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For D’Angelo Russell —and Nets— recognition has finally arrived

Brooklyn Nets v Sacramento Kings Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It’s not just the historic (and we don’t use that term lightly) turnaround vs. Sacramento or the three 40+ games D’Angelo Russell has put up this season. It’s not even the winning record in mid-March or the prospect of the first post-season in four years.

It’s a bit more ephemeral than that. It’s the general acceptance that what the Nets have is special and sustainable. It goes along with the Woj video, a Rachel Nichols’ essay on patience and Stephen A. Smith’s almost hourly praise of the organization, even a Sports Illustrated profile on their nutritionist, and now, the SLAM cover, “THE NOTORIOUS D-LO: D’Angelo Russell Is Built for This!”

There have been other videos, other covers, even other SLAM covers, in the past and except for the Jason Kidd era, they’re the sort of thing you find at the bottom of your closet during spring cleaning and wonder, “Why did I keep THIS?!”

What’s different? There are a lot of things. The long-term trajectory that Sean Marks, Kenny Atkinson (and yes, Mikhail Prokhorov) have put the team on. That’s certainly one. So is the youth and the personalities of the kids and veterans making up the roster. And yes, the sense of community between the players and the fans. Shared joy.

Max Resetar, who wrote the SLAM story on DLo, opens his story not with a quote from the Nets star, but a quote from “Brooklyn Took It” by Jeru the Damaja. “Brooklyn’s back on the map, I’m not bragging. Defeating all foes, bring your styles.”

Resetar then writes...

The Nets are most definitely back. They’re in the middle of the playoff picture, holding on to a future that’s shimmering with potential, while rolling through a fast-tracked rebuild in the present. Their nimble turnaround from a team burdened with horrible contracts, aging centerpieces and no draft picks is a credit to great coaching, fluid team-oriented offense, a sound defense and, most importantly, D’Angelo Russell.

That may seem a little optimistic. They’re not in the playoffs yet. Marks might object to having the rebuild called “fast-tracked” (although we have noticed that the Nets GM has taken to saying the Nets are “a long way away” rather than “a long, long way.”)

Still, SLAM makes the point that Brooklyn and Russell have endured a lot and are now reaping the rewards. Resetar takes the reader through Russell’s emergence, from “grannie’s backyard” through Montaverde Academy and Ohio State to LA-LA Land and his first, tough year in Brooklyn.

Resetar quotes D’Angelo’s older brother, Antonio, on what DLo told him after the trade.

“When he first got traded, I remember exactly where I was at,” Antonio told Resetar. “I was in Kentucky at a movie theater. I called him right away. I was like, ‘Yo, what is it?’ He was just like, ‘Bro, you do not know how excited I am right now to have a clean slate.’”

DLo confirmed the quote and added, “For me to get traded first, I knew that I was prepared to go dominate wherever I went, I was ready.”

The first season didn’t go as planned. He was hurt early. So, with the Nets coaching and performance staffs encouraging him, he changed his ways last summer. He improved and at the same time, so did Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert (until he was hurt), Spencer Dinwiddie, etc. A few smart veterans were added and a rookie took off on an expected flight.

It wasn’t easy at first, Then, as his teammates told Resetar, LeVert went down and Russell went up, exploding in confidence, leading.

Now, recognition has arrived for everyone, for the effort, for the camaraderie, for the trajectory. As a Nets fan, you can be forgiven if you’re skeptical or even cynical. Been there, done that and all I got was a musty magazine. But this time, as we said, it feels different. Can it last? Do they make the playoffs? Do they sign a big free agent which would certainly validate it all? We will know soon enough, but we already know that we’ve had a lot of fun so far. Worth the price of admission.