Long Island Nets GM Matt Riccardi’s career in the organization began with a 23-hour drive and an unpaid internship.
It was January 2010, and Bobby Marks, then the VP of basketball operations for the New Jersey Nets, had told Riccardi that the internship was his—as long as Riccardi, a former Division III basketball player/assistant coach who had also worked in finance, could get to the team’s practice facility, then in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
So Riccardi got in his car and drove more than 1,500 miles from his hometown of Plano, Texas, to North Jersey as he attempted to fulfill his ultimate goal of working in an NBA front office.
“Matt went above and beyond,” says Bobby Marks, who worked for the Nets for 20 years, also moving his way up the organizational ladder from unpaid intern to assistant GM. “He drove halfway across the country to get there. I had a lot of good interns, and I would say he’s probably the best one I’ve ever had.”
In his 11-year tenure with the Nets, Riccardi, 35, who also currently serves as Brooklyn’s director of scouting, has risen through the ranks and worked in a variety of scouting and management capacities, most recently as Long Island’s GM since September 5, 2019. His talent evaluation skills in the G-League have helped persuade Brooklyn to sign the likes of Spencer Dinwiddie, Sean Kilpatrick, Yogi Ferrell, Theo Pinson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Chris Chiozza.
“I think it speaks volumes that Matt has remained here from a different regime,” says Brooklyn GM Sean Marks, who decided to keep Riccardi after taking over for Billy King. “And not just remained, but continued to develop and rise into higher roles. I’ve known Matt for quite some time since we both worked in the G-League, and what stands out is obviously his scouting, unparalleled work ethic and amazing dedication to his craft. But above all else, he’s just a good person and is always putting everyone before himself.”
Dinwiddie, in particular, turned his career around with the Nets, transforming from a minor-leaguer into a borderline All-Star. And Riccardi played a leading role in Dinwiddie’s acquisition. As the assistant GM for Long Island under Trajan Langdon, Riccardi was on the team’s first roadtrip in Windy City when Dinwiddie posted 17 points and 11 assists against the G-League Nets on November 11, 2016.
Riccardi liked what he saw, and alerted others in the organization that they should go and see Dinwiddie play. Eighteen days later, Brooklyn’s entire coaching staff and front office was in attendance at Barclays Center when Dinwiddie posted 25 points and 12 assists in another standout G-League performance.
The Nets signed the journeyman point guard on December 8, 2016, and he went on to become a foundation player for the franchise, averaging 20.6 points per game last season. Dinwiddie is currently recovering from ACL surgery.
“I think there was a conviction there (with Spencer),” Sean Marks says. “(Matt’s) a guy, when he’s on a player—and in particular with Spencer—he keeps pushing, and thankfully he did. We all knew Spencer, but somebody has to start that snowball, that ripple effect of ‘Where can we go with this particular player?’ In Matt’s case, he’s been right on a lot—and not just Spencer.”
Bobby Marks says: “A lot of those guys (Matt found) were former second-rounders that toiled in the G-League and nobody wanted. And he had better eyes on them than maybe some other people did.”
Riccardi, who wasn’t made available for an interview for this story, played just 211 minutes and made only ten shots during his three-year college basketball career at Division III Texas-Tyler. He joked during a recent Zoom chat with university donors that the only reason he was on the team was to raise its GPA. Even so, despite a lack of size, the 5-foot-8 Riccardi—and that’s probably being generous—became a leader thanks to his work ethic and knowledge of X’s and O’s.
After UT Tyler went 6-18 during Riccardi’s junior season, he was asked to serve on the search committee to hire the team’s next head coach. Kenny Bizot, who got the job, remembers Riccardi taking the process very seriously for a student-athlete and asking smart questions during Bizot’s interview with university officials. In Bizot’s first year at the helm, the team improved to 14-12.
Riccardi spent a year as a graduate assistant under Bizot while he earned his MBA, working with the guards and helping with scouting and game preparation for the team’s Saturday opponents. After a year working in finance, Riccardi has been able to find success and stability in a league where those two things can be hard to come by.
“The beauty of Riccardi is he’s willing to do anything,” says Milton Lee, ex-GM of the Nets’ former D-League affiliate, the Springfield Armor. “He spent time in every department and learned the business inside and out. And there was never a task he felt was below him. He was booking flights for draft prospects we’d have in, and then driving them back to the hotel.”
Lee recalled Riccardi’s prowess in pickup basketball when team staffers—including former coach and Hall of Famer Jason Kidd—would come together for games.
“He was tough as nails,” Lee says. “The way he plays basketball is the way he attacks his job. He’s relentless.”
Riccardi—who received interest from the Memphis Grizzlies prior to his promotion to Long Island GM and has a contract that expires at season’s end, per league sources—worked under Langdon for three seasons.
In Year 1, the team went 17-33. By Year 3, it improved to 34-16 and advanced to the G-League finals.
“I think he’s just a team-first guy,” says Langdon, who is now with New Orleans in the Pelicans’ front office. “I think he’s really genuine in his approach and his relationship-building style. He’s driven to be the best he can be—and wants to continue to grow—but he always wants to do it in the context of a team and organizational atmosphere.”
Langdon lauded Riccardi for regularly taking the G-League coaching staff out to breakfast or lunch.
“He really liked to keep the coaches together, and that gave them the opportunity to meet outside the workplace,” Langdon says. “And I think that created an environment where people were comfortable coming to him with issues because they knew he cared.”
Riccardi’s next challenge: navigating the 2021 G-League season with the Nets in the 18-team Disney bubble.
“He’s very thoughtful and will be prepared well beyond belief, so I’m not worried about that,” says Sean Marks, adding that the key will be fluidity, patience and being able to pivot—just as Brooklyn did in the NBA bubble. “It’s about what we are doing to support him.”
People around the league who know Riccardi well say he’s really enjoyed working in Brooklyn, a place where he continues to grow and feel empowered under Sean Marks’ leadership. Their only real criticism of the young executive: If anything, he can be too nice at times.
Sean Marks is thankful to have Riccardi as part of his staff. Riccardi may not be a former NBA player, but he’s got plenty to offer.
“He has a skill-set I don’t have,” Sean Marks says. “I don’t want a bunch of ‘yes-men’ that aren’t going to play devil’s advocate. And Matt isn’t that.”