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Big 3, version 2.0 will be dangerous next season

Nets general manager Sean Marks, right, watches warmups

Nets general manager Sean Marks, right, watches warmups before Game 7 in the NBA Eastern Conference semifinal playoffs at Barclays Center on Saturday, June 19, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Failure is not a word anyone likes.

Nets general manager Sean Marks has a problem with using that word to describe the Nets’ early exit from the playoffs this season. Maybe he has a point that it is not quite fair, considering what a weird, injury-riddled season it was for the Nets.

"Is it a disappointment? Yes. Without a doubt," Marks said in his postseason news conference Monday. "We’re going to own it. We’re going to grow for it. We’ll be better because of this and will progress through this and will learn from the roller-coaster ride that was this last season. But I don’t look at it as failure."

Failure? Disappointment? Whatever you want to call it, the good news for Nets fans is that it’s very likely that the team will come back as a favorite to win the title next year. Call it Big 3, version 2.0.

The Nets were scary good this season in the handful of games that James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant played together.

Despite having played only eight games together in the regular season, the three collectively averaged 85.2 points in their first-round series win over Boston. That, according to Elias Sports Bureau, was the highest-scoring series for a trio in league history, breaking the record of 84.2 set by the Lakers’ Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Rudy LaRusso in the Western Division finals against the Pistons in 1962.

Unlike some superstar-laden teams, chemistry was never an issue for this group. Irving, Durant and Harden masterminded the building of their super-team. They wanted to play together, to have the challenge of trying to win a title with people they liked playing with.

Unlike some other super- teams — think LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in their first year together in Miami — there never seemed to be any confusion over the roles each would play in the offense.

The environment was so enticing that they were able to get Blake Griffin to take a pay cut to join their team, and he ended up being a player whose experience helped them a lot in the playoffs.

The Nets, who can begin negotiating contract extensions with the Big 3 in August, are committed to keeping them intact, and owner Joe Tsai has the money to do so. Marks’ biggest job this offseason is finding some complementary players to put around the trio to strengthen the supporting cast.

"Obviously, we’re committed to them. They play a big role in how we’re going to continue to build this, how we’re gonna drive our culture and the identity of our team," Marks said of the Big 3. "I think what you see out there is when they were healthy, that’s a very, very elite unit. I don’t see any shortage of people wanting to play with them, people wanting to play alongside them or them wanting to be a part of something here.

"Now it’s gonna be up to us to continue to make Brooklyn an environment where not only do they want to re-sign, but our free agents want to return to us and future people think hey, there’s a heck of an opportunity for me there in Brooklyn to play alongside and along with those high-caliber players."

Those high-caliber players aren’t getting any younger, but Durant, Irving and Harden still are young enough to squeeze out a title or two if they can stay healthy. With a proper training camp and an 82-game season that isn’t condensed the way this COVID-dictated one was, the Nets certainly can get more than eight regular-season games with their Big 3 together.

Marks believes they will learn from this season.

"I think we all grew as people, as individuals and as a collective unit here," he said. "We’re definitely going to come out with the resolve and the resiliency to attack next season and achieve our goals."

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