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Scotto: Nets ‘big’ questions are at 4 and 5 ... plus the bench

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Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Two Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Athletic had all its NBA writers take a look at their teams’ rotations Thursday. Now that free agency is all but over, what’s set and what’s not from Boston to L.A.? Brooklyn, of course, doesn’t yet know the answer to its most crucial question: When will Kevin Durant return?

In the meantime, Michael Scotto looks into the other big questions surrounding the Nets rotation after some sweeping changes ... the Nets have added nine new faces and dispatched an equal number. Some of it will be easy for Kenny Atkinson. Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert and Joe Harris all cinches to get the biggest minutes, but upfront —and on the bench— things get more uncertain.

The “big” question for Scotto is who starts at the 5. Is it the 21-year-old who the Nets see as their future or the 31-year-old who despite the way he was treated in New York last year still averaged a double-double.

Allen, 21, has been groomed as the long-term starter and appears ready for a breakout season after a dominant Summer League. Will Atkinson go with Jordan, who was a key free-agent addition and friend of Durant and Irving, or the rising young center who could become what Jordan was during his prime?

Atkinson isn’t saying, but he’s hinted that Jordan’s motivation is likely to be better in Brooklyn than it was in New York, where the three-time All-NBA center relegated to the bench in favor of Mitchell Robinson’s development.

“I don’t know what it looked like for him from a motivation standpoint,” Atkinson said a couple of days after the Nets signed Jordan. “I do think with the talent we brought in. I do think there will be a heightened sense of motivation on his part.”

But Allen, despite his flaws holding established bigs, needs minutes. The Nets may have to decide next July whether to extend him and how much he should be paid. The Nets may be in a win-now mode, but Allen is seen as a long-term play.

At the 4, Scotto thinks the job is Rodions Kurucs’ to lose. The Nets did add Taurean Prince who is a better shooter, but Kurucs has a record of winning.

The Nets posted a 28-18 (.609) record when he started during his rookie campaign. In the Brooklyn era, only Shaun Livingston posted a better record as a starter (35-19, .648) during the 2013-14 season.

He also notes that by season’s end, Kurucs had beat out Jared Dudley, DeMarre Carroll, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at power forward... and they’re all gone. Of course, if KD returns this season, then Kurucs goes to the bench.

Scotto points out an interesting change to that bench, not just in the names of those who will fill those seats, but how they’re different from last year’s bench players.

(Wilson) Chandler started 32 of 36 games with Philadelphia. Prince came off the bench in only eight of 137 games the past two seasons with Atlanta. Jordan has started all 616 games he’s played over the past eight seasons. (Garrett) Temple started 49 games in Memphis before a trade to the Clippers last season. In Brooklyn, all three could come off the bench.

That’s very different from last year’s group, who were ready and willing to come off the bench on their arrival in Brooklyn. They were established bench players. (Atkinson says he’s spoken with Jordan about that string of starts and the vet told him he’ll do whatever the Nets need him to do.)

Once on the court, the Nets are likely to let Irving be the ball-dominant player he’s been throughout his career. How well will it work?

Irving will be the focal point of the offense for Brooklyn as Atkinson noted in Las Vegas when asked how he’d use the six-time All-Star.

“Give him the ball,” Atkinson said.

Will a maximum-salary star like Irving defer to Dinwiddie or LeVert if either has the hot hand? All three are at their best with the ball in their hands as a primary playmaker. It’s a good problem to have, but a dynamic for Atkinson to monitor.

As Jackie MacMullan said in a podcast this week, Irving’s attitude has long been, “‘Let’s get everyone involved and at the end of the game, give me the ball the rest of you, get out of the way.’ Sometimes that works. Sometimes it didn’t.”

Scotto also foresees that the team’s two youngest roster players, 20-year-olds Dzanan Musa and Nicolas Claxton, are likely to see action in Long Island while Theo Pinson could get more minutes, particularly if the Nets go with load management.

Nicolas Claxton and Dzanan Musa could both see time in the G League with Long Island to hasten their development and keep them sharp. Claxton has a face-up game off the dribble and attacks the offensive glass relentlessly. Brooklyn’s performance team will be especially beneficial for him as he looks to add weight to his slender frame.

Based on his G League season last year and the end of Summer League, Musa showed he can provide a scoring punch off the bench while he works on his defense.

Theo Pinson, who signed a two-year deal this summer, drew a comparison from Atkinson last season to Dinwiddie as a potential diamond in the rough .

Scotto believes that one underrated aspect of the Nets summer, overwhelmed by the headlines, is “the depth added to the roster, including former starters on other teams moving to potential bench roles in Brooklyn.”

Preseason starts in 72 days. So there’s plenty of time to figure it all out.