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Nets a winner in Lottery ... without being in it

NBA: NBA Draft Lottery Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

In the end, the Nets did well in the Draft Lottery ... without being in it. With the Knicks falling to No. 3 and the Pelicans winning the rights to Zion Williamson, the worst case scenario for Brooklyn got a lot less likely.

The Knicks won’t have Williamson to vault them into another New York basketball stratosphere and the remote possibility of New York trading for Anthony Davis became even more remote.

The Nets feared that Williamson or Davis could help the Knicks gain a competitive advantage in July when free agents change addresses. Now that’s off the table and they can focus on other issues... like which direction they’re going to take going forward...

Let’s start with the Nets own roster.

There was something special about this past year’s team. Sure, they improved by 14 games and made the playoffs for the first time in four years – also their first post-season with Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson running the ship, but there’s more to it than that.

The Nets are an organization built on development, character, continuity and cohesiveness. You know, culture. You’ve heard it before. All of that coming to fruition has led us to where we are tonight, the conversations we’re having about big-name free agents considering Brooklyn as a destination this summer.

Still, there’s a bittersweet feeling for some in the Nets organization.

It was special in that they not only changed the narrative on the organization, but they all grew close together and built something out of a roster filled with players looking for a second chance.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Kenny Atkinson said Tuesday on the Black and Drew podcast. “I loved the team we had this year & it’s the type of team you want to keep coaching forever, but we know this is a business, so we do understand our roster will be changing, we’ll be adding new players, hopefully bring back a good set of guys that were here this year.”

There’s a lot to this. Some of the team’s most integral players are free agents this summer, specifically D’Angelo Russell and the three veterans who helped the Nets keep their heads when all the rest we’re losing theirs.

DLo of course is a story on its own, complicated by cap space and superstar desires. Put him aside for a minute. And look at the vets who Atkinson loves and what the meant to the team.

Jared Dudley comes to mind first. He wasn’t as productive as Ed Davis or DeMarre Carroll or Ed Davis but he was force. He initiated a players-only film session after the Nets started the season 8-18 and they answered with a seven-game win streak that blossomed into a 20-6 record over the next 26 games. In the playoffs, following a second flagrant foul from Joel Embiid to Jarrett Allen, Dudley came running in to defend Allen and the Nets as a whole.

Davis, too, was as crucial on the court as he was off the court. Davis led the Nets in defensive rating (101.3), net rating (3.9) and in rebounds per game (8.6), while becoming the first player in NBA history to average 8.5+ rebounds per game in fewer than 20 minutes per game. He put his ego aside and helped mentor Jarrett Allen, who played ahead of him throughout the season. He grew close with Russell, whom he helped keep a positive mind when Russell was getting benched late in games.

DeMarre Carroll had another solid year averaging 11 points and five rebounds in 25 minutes per game. Carroll has been with the Nets for two years. He helped serve as a player-coach type, one who was able to relay messages from players to coaches and vice versa. He too helped Russell grow as a person and as a player. He stayed on his case during the off-season and made sure the two were in the gym growing together.

It would be tough to see these guys go should free agents choose Brooklyn, but like Atkinson said,

“We know this is a business, we do understand our roster will be changing.”

So what’s the latest. There’s a lot to unravel.

Last summer, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times reported that Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler were intrigued by the idea of playing alongside one another in the Eastern Conference. Rumblings grew, but the rumors of the collaboration have since died down. Now it’s the pairing of Kevin Durant and Irving. That’s the rumor, that they’ll be individually or together the top target for several teams, including the Knicks and Nets.

As of May 7, Vegas gave the Nets the best chances at landing Irving despite already having a 23-year-old All-Star point guard on their roster.

After the Philadelphia 76ers were eliminated in the second round, Vegas put the Nets second among their list of likely destinations to land Butler.

Vegas odds change almost every day and Tuesday, Marc Stein said the pairing of KD and Kyrie was as likely to happen in Brooklyn as Manhattan. “They are going to look at the Nets just as hard as the Knicks.”

There’s still a month and a half until free agency begins on July 1, but as the days grow longer, signing either duo doesn’t seem that far-fetched.

Irving’s camp likes what the Nets have done from a cultural perspective and they feel it might be a good place to restart for him.

And it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if the Nets have their eyes locked in on Butler, either especially if Irving is leaning towards signing elsewhere. He would be a contingency plan, a good one indeed, should he decide to leave Philadelphia. And if you need any further indication that the Nets are interested, note this: Marks isn’t much of a believer in trading for players who he can chase in free agency instead.

As the off-season rumblings continue (and change), this is all something to keep in mind when you hear these names as well as others. The Nets value players for specific reasons, whether it’s veterans like Dudley, Davis and Carroll or free agents. Now, it’s just a matter of how the other players value the Brooklyn Nets.

Atkinson would like to bring the band back and he also told the Black and Drew podcast he believes continuing priorities should be 1) internal development; 2) the NBA Draft; and 3) being opportunistic in free agency.

And Joe Tsai also seemed to hint last Thursday that even if the Nets don’t hit a home run in free agency, the team will be just fine because of the culture Marks and Atkinson have created.

“You have to have patience when you’re in a rebuild. You look for all the pieces and you try to put all the pieces in place and the second thing is that players get better so you don’t need to go out and bring someone in.” he told NetsDaily.

As a coach, you never want to see your players go especially after such a special season. But, like Atkinson admitted, he realizes this is a business and new players will be added. Their success this past season was the bridge they needed in order to be players in the summer of 2019.

Now, it’s a matter of who will be added and who will be back.

But after tonight, the picture is clearer, giving the Nets more flexibility. And that’s all you can ask for.