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NBA Draft was further proof: Nets are going for it all

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NBA: All Star-Practice Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

As if we needed any more validation...

The Brooklyn Nets entered the NBA Draft with head of steam. Kyrie Irving is considering them and he’s trying to bring Kevin Durant along with him. And they appear to be on Kawhi Leonard’s short list. The Draft only brought what’s been obvious into the national spotlight on the big platform.

It was their subtle message to the NBA saying, “Can you hear us?”

It might have been Zion’s day — he walked around as if he were the king of Brooklyn for the night, waving to the thousands of people trying to gain his attention— but it was the Nets who made the statement.

With the Brigade sitting up in section 104, there was an echo of “Brooo-klynnn”. Nothing overwhelming, but loud enough for you to hear from the rafters. While they were in the upper section, Knicks fans owned the lower bowl. So what.

But the chant was done in a sneaky, subtle way -- much like the Nets and their current strategy. Confident but not showy. They’ve become the team others didn’t think they’d have to worry about come June of 2019 and yet here we are… talking about the Brooklyn Nets leaving Draft Night with an even larger volume of their biggest asset: cap space to complete their goal and sign two big names.

Sean Marks’ most common word in talking about his job (other than “culture”) is “flexibility” and the importance in having it. The Nets were the laughingstock of the NBA because they didn’t have any, with older players clogging the payroll and no draft pick for years. Ironically, this was the year they had not only their own – but the Denver Nuggets pick. Within two weeks, both were gone as Marks et al dealt them essentially for cap space. Priorities had changed. Flexibility ruled.

Thursday, they traded away a pick they’d acquired from the Nuggets — the No. 27— to the Clippers and received the Clippers late second rounder this year and Philly’s first round pick next year in return. They got cap space and that 2020 pick which compensates for one of the two picks they lost in the Allen Crabbe salary dump. Sneakily, they put themselves in an even more competitive advantage. They lost close to $2 million in cap space that taking the pick would have denied them. It put them within reach of the max slots needed to sign both Irving and Durant. That means getting to $70 million in space.

As a first-round pick, No. 27 would’ve required the Nets to add a $1.64 million caphold to their cap. By the end of the night, assuming a number of other moves, Brooklyn could be looking at $68.67 million with only seven players under contract.

The Nets’ confidence —and its ramifications— were noted. When the Draft ended, Woj explained how Kawhi Leonard will likely take a meeting with the Nets —along with the Knicks, Clippers and 76ers. Woj as well as Brian Windhorst, both explained how the Nets are in the game, going for the “double-header” in Irving and Durant, with Windhorst being less than subtle in suggesting how Knick fans would take it. The Nets, said Woj, were among “significant considerations” for KD. Greg Logan quoted a source close to Tobias Harris who said Harris was “definitely” going to visit as well.

That was the kicker to their evening ... acknowledgement.

No disrespect towards Nicolas Claxton (who doesn’t sound like a bad prospect at No. 31) or Jaylen Hands at 56. Both might spend time down in the G League with the Long Island Nets. They need to get stronger and the Nets want to be patient with them. On the larger stage, they’re bit players.

Thursday night is all part of the plan, all part of what Marks’ blueprint was when he hired his people – from Kenny Atkinson to Andrew Baker, Brooklyn’s indefatigable capalogist (who’s about to become more important). It wasn’t just about the rebuild. It was about gaining a reputation for being professional, family friendly and willing to spend A LOT on performance. Veteran players -- Ed Davis, Jared Dudley and DeMarre Carroll have spoken highly about the performance staff, one that’s run by the same guy who ran performance programs for the Navy Seals.

These things matter. Just like the market, the culture, the talent, players and agents talk about a wide range of topics in making their decision. They want to know who will extend their careers, fend off Father Time.

The Nets have become confident they’re the team to beat this free agency. It started with the vision for a young core which is now a core with playoffs under their belt. Meanwhile, their summer competitors were competing for the worst record in the league.

While it may seem like they’re a young team, guys like Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen are gaining more experience – and time in the gym as we speak. This past season, led by D’Angelo Russell, the Nets skipped steps they never anticipated. Atkinson admitted it on several occasions. Privately, so did ownership!

The fruit of their labors is what led them to where they are at today. They’ve stayed consistent in their goal of striving to be the best, period. Not better than the Knicks or the Celtics, but a top team in the NBA. It’s why they value strong-minded, high character individuals such as LeVert and Dinwiddie.

Marks credited the young guys who are finally prepared to be the coat around two superstars, with seven guys under contract: Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Rodions Kurucs, Dzanan Musa and Taurean Prince. If they add a couple stars to that team, it’s likely they become one of the top teams in the East. And no, we don’t dismiss DLo’s return, but is a free agent.

There’s confidence in the way Marks is talking. No longer do they have “a long, long way to go” or merely “a long way to go.” Now it’s more Way to go!

“I definitely don’t think it’s skipping steps now. You have a group of young guys coming up that have proved to the league that they’re NBA players,” he said early Friday morning.

Free agents, he believes, know the narrative already.

“A team like Brooklyn, when they look at us from afar, I think we got to give them some credit because the guys that are free agents, all of them, I would assume have spent the last year or two surveying the league. They know where they want to go, they know what they want to be a part of. I think our young guys have done a nice job to put themselves in that position,” Marks said at HSS Training Center early Friday morning.

There’s no getting inside Durant’s head. Nobody knows what he’s thinking, but the Nets and its players are extremely confident that Irving is coming, and if Durant were to make the logical decision – between his health and basketball purposes – Brooklyn is probably the most attractive destination out there.

And they know they have that advantage.