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DLo knows: it’s time to compete, to win

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

D’Angelo Russell is ending the third year of his career, with career averages of 14.5, 4.2, and 3.6. Not bad for someone who just turned 22 ... and despite missing 33 games to a knee injury. Russell’s numbers for the year are better than that - 15.4, 5.1 ,and 4.0.

But as he told beat writers Wednesday, he knows it’s nowhere near what he knows this team needs to succeed.

“It could be better,” said Russell. “Yeah, it could be better. I think it’s just learning. I’m feeling it out. Everything I’m doing is new; playing with new coaches, new teammates. Everything is new. So I think it’s a feeling-it-out type deal with me, so it could always be better.”

And it will need to be. The Nets have exercised their option on his for next year, at $7 million, and he is eligible for an extension this summer. It’s not likely, but for him —and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson— the door to big bucks opens this summer.

if there’s one positive coming out of the season, it’s how the young players developed, but the tangible result of that progress is only a handful more wins. Still, Atkinson, wary that his team won’t have its own pick for the fourth straight year, thinks DLo, Caris LeVert, and Jarrett Allen are his lottery picks.

“We’re not saying, ‘Oh man, we don’t have those picks.’ These are our lottery picks, and we have to get them to a level where they’re elite players in this league,” Atkinson said. “That’s the push. They’re getting a great opportunity to spin their wheels now. I like the direction they’re going. But to make that big leap, that’s hard. We’re pushing to get there with those guys.”

Russell thinks that’s a nice sentiment from the coach, who he’s often praised, but he knows that any improvement is up to the players.

“Yeah, definitely it sounds good. But at the end of the day you’ve got — the guys he named — we’ve got to produce,” Russell said. “Next year if we’re not producing, or the year after if we’re not producing, there will be a new DLo, Caris, JA. And I’ve been a part of that situation, too, so you don’t get a lot of chances in this league, so taking advantage of that one is big time.”

Meanwhile, there was another indication Jahlil Okafor will be working out at HSS this summer. He was asked about whether his performance against the 76ers —15 points on 7-for-9 shooting and five rebounds in 16 minutes — was something he could duplicate.

“I’m not even thinking about that. The next four games, I think my teammates and I just want to finish off on the right foot so we can have a good offseason,” said Okafor. The “we” sounded like he expects to be back.