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Going for it ... Nets looking for more than respect

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets-Media Day Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

It’s year 3 of the Markinson Era of Nets basketball and in comments both public and private, the Nets management is looking for more than respect. They want to win.

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t make a push for the playoffs. Isn’t that the objective here?” Marks recently asked rhetorically. “We’re not sitting here trying to win 20 games. So let’s put our best foot forward and push each other and see where it goes. Anything can happen.”

Last year’s team did improve their win total by eight games, even with devastating injuries to the starting backcourt. As Brian Lewis writes in his season preview, it’s time for the Nets to gauge their progress by wins and losses rather than by achieving development and other goals.

With LeBron James out of the East, and the bottom of the conference both bad and trying to lose, the Nets could make a similar jump this season. If they can, the playoffs might be within reach.

There will be temptations to tank, like having their own first round pick for the first time since 2013 and having two first round picks for the first time since 2008 ... four years before they moved to Brooklyn.

And of course, their core remains young. With the exception of veteran DeMarre Carroll, their expected starting line-up will be filled with players between the ages of 20 and 26.

At the core of the Nets plan to take the next step is D’Angelo Russell, still only 22 and still very talented. But can he stay healthy? Can he lead? The Nets decided not to extend him just now and will wait until free agency begins next summer.

“You look at a player like D’Angelo who is looking for his first big contract. Can he win? That’s what Marks has to find out,” one Western Conference scout told Lewis after watching Russell in the preseason.

There remain doubts, but Marks has staked a lot on DLo, his signature move as GM being his trade of the franchise’s all time scoring leader, Brook Lopez, and a pick that became Kyle Kuzma, for Russell. He and Kenny Atkinson have sung DLo’s praises all summer, talking about his work ethic, his commitment to building up his body, improving his deep shooting. Not to mention his court vision.

“I want to win. I want to win. I’ve lost a lot in this league, so I think if we win, everyone gets what they want,” Russell told Lewis about the team’s decision not to extend him a big deal. “If you don’t get it here, you’ll get it somewhere else. Winning, I think, is the problem solver.”

It’s not all up to Russell, as Marks has said repeatedly. He points as well to Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, his two other cornerstones, both of whom were taken after No. 20 in the draft (with traded picks) and shown more than a little potential. Then there’s Allen Crabbe, who is still only 26 and a player the Nets really like, and the team’s defensive rock, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson who is both young (23) and the only player who remains from the team Marks and Atkinson inherited.

Beyond DLo though, the Nets want to see Caris LeVert take the big step. He looked good in preseason as he did in stretches last season, but he’ll need to be consistent. He had as many turnovers as assists in preseason.

The offense in fact has been rejiggered to take advantage of all that slashing and crashing DLo and LeVert can provide.

“It gives the guards a lot of freedom, myself and D’Angelo [Russell], to not only make the calls but get in the lane and be aggressive as well as just taking control of the offense,” LeVert said.

His coach agreed.

“We’re more of a spread so we can drive the ball better, we can get to the rim better,” he told Lewis.

“[LeVert’s emergence] was part of the personnel thing. In this offense he can even handle it more than he has. Him and D’Angelo, they have a nice synergy. The Knicks were denying D’Angelo full court and Caris just brought it up. D’Angelo was off the ball. They’re embracing that.”

The Nets off-season acquisitions are probably the biggest indicator that they have no intention of tanking. Ed Davis fills one of the team’s biggest needs last year, rebounding. Shabazz Napier, his Portland teammate, provides point guard insurance. Yes, they got draft picks in return for taking on Kenneth Faried and Jared Dudley, but both of them can contribute as well.

Lewis, like almost everyone who follows the Nets, thinks Marks will be active throughout the season, fielding offers for some of his veteran players, all the while maintaining that fat salary cap space. Carroll, ($15.4 million), Faried ($13.7 million) and Dudley ($9.5 million) are all players who could help a contender come February. Then there’s Spencer Dinwiddie, who may very well be the team’s most popular player ... and the ONLY one to get votes in any award category after last season, being a finalist for Most Improved Player.

Dinwiddie understands his role and appears happy with it. The Nets could if they wanted to begin the most crucial free agency in December rather than July. That’s when they can re-up the 25-year-old to a four-year, $47.5 million deal.

“If Sean Marks calls to give me a contract extension, I’ll take it,” Dinwiddie said recently. “But until he does, I’m looking forward to being a free agent.”

As Russell says, winning cures everything and the Nets want it. Sure it would be nice to have a shot at Zion Williams or R.J. Barrett, but the players want the post-season more. A lot of their individual futures depend on it. So does the franchise’s. Luis Scola’s two-year old line still rings true as the Nets head toward a summer of “flexibility” as Marks likes to say: multiple draft picks and a ton of cap space.

“Once they win, they will get everyone they want,” said Scola two years ago. Now they get their chance.