Press Pass | Anthony Puccio From SB Nation Talks Kyrie Irving, Nets' Front Office Culture, and Finding His Way in Sports Media


Anthony Puccio has covered the Brooklyn Nets for SB Nation over the last six years. He took some time to chat with The Big Lead about how he got started in the industry, how the organization’s culture changed with the arrivals of Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson, and more. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Liam McKeone: Hi Anthony, thanks for taking the time today. In your own words, describe your journey from when you realized you wanted to be in sports media to where you are now on the Nets beat for SB Nation.

Anthony Puccio: Look, Liam, growing up, things weren’t too easy for me. A lot of people deal with tough circumstances and adversity and things like that. When I was in ninth grade, I was 13 years old, and my father had gotten laid off from Lehman Brothers after the recession hit. Shortly after, him and I went to the Dominican Republic. He drank contaminated water and became very sick. As a result, my family was dealing with eviction and foreclosure just with the house. As I got older… I played basketball, very serious basketball, a couple of DI, DII offers at a young age. I was on the ninth-rated team in the nation and I watched every Nets game. What happened with my dad, seeing him get sick and lose his job, not being able to work, that jolted me to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

Junior year or senior year of high school, I was on a flag football team. I made a Twitter page, I made a website, and I wrote game recaps and features on that. I had nowhere to write. So I’d just watch Nets games and write game recaps and features on the Nets, just on Microsoft Word. What I started doing was, I would send them around. I wasn’t looking for a job, I was just looking for advice. How can I get better? I knew I wasn’t a veteran writer at the time, and I just asked for advice.

Some people got back to me, like Frank Isola. I give him a lot of credit. But the person who came back to me was Tom Lorenzo, the head of Nets Daily. He said, “Look, man. You’re working hard and I see what you’re doing. Just keep at it. Circle back with me and keep at it.” I was a reader and frequent commenter [on SB Nation]. I would write the fan posts that they have, but I never wrote for them… After a year I circled back with him and had a bunch of material and content that I was able to send to him and show him my progression over the year.

He told me, “We need somebody to do game recaps, and our social media could improve a bit,” with the landscape heading in that direction. Game recaps were just kind of a toss-up. They just put them on the website so people could comment. When he offered me that opportunity, I said I’m going to take game recaps and social media, and be the best at it. Turn it into something special. 

That’s when I received my first media credential, and it’s been been six seasons that I’ve been covering the Nets since. Really, using adversity to push me forward to motivate me, and a little bit of luck in the process. Working hard when nobody is watching. Understanding that if you work hard at something for long enough, you chase your dream, you can accomplish whatever you want. I started with the game recaps, and now it’s blossomed into something really cool.

McKeone: How close are the Nets to landing Kyrie Irving, and how does he fit into the team?

Puccio: From everything I’m hearing, it’s as close to a done deal as possible. I don’t like to say done deal until there’s pen to paper, but there’s confidence around the Nets organization that he’s indeed going to be the point guard of the team come October. In terms of his fit, look. We’re talking about a guy who’s a six-time All-Star, obviously a one-time Finals championship player. To put that into Brooklyn’s culture, considering where they were a couple of years ago, is obviously a huge plus. The biggest free agent they’ve ever signed was Armen Gilliam in 1993. You can argue Jeremy Lin a couple years ago, but he didn’t do much with Brooklyn.

In terms of fit, his play, and improving this team in general, it would be a huge deal to them, a huge addition. But there are questions. His leadership. He’s is going to be joining a young team, and obviously we know this past season in Boston he didn’t do so well with younger guys, inexperienced players. If they can nab him, the way things are looking, obviously they’ll be one of the top teams in the east. They’ll be right in the conversations with the 76ers and the big dogs, the Raptors if Kawhi re-signs. The idea is that he can bring a Kevin Durant along with him and they can form a superteam in the future. 

McKeone: You’ve been covering the team for the entirety of their rebuild project. How have things changed with Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson running the show?

Puccio: Oh man, it’s day and night. When Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson came in and did their introductory press conferences, you could just tell they had a different demeanor to them. They had a plan. They knew what they wanted to do. Then it became a matter of, “Are they going to follow through?” They’re preaching patience. Will they wait? The Nets were notorious for just trading away their draft picks. They were committed to development. They kept saying the words family and cohesiveness. That’s something they continued to this day, and now, in your head, they’ve got one big family. High-character individuals, intangible things you don’t get to see. Who is this player off the court? What’s his mindset? What are his leadership assets? When I heard them talking about that, I wanted to see it before I believed it, but it was just nice to hear they had a plan in place.

The guys coming in had a chip on their shoulders. Sean Marks was an assistant to R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich out in San Antonio. He played with the organization for a while. He came over and brought a healthy culture with him, brought in the right people to make that culture what it is. That’s where I’m gonna start with Kenny Atkinson. This is a guy that was an assistant coach, a development coach, whether it be overseas or with the Knicks, the Hawks. He paid his dues. He’s a scrappy, hard-working guy. He translated his own personality, which was that hard-working identity, to the Brooklyn Nets. It’s been applied to them, and they’re seeing fruits of their labor. It’s been one of the most improbable turnarounds in sports history, in my opinion. They were so deep in the gutter, and here we are, having a conversation about them potentially getting some of the biggest free agents in the market. 

McKeone: Are the Nets moving out of the shadow of the Knicks? Or will Brooklyn always be the little brother to their big brother?

Puccio: I think it’s an interesting case because unlike all the other ‘little brother’ teams in New York, the bigger brother has seen more success. You look at the Giants, you look at the Yankees, even the Rangers, despite this past season. All the older brother teams have winning to, at least, support their case. Where the Knicks, they’ve lost the most games out of any NBA franchise since 2000. You bring top-tier talent to Brooklyn, an organization that’s only been in the state for, now, seven years… I guess they’ll always be that little brother, but New York City folks just want to watch good basketball.

If Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant or any of these big names come, Brooklyn’s going to be the hottest ticket in town. They’re not going to be going to MSG, they’re going to Barclays Center. Why are you gonna go to MSG to watch another potentially 25-win lottery team when you can go and bring your kid and watch a brand-new Brooklyn Nets team with some of the best players in the league? I always called them the little brother from New Jersey, but now they’ve moved to Brooklyn and they’re growing up.

McKeone: Let’s say Kyrie doesn’t end up in Brooklyn. What are the next steps for the Nets?

Puccio: Well, they’re not going to go out and spend money just to spend money. They’re going to improve in other areas. The worst-case scenario, and it isn’t that bad of a scenario because we’re talking about a 42-win team that just made the playoffs with a bunch of 20-year olds, if the worst-case scenario is bringing in a Tobias Harris and re-signing D’Angelo Russell, I would say they’re in pretty good shape. At least for now, and the future too.

I do think it would be a… I don’t want to say failure, but it would be a light fail if they miss. Because if they can’t land free agents now, when they’re thriving in this market and the Knicks are bad, then I don’t know when they would be able to land a free agent. 

McKeone: The Nets have had a few young breakout stars in recent years, from Spencer Dinwiddie to D’Angelo Russell. Who’s the guy to watch in Brooklyn for a breakout season next year?

Puccio: It’s so hard to say since they only have seven guys under contract right now. I guess just the obvious answer, Caris Levert. If you want to talk about a guy ready to take it to next level, that next jump, they’re ready for him to have that breakthrough year, an All-Star type of season. It was a small sample size, but when he did play last year, he was very, very good. He looked like an All-Star and he’s only 25 years old. If there’s anybody that’s going to take the next step, it’s Caris LeVert. Players, coaches, everybody in that organization believes that. 

McKeone: Favorite arena in the NBA?

Puccio: Favorite arena? To watch a basketball game, like sitting down and watching a game, Barclays Center. It gives you that New York City streetball vibe, there’s really not a bad seat in the house. It’s a small arena, so you can see everything. Biggie Smalls blasting in the background, it really gives you that streetball vibe.

But I will say, in terms of being a fan and having a good time, if you were going out with your friends or whatever, I gotta give Philly a lot of credit. They do their pregame presentations in a phenomenal way, the people working there are all first-class and make you feel right at home. Say what you want about your fans, they really, really care and are really passionate about their teams. So I give them a lot of credit. I had a lot of fun watching the Nets play in Philly during the playoffs. It’s all passion, good or bad. 

McKeone: Favorite player to interview in your career so far?

Puccio: That’s a tough one. I mean, D’Angelo Russell has been great over the years. I’ve gotten to see him grow as a person since he came over from LA, and you can see the maturity in the way he speaks and the honesty in the way he talks.

Other than him, Jared Dudley is one of the most insightful players I’ve ever spoken to. The same can be said for Spencer Dinwiddie. They’re both very down-to-earth guys, so having a conversation about basketball and things like that, they’re by far my favorite people to interview. They have that demeanor to them, where you feel like they’re very down to earth and very smart and they’re just enjoyable to talk to. 

McKeone: Go-to spot in Brooklyn for a bite to eat?

Puccio: Spumoni Gardens. Pizza. It’s simple. 

McKeone: What’s something you feel people outside of the industry don’t know about working an NBA beat?

Puccio: There’s a lot people don’t know. I guess all the hard work you have to put in without compensation. The little things behind the scenes that people don’t really get to see. I mentioned writing on Microsoft Word for the first year or two, I wasn’t compensated for a couple years… it’s easy for people to look at social media and see you writing all these articles and doing all these cool things, because you’re on the court and talking to NBA players.

What they don’t realize is that you had to leave for school at 7 A.M., get home at 3 o’clock, then go to the Nets game, interview players and cover the game, get home at 1 A.M. and do the same exact thing [the next day]. And all of that is happening without compensation. They don’t get to see the hard work you had to put in just to get your foot in the door. Not even [to get a job], just to get your foot in the door.

McKeone: What do you wish you knew about sports media before you started a career in it?

Puccio: I don’t really know if I have a good answer to that. Maybe that the media landscape is changing so rapidly. I would’ve liked to have done things like periscope and other digitally-based content earlier than I did. It’s something I take pride in, but I wish I had done it earlier. 

Follow Anthony’s work on Twitter and Nets Daily