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Nets make European connection in NBA Draft

Dzanan Musa arrives on stage after he was

Dzanan Musa arrives on stage after he was picked 29th overall by the Nets during the NBA Draft on Thursday. Credit: AP / Kevin Hagen

The Nets took another step toward building their foundation around youthful players with long-term development potential when they used the No. 29 pick to select 19-year-old forward Dzanan Musa Thursday night in the NBA Draft. With the No. 40 overall pick in the second round, they added 20-year-old Latvian forward Rodions Kurucs.

“We love the age of both guys,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said. “There’s a lot of development [possible] with both guys. They’re both really great development pieces for our coaching staff and performance staff to get their hands on.

Earlier in the day, it became clear the Nets’ trade on Wednesday for center Dwight Howard was just a clever way for Marks to get rid of the onerous contract of Timofey Mozgov. According to an ESPN report, Howard and the Nets are expected to negotiate a buyout of the final year of his contract valued at $23.8 million. Marks was unable to comment because the deal doesn’t become official until the NBA moratorium ends on July 6.

By taking the final two years remaining on Mozgov’s deal worth $32.7 million, the Hornets got the No. 45 overall pick in Thursday night’s draft, the Nets’ second-round pick in 2021 and cash considerations, and they got below the luxury tax threshold this year. The move created salary-cap space for the Nets in 2019 that could range anywhere from $50 million to $80 million.

The Nets underlined their commitment to youth by drafting two young European forwards with professional experience. Musa has been a pro since the age of 16. The 6-8 small forward projects as a pure scorer. Musa is a native of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but he spent the past three seasons playing for Cedevita Zagreb in Croatia. Last season, he averaged 13.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists, but he shot only 30.9 percent from three-point range.

That last figure might be misleading. Playing in the 2019 FIBA World Cup pre-qualifiers for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Musa averaged 22.8 points and shot 53.2 percent from the field, including 45 percent from three-point range. He’s considered a strong ballhandler and has a knack for getting to the foul line, where he shot 80.1 percent last season.

Musa was in attendance at the draft at Barclays Center. “I can’t describe the feeling,” He said of his selection. “I was very emotional when my name was called. I started crying. This is like a dream come true. I’m willing to work hard for every minute on the court.”

Marks described Musa as a “dynamic” offensive talent and said his experience in Europe should prepare him for the NBA. “He’s well-versed, he’s traveled through Europe, and he’s been playing at a very high level,” Marks said. “He’s been living on his own from a young age. Those are things that certainly will translate and help him make the adjustment to Brooklyn.”

Kurucs is 6-9 and spent last season with F.C. Barcelona but spent most of his time with Barcelona’s second division club, averaging 10.7 points and shooting 33.3 percent from three-point range.

“No. 1 is the size for position for him,” Marks said. “Rodions has been playing at an elite level in Europe for quite some time.”

Kurucs has a $4-million buyout and Musa has a $1-million buyout, but Marks said he expects both players to be with the Nets’ organization next season. Musa might have gone higher in the draft if he had agreed to be stashed in Europe for another season, but he was determined to come to the NBA.

“Most teams wanted for me to stay in Europe,” Musa said, “but if you want to chase your dreams, you have to just listen to yourself. My heart told me my place is here.”

New York Sports