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The ‘salary dump’ that looks better and better with each passing game

Brooklyn Nets v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Don’t quite call it a revenge game. Taurean Prince expressed no hard feelings before or after Wednesday’s game with the Hawks. He said he loves the city: Atlanta. Still, Prince played one of his best games as a Net: 23 points, six rebounds, four assists, shooting 5-of-7 from three. He was motivated.

“I was 100 percent motivated, especially being the team that traded me away,” said Prince post-game. “That was part of it. It’s sweet to be back. I love the city of Atlanta.”

Making it sweeter was the fact that the player he was traded for, Allen Crabbe, didn’t play, still troubled by his right knee, the same one that bothered him last year and led to end-of-the-season surgery. Crabbe, in fact, as only played 10 games this season and is averaging only 5.3 points a game (compared to Prince’s 13.5 points). And while Crabbe, known for his deep shooting prowess, is hitting only 24.2 percent from deep, Prince is at 40.8.

When Prince was traded to the Nets back in early June, it seemed at first glance to be a salary dump. The Nets needed to create enough salary cap to entice Kyrie Irving and Kevn Durant to Brooklyn and the deal saved the Nets $15 million, the difference between the two players’ deals this season.

The Hawks also got two first round picks, their own pick, at No. 17 in last June’s draft, and next year’s lottery protected pick, but got the Hawks second in 2021, giving them three seconds in that draft. They used the Nets pick to move up to take De’Andre Hunter, at No. 4.

The salary dump aspect of the trade got all the headlines back then. The Hawks had soured on their No. 12 pick in the 2016 Draft. He worked well in Mike Budenholzer’s open system, but did not thrive when Lloyd Pierce installed a slower game last season. Prince also missed 17 games.

Still, Kenny Atkinson said Wednesday that the 25-year-old indeed had been a target of the Nets. He was still with the Hawks leading up to the 2016 Draft and knew more than enough about his game.

“We always liked him,” Atkinson said. “I had the little history obviously here and — although I’d left before they drafted him — but I knew he was a guy in the mix and always was impressed when we played Atlanta.

“He was a guy that I wasn’t worried about, I loved his toughness, I loved his shooting. Sean and I were on the same page, and the staff was on the same page in terms of, ‘Man, we got a good player.’”

Prince, who Marks had seen up close when the Hawks assigned him to Long Island back in 2017, says he’s a better player than he was with Atlanta. He described the how and why to reporters post-game

“Patience, just taking what the defense gives me, not really calling for the ball as much, learning how to play off other people, other talents. And raising my level on the defensive end as well, Prince explained. “There’s just a lot more trust given to me, a lot more situations I’m put in to be great. Credit to the Brooklyn Nets for allowing me to be myself.”

And of course, the Nets signed him long-term just before the extension deadline in October, giving him a two-year, $29 million extension that starts next season. The Hawks are reportedly happy as well, getting Hunter, the guy they wanted in the Draft.

But as Marks has shown with past deals, things aren’t what they appear to be at first blush. Sure, the Nets got additional cap space —and had to give up two picks— but at the end of the day, Prince has turned out to be a great pick-up.