When Trevor Booker entered the NBA in 2010, he realized the best way to make an instant impact on the Washington Wizards was to be an energy player. He made hustle plays, worked extremely hard, supported his teammates and was a consummate professional. The Wizards selected him with the 23rd pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, and he was determined to prove that he belonged in the league.
That same year, one of Booker’s teammates was a quiet veteran named Sean Marks. At that point, Marks was 35 years old. He was only in Washington for training camp and the preseason, and the 2010-11 campaign would be Marks’ last as a player. However, he quickly found success off the court, joining the San Antonio Spurs as their director of basketball operations and eventually worked his way up to assistant general manager.
Last summer, the Brooklyn Nets hired Marks as their general manager and one of his first free agency signings was Booker on a two-year deal worth $18.5 million. Marks is trying to create a winning culture in Brooklyn and he believes the 29-year-old can help with his veteran leadership, strong work ethic and willingness to do the dirty work on the floor.
Not only did Booker help set the tone for the Nets, he delivered the best statistical season of his career. Booker averaged career-highs in points (10.0), rebounds (8.0), assists (1.9) and steals (1.1) while shooting 51.6 percent from the field. He started 43 of his 71 games, filling whatever role first-time head coach Kenny Atkinson asked of him. Booker ranked 19th in the NBA in field goal percentage (51.6) and 19th in rebound percentage (17.2). Brooklyn’s top two lineups in terms of plus/minus both featured Booker.
The Nets obviously struggled this year, finishing with a league-worst 20-62 record. They had the NBA’s 22nd-ranked defense (allowing 108 points per 100 possessions) and 28th-ranked offense (scoring 101.9 points per 100 possessions). Making matters worse, they owe their lottery pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the past regime’s trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
Still, Booker is optimistic about the Nets’ direction and believes in Marks’ long-term vision. HoopsHype recently caught up with him to discuss the 2016-17 season, the development of Brooklyn’s young core, his growth as a player, the leadership role he embraced and much more.
One reason you were signed by the Nets was to help the team’s young players develop. How much growth did you see from guys like Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Isaiah Whitehead and others?
Trevor Booker: I think the young guys did a great job of progressing throughout the season. Caris LeVert did a great job of coming in every day, getting his work done, listening to the veterans and being a true professional. He has a high basketball IQ and I think his ceiling his pretty high. Isaiah Whitehead was the same way, and he progressed nicely throughout the season too. Both rookies had bumps throughout the year, but they stuck with it and showed a lot of progress and showed a lot of heart. I think we have a bright future with those two rookies.
And Rondae showed tremendous improvement. Early in the season, he struggled. But in the middle of the year and late in the season, he really showed his true talent. He was playing hard, pushing the ball up the court, finishing around the basket, drawing fouls. I think that’s one of his strong suits: putting the ball on the floor and drawing fouls. I think he did a great job, and I think he’s poised for a breakout year next season.
You started 43 games, and then Coach Atkinson experimented with starting Rondae and bringing you off the bench. It seemed like you both did well in your new role. What did you think of the decision, and is embracing that sort of change part of being a veteran leader and setting a team-first example?
TB: Oh yeah, for sure. After I started 43 games, Coach came to me and told me he wanted me to come off the bench and he wanted to see how I played with the second unit. I was totally fine with that. My years in the league prepared me for that; I can play any role. I’m going to be a true professional, no matter if I’m starting or coming off the bench. As a starter, I felt very comfortable and I was putting up good numbers. I think they saw that and wanted to experiment with some different things – seeing how I’d work with the second unit and how Rondae would fit in with the first unit. I think the experiment went well and we had a lot of progression due to that.
You posted career-highs across the board. What do you feel was the reason for your success?
TB: I think it was just getting more of an opportunity. When I first came in, they told me that they wanted me to be that veteran leader who shows the young guys the ropes while at the same time continuing to develop as a player. I think they saw what I did in Utah and they wanted me to expand on that. I tried to come in very confident and show them what I had to offer. I put the ball on the floor a little bit more. I brought the ball up the floor at times; some of the other players were telling me they wanted me to play point forward since they saw good things happen when I brought the ball up the court. So not only did I feel confident, my teammates also felt confident in me.
It definitely seems like you’ve embraced the leadership role too. What have you tried to teach the young guys and how have they responded to you?
TB: I just try to tell them what I’ve been through and how I’ve stuck around in the league for seven years. I just let them know that you don’t have to be a superstar; you don’t have to go out there and score 30 points a night to make your name known and stick around in the league. You have to find your niche, work at it and do [your job] well. You don’t have to go out there and be a hero. I try to show them, as an example, look at me. I’ve averaged probably 6 points over my career and I’m going into my eighth year and still going strong. That’s the type of the thing that I’d try to instill in them. And when we were going through adversity, I’d show them and tell them that you have to keep working. The team is in a rebuilding process so it was definitely going to be a tough season, but I wanted them to know that as long as they kept working, everything was going to be alright.
It seems like you’ve always known your role and been willing to make sacrifices for the good of the team. When did you come to that realization that you didn’t have to be a star and that you could stick in the league by finding your niche?
TB: That’s actually been my approach ever since I came into the league. Coming into Washington, we had John Wall, who had been the No. 1 overall pick. He’s doing great right now, by the way. They were focused on him. You could see that their main focus was on John Wall, which was fine. I understood it. I had to learn then that it wasn’t about me. I wasn’t in college anymore. I realized that I needed to find my niche. I had to earn every minute and whoever I was playing against, whether it was in a game or in a practice, I had to bust their ass. I knew I had to do that to stay in this league. So yeah, that approach probably started in my rookie year.
Speaking of those Washington days, the first time I interviewed you was during Summer League after you were drafted. How much have you changed as a player, as a person, as a leader from that point in 2010 to now?
TB: Oh man, it’s a huge difference. That first year, I actually had a terrible Summer League. I still remember it. But going to Washington, there were certain players that they wanted to develop at that time, but I wasn’t one of those players they wanted to develop. That’s why I had to go in and find my niche, like I said. I was labeled as an energy player and I was fine with that. That’s what’s kept me in the league and I played that role. But after I left Washington, I went to Utah and I started to expand my game more. Coach Quin Snyder wanted me to shoot the three-ball, so my first year there I started shooting it more and I think I shot about 35 percent from three. From that point on, I just kept expanding my game. Then, when I got to Brooklyn, they wanted me to do a little bit more and I felt comfortable doing that. I was grateful that I was able to show my game.
How much more room for improvement do you feel you have?
TB: I feel like I still have a lot more room to grow, definitely more than people think. I feel like I’ve only been developing with [the help of] coaches for a few years now – about three years. So I think my development is still ongoing and I’m definitely looking forward to the future.
What are your offseason goals and what aspects of your game as you focused on improving?
TB: Mostly, I want to be more consistent and confident shooting the three. I think if I can get that down, a lot more will open up; it’ll make it easier to drive to the hole and then I can show off my passing ability. Another thing I want to work on is my defense. Even though I’ve been told that I’ve been pretty good on the defensive end, I feel like I can take another step forward. I’m looking to improve offensively and defensively.
What are your thoughts on the job Coach Atkinson and Sean Marks did this season, and do you feel that they’re doing a good job of changing the culture?
TB: I think they’ve both done a great job. If you look at Sean Marks’ background and track record, it speaks for itself. I played with him in Washington my rookie year, so I already knew what kind of guy he was. He was always paying attention and trying to learn, and he was in his 11th season at that time. Then, he went to the Spurs organization and learned from them. He definitely gets it, and he’s an intelligent guy. I think he did a pretty good job this year of trying to change the culture. If you look at the players that he brought in, they were high-characters guys and hard-working guys. Those were things he wanted to show the rookies – that those are the kind of guys they want [in the organization] and I think the rookies got that. Then, with Coach Atkinson, he does a great job of developing players. Just watching him throughout the season, he’d be on the court working with players and showing them different things. And that’s the kind of thing that players need, especially young players.
This is the Nets’ fifth year in Brooklyn. What’s the fan support like and what did you think of Brooklyn in your first season there?
TB: The fan support has been great. I think they see what we’re going through right now and understand, but they see the progression and where the team is headed. They’ve been great. Of course, there are going to be a few fans that are negative, but that’s the case with every organization. For the most part, they’ve been great though.
It’s funny. When I was playing in Utah, I was like, “I could never live in New York.” I said it was way too busy for me. And I have a family, so I was always like, “No way I could do it.” But then the opportunity came and I started thinking about it more. I thought about the opportunity that the Nets were providing me and the opportunities that could come about in New York with me being an entrepreneur. I talked it over with my wife and she was like, “Let’s go for it,” so we decided to give it a try. And I absolutely love it now. The kids love it and my wife loves it too. It’s been great.
You mentioned being an entrepreneur. What are some of your off-court projects?
TB: Honestly, I have a lot. I have a real-estate company in Charlotte that deals with commercial and residential real estate, and that’s going really well right now. I just started my own venture capital firm with my business partner and best friend, Jonah Baize, and that’s also based in Charlotte. We have a private high school, and basketball academies in Charlotte, Atlanta and Orlando. We have a lot of stuff going on. And we also have… it’s a big deal that’s in the works right now and I can’t talk about it. I don’t want to jinx it. I’m sure I’ll be celebrating it soon and putting it on social media.
Wow, that’s impressive. You mentioned how you developed in Utah and I know you were close with your teammates there. Do you still have any relationships with those guys?
TB: Oh yeah, I still talk to quite a few of those guys. Rudy Gobert and I keep in touch. We talk all the time, and my son is actually a big Rudy Gobert fan. Rudy is his guy, and we talk quite a bit. Derrick Favors and I talk and when we went out there to play in Utah, I actually had dinner at his house. Fave is still my guy. Joe Ingles and I still keep in touch and talk. And it’s not just the players, I still talk to the coaching staff too. I talk to all of the coaches still, which is really cool. I have a tight bond with all those guys.
As a veteran and an intense competitor, how tough is it being home during the playoffs?
TB: It’s definitely tough. You watch the games and think, “I wish I was out there. I would have done that differently. I could’ve helped that team. I would’ve brought energy and helped them make a run there.” Every game is like that; I’m thinking all those things and it’s definitely tough to watch. But I’m not going to lie, at the same time, it is nice to rest because that 82-game season is tough.
You guys finished with 20 wins. How did you deal with the losing and how did you stay positive throughout the season?
TB: I think we stayed positive as a unit. It all started with the coaching staff. With them being so positive, it helped the players stay positive. At the same time, we definitely took responsibility and never let anybody stop working. If we saw somebody slacking off, something was definitely said. Throughout the year, I think we tried to look at the positives rather than the negatives. We knew we’d have a down season, a rebuilding season, so we just tried to take away as many positives as we could and build on them going into next year.
Interview, Top, Caris LeVert, Derrick Favors, Isaiah Whitehead, Joe Ingles, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Rudy Gobert, Trevor Booker, Brooklyn Nets, Utah Jazz, Washington Wizards