "should be available in summer league," Marks said. Picked No. 22 by Brooklyn in the first round of last year's draft, Whitehead missed the entirety of the 2023-24 season.

Whitehead was at the Nets' training facility on Wednesday, as was Cam Johnson.

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