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For Rodions Kurucs, Dzanan Musa, Orlando’s a chance to prove they belong

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Brooklyn Nets Media Day Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

After a four-month league-wide shutdown, the Nets are set to depart for the Orlando “bubble” on Tuesday with their active roster looking a whole lot different than they expected.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are rehabbing injuries, Nic Claxton recently underwent surgery, DeAndre Jordan tested positive for COVID-19, and Wilson Chandler opted out for family health and social justice reasons. In addition, Spencer Dinwiddie’s status remains in question as he’s battling symptoms of the virus that has taken the lives of so many.

The Nets roster is depleted — mostly of veterans — and the restart represents a tremendous opportunity for the young players on the roster to prove they belong. For Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa, the stakes are even higher with Orlando representing an opportunity for each to salvage what to this point have been disappointing showings in pivotal sophomore seasons.

With Durant and Irving expected to be full-go for the start of next season, Brooklyn will go from a competitive back end playoff team to a group with championship aspirations. The stakes will rise and the standard will follow suit. That means roster spots will be harder to come by and this Orlando restart will provide the front office with an evaluation period that could determine the fates of many Nets for next season.

When speaking with reporters on Monday, Kurucs and Musa acknowledged the opportunity they’ll have in the bubble to prove themselves. Rodions Kurucs says it’s a great opportunity for him and all the young players to show up and step up in the absence of so many key pieces on the roster.

Kurucs even divulged what areas the Nets staff asked him to improve on in order to carve out a regular spot in the team’s rotation once again. He said they want him to continue making the right decisions/reads and stay consistent in his production to become a more regular part of the rotation.

Musa is especially motivated to prove his worth. The former Nets first rounder was one of six Nets that stayed in Brooklyn for the duration of the shutdown, pointing to his determination to get better both physically and from a skill perspective as a key reason for his decision to stay in the borough.

“You take Garrett Temple, Joe Harris, [Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot], Dzanan Musa, in the gym you can see the difference in their work rate,” interim coach Jacque Vaughn said over the weekend. “They do have a different foundation and base underneath them.”

Musa added that seeing his teammates back working at the practice facility is a motivating factor as well:

“You see the will. You see the fight (from everyone) to get better and that’s something that’s motivating me to get better, too.”

The Nets wing said he believes he has improved since fans last saw him, maturing in his ability to recognize his role, read the game, and not try too hard to impress in whatever minutes he gets.

Both Nets certainly don’t lack motivation — or confidence.

Kurucs — who said he worked out with Washington’s Davis Bertans in Latvia during the shutdown — told reporters that he believes the Nets can not only compete with the defending champion Toronto Raptors in a projected 2-7 matchup in the first round, but that Brooklyn could even pull off the upset.

“First round, if we are the seventh seed, we’re going to go against Toronto, probably. We definitely have a chance. We’ve been competing with that team, and I definitely think we can beat them in Round 1, go to Round 2, and then we will see from there who we are facing.”

Musa added, “I’m pretty confident in our team.”

In just a matter of weeks, the Nets will finally return to action. For Kurucs and Musa, the clock is ticking and the time is now.

The 21-year-old spoke as well about the killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests, how despite him being from Bosnia it affected him ... and what he plans to do about it.

“My girlfriend called me and she was crying because of that,” Musa said of the video of the Floyd murder. “She was very emotional about it. She was telling me, ‘Did you see what happened?’ I did not, because I was in practice. I’m not too much on social media; the last three or four months I’ve been trying to stay out of it. But when I saw it, it was horrifying,” Musa said via Zoom on Monday.

“Of course, it’s just terrible from my perspective. First of all, I’m not from America and to see that brutality happen it hurts my heart a lot. I’m with Black Lives Matter all day. I’m going to change my jersey in Orlando to be Equality and Peace.”