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The complications of keeping D’Angelo Russell

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NBA: Playoffs-Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no need to question his preferences. We understand that Brooklyn is at the top of D’Angelo Russell’s list. We understand that keeping Russell is near the top of Brooklyn’s, at least up to a point.

But free agency begins July 1 and everyone – from Russell, to the marketing interns – understands that the NBA is a business.

So much so that Russell, who is entering free agency for the first time, acknowledges that he’s looking forward to at least tasting the open market at age 23, with a well-delivered “hell yeah,” when asked about his excitement.

And Brooklyn will be in the lead come the first of July.

“I don’t know any other teams,” offered Russell, the former Los Angeles Laker. “I don’t know any other GMs or coaches. I don’t know any of those people. I know where I’m at. So it definitely gives you that advantage.”

And here’s what Sean Marks had to say about talking to the franchise’s only All-Star in the last five years as July 1 approaches.

“I think the conversations that have taken place are over the entire time that he’s been here. And those conversations are between he and Kenny (Atkinson), they’re between myself and D’Angelo, they’re between the doctors and the performance team, the staff. And it’s really about a holistic view about how we care for our guys,” Marks told a dozen or so reporters.

“And I would think I could put D’Angelo and the rest of our guys, lump them all together; l think they know how we appreciate them, how we care for them, how we want to develop them. And that’s part of the restricted free agent pitch, if you will, for him.

“It’s not going to happen in one day or one hour or a 15 minute conversation. This is something that’s happened for 18 months or two years or however long these guys are here. I think D’Angelo knows how we feel about him. As I mentioned before, our job is to keep talent on the floor, and to get better talent and to keep developing that talent. So we’ll see where it all ends up.”

Marks wants (needs?) flexibility. It could all end up with a very difficult negotiation process. That’s not to say that there won’t be chemistry or comprehension on the two sides, the Nets and Marks, who it should be noted spent 13 years as a pro basketball player, 12 in the NBA, have built a relationship with Russell over time.

“He’s a Net,” Marks emphasized. “As of right now, he’s a Brooklyn Net. That hasn’t changed. Having lived it on a couple different sides, I understand the business of it. I’ve packed my bags many, many times. And I’ve also seen the dynamic in the locker room where it changes. It’s about having the right leadership in there, it’s about having the right vets and having honest questions with your guys. You never want to lead them astray.”

But that doesn’t make this summer – the most important offseason in Brooklyn history – any less difficult. The Nets will likely begin the summer with over $54 million committed to their current roster, assuming Allen Crabbe exercises his player option worth $18.5 million... which he is virtually certain to do. It also includes team options for Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham worth a combined $3.5 million.

That could all change, of course.

The NBA’s cap number for the 2019-20 season will be around $109 million. The luxury tax threshold will be around $132 million. The increase, up $7 million and $9 million, respectively, will likely distort the market. Potential free agents will get paid – and in some cases overpaid – for their services.

Russell is a fascinating case study. He’s easily the most high-profile restricted free agent from the 2015 NBA Draft class, now that Kristaps Porzingis is coming off an injury, and Karl-Anthony Towns is already committed to the Minnesota Timberwolves long-term. Same with Russell’s homeboy, Devin Booker of Phoenix.

Many continue to speculate whether or not Russell will earn so much as $18-20 million per year with his pending new contract.

A bit of a different dynamic, but the Nets did try to poach Otto Porter from the Washington Wizards last summer for four-years, $106.5 million. Russell is much better, an All-Star. So logic might just dictate that’s a good starting point for D-Lo.

And is it possible that point guard-needy teams like the Bulls or Suns or Pelicans simply won’t have enough cap space to scare the Nets off? They could, of course, make some moves to get more, but in that case, the Nets would likely match.

But suppose they don’t match someone’s offer sheet – say four-years for $80 million – that could clear out space for two max contracts, if Marks and company are able to maneuver Crabbe’s expiring deal. You’d love to add a Kawhi Leonard and/or a Kevin Durant.

Then again, suppose KD doesn’t want to arrive at his new destination alone? We don’t know what KD thinks or wants yet. KD may not even know what he wants.

The Knicks have been linked to a Durant/Kyrie Irving package for the last several months, and perhaps there’s a reason for that. Maybe it’s why the Knicks were willing to trade Porzingis in the first place to clear out space for two max contracts. The Nets could also create space for a second max, but it might come at the cost of losing Russell, which would be VERY unpopular. There are a lot of D-Lo Stans.

After all, business is business.

Speaking of Booker’s max contract — five-years, $158 million — will it serve as motivation for Russell. Booker thinks so.

“It’s a life-changing moment for all of us,” Booker said after signing his extension, Mike Scotto of The Athletic reported last summer, including Russell in that group. “Obviously, everybody wants to be in that situation to be a max player, and it comes at different times for people, so I think D’Angelo, I was with him yesterday, he looks at it as motivation, something that he’s going to get towards. I know Karl Towns is most likely going to do his this summer I would think, but it’s a blessing for sure.”

Furthermore, could the Nets keep Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert together long-term? It’s the elephant in the room. Brooklyn will need to address LeVert’s future this summer as well. He’s eligible for a extension this summer. (Although he won’t be paid from said extension until 2020-21.)

Dinwiddie is already locked into a three-year, $34 million deal, banking $10.6, $11.5 and $12.3 million over the course of the deal.

LeVert will make a modest $2.6 million next season before either getting paid big bucks or hitting free agency. LeVert’s been injured, but has been the team’s best all-around player when healthy. How much will be get?

Because of those injuries, his extension number likely won’t be as high as Russell’s, but it may be close. Will the Nets want to commit, say, around $50 million – possibly more – to Russell, Dinwiddie and LeVert beginning in 2020 ... just before Jarrett Allen becomes eligible for his extension.

And Lord knows what the rest of the roster may look like then. Joe Harris will be a free agent that same summer.

LeVert obviously wants Russell to stay, He said as much on Wednesday.

“Absolutely. We’ve obviously built a great chemistry playing together the last couple of years, and I feel like it’s only going to get better, growing in the future. Whatever they decide to do, I’ll obviously support it, but I’d love to play with D’Angelo,” he said in his exit interview.

LeVert adds that he’d love to play in Brooklyn for as long as possible when asked of his situation.

“I would love to play here as long as possible,” he said. “I love the city of Brooklyn. I love the coaches and the team here, so whatever we decide to do I’ll be happy with.”

Dinwiddie wants to play with D’Lo and CL Smooth as well.

“I’m excited to see whichever direction we go. I want to stay here and be a part of it, and that’s why I re-signed,” he said. “I’ve been in two other places in my tenure in the league. This is a fairy-tale experience, man. They really care about you … It’s a joy to come to work every day, and that’s top down from management to performance staff, all that.”

Bottom line for Marks, other than flexibility, is keeping everyone informed.

“When our players say ‘I want the truth,’ I’ll ask him every single day– whether it’s court time, availability, whatever it may be. That should really go through the entire organization. Where you have to have honest conversations with players at the right time and see where the chips fall.”

So, assume everything is on the table, starting now and ending when? This is the business of basketball. As Biggie once said, “‘Mo Money, ‘Mo Problems.”