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As Butler casts shadow, Nets focused on taking ‘small steps’

September 24, 2018

NEW YORK (AP) — For the Brooklyn Nets, familiarity breeds continuity.

They hope that will lead to a few more wins.

Growth was the overarching theme during media day at the Nets’ practice facility Monday. Entering its third season under general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson, Brooklyn has won 48 of 164 games. In the first season under the new regime, the Nets won 20 games. Last year, that number increased to 28.

So the goal for this season is progression.

“Knowing how the rebuild process goes, we’re going to have to slowly get back,” Jarrett Allen said. “It’s just small steps we’re taking.”

Ten of the 19 players the Nets have on their preseason roster have five or fewer years of NBA experience, including five rookies.

But there are questions about how long and how many of the Nets’ young pieces will remain in Brooklyn. The Nets will have plenty of money for free agency next summer, but they may not want to wait if they could trade for Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler or another All-Star player.

Spencer Dinwiddie, who emerged as the Nets’ top player last season while point guards D’Angelo Russell and the since-departed Jeremy Lin were injured, knows he could be moved, after his name was linked to some trade chatter in the offseason.

“Being in trade rumors all summer I guess is two pieces: I want to be here. I love being here. I’m happy that they didn’t (trade me). On the flip side, the spectrum of teams calling me (meant) obviously I played well,” Dinwiddie said. “I’ve been on the other side of the situation where obviously nobody really cared what I was doing. It’s cool in that respect. I guess mildly stressful, but at the same time, I can’t control it, so it doesn’t too much matter.”

Butler did not participate in Minnesota’s media day Monday and Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau said the team would make a deal if it made sense for the organization.

Brooklyn likely will have the salary cap space to afford Butler, who will be a free agent after this season. The Nets could have anywhere from $50 million to $70 million in cap space next year, and possess their first-round draft pick next year and Denver’s, should it fall between 13 and 30, along with potentially two second-round picks.

“Jimmy Butler is a phenomenal player. Who wouldn’t want to add him to their roster?” Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said. “I feel like we have a lot of good pieces, a lot of good assets here. (That’s not a) knock on Jimmy if he comes. We’d love to have him.”

But the Nets aren’t exactly waiting around for next summer. Ed Davis, Kenneth Faried, Jared Dudley and Shabazz Napier were all signed or acquired in the offseason, veteran players who will bolster the young roster.

“If you look at us, there’s no star player here, no someone here saving the game,” Dudley said. “Some players on the team make other players better.”

Adding Butler would cost the Nets some of the assets Marks has stockpiled since becoming general manager. Under previous GM Billy King, the Nets traded first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018, the right to swap first-round picks in 2017, plus Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph and Keith Bogans to Boston for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White in 2013.

Garnett played 96 games spanning two seasons with the Nets. Pierce spent one season in Brooklyn. Terry played in only 35 games as a Net, while White never played. Celtics GM Danny Ainge turned the picks into Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kyrie Irving.

While Butler, 29, is not as old as Garnett (37) and Pierce (35) were when the Nets acquired them, a trade would fundamentally change the state of the organization’s rebuild.

“At the end of the day you have to know that it’s a business, you have to know decisions have to be made for the betterment of the organization,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “Jimmy’s human. We know he’s really talented and does a lot of things well. At the end of the day, we (are) all human, we all connect in some way. So we find out who he is and how he is as a person, and make the best of it at the end of the day.”

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