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SportsColumnistsGreg Logan

Nets have become an attractive potential destination for top free agents

Warriors forward Kevin Durant shoots over Cleveland Cavaliers

Warriors forward Kevin Durant shoots over Cleveland Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman during the first half on Friday in Oakland, Calif. Credit: AP/Tony Avelar

Free agents talk. And it’s becoming increasingly clear throughout the NBA that the Nets are in the conversation as a possible destination for one of the top-tier free agents.

Making the playoffs isn’t a requirement for a seat at the table for the free-agent bidding wars this summer. It’s enough the Nets are in playoff contention and have a young core of talent in place as the foundation to add a superstar with their projected $30 million of salary cap space.

A variety of news reports have said the Nets might receive consideration from the likes of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving. That public buzz is supported by what some Nets veterans themselves hear from peers around the league.

As Ed Davis told Newsday, “Guys talk for sure. They want to know how is the medical staff, how is the coach, how is the GM, how’s living in the city. All those little things, guys for sure want to know.”

Jared Dudley doesn’t wait to be asked. He told Newsday he takes a more proactive approach.

“It’s more me talking to them,” Dudley said. “I’m usually telling them, ‘Man, they just do it the right way here. Taking care of your body, preparing you, being able to live in the city, the facilities. The reason why Brooklyn is in the conversation is because they’re winning.”

The progress made under general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson in just three seasons is a remarkable story that has turned heads across the league. Players understand they took over a complete disaster in the wake of the 2013 trade that brought Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets, who mortgaged their future. The 2019 draft will mark the first time in four drafts that Marks will be able to exercise the Nets’ true first-round pick.

“You could see the growth over years from 20 wins to 28 to 39-plus,” Davis said. “That’s the trend you want to see if you’re a free agent. It shows the guys at the top [of the organization] know what they’re doing. Everybody knows what this franchise went through with that trade that was arguably the worst trade in NBA history. The culture and us [contending for] the playoffs definitely help out a lot.”

Dudley said some players inevitably might prefer California’s warm weather and lifestyle. But he has embraced the opportunity to live in New York and believes the Nets have all the right ingredients.

“I think the whole league knows we play a good brand of basketball, we’ve had a successful year, we’ve improved every year,” Dudley said. Referring to the reported contract extensions Marks and Atkinson recently received, he added, “Coach and GM have new contracts. So, there’s stability. Facility-wise, upcoming team, young talent. It’s really favorable. They’ve done a good enough job to get themselves in the conversation and get meetings and that’s what you want to do.”

Job No. 1 for Marks this summer is to secure his own valuable restricted free agent: point guard D’Angelo Russell, who has achieved All-Star status and made himself attractive as bait for other free agents. “It’s a huge attraction because you have guys on good deals that have been developed,” Dudley said. “Joe Harris is one of the best shooters, Caris LeVert is young on a rookie deal, Jarrett Allen is on a rookie deal, Spencer [Dinwiddie] just signed a favorable deal to the organization.

“Look at all the pieces they have around here, two first-round picks, three picks in the top 31. They’ve done everything they can to put themselves in a good light. Eventually, someone is going to bite. If no one bites, I’m pretty sure they will draft someone who can help them.”

Nets watch

Going into their Saturday-Sunday back-to-back at top-seeded Milwaukee and fifth-seeded Indiana before facing contending Miami in Wednesday’s home finale, Jared Dudley said the quality of the opposition increases the pressure on the young Nets because there is little margin for error.

“I’m not saying you have to play perfect, but you have to play very well to beat these teams,” Dudley said. “They don’t beat themselves. They can beat you in very different ways. These teams are very versatile.

Referring to recent home losses to the Bucks and Raptors, Dudley added, “The level of intensity and everything is heightened at this point. You can’t get down to these top two teams in the East and the best in the NBA [by] double-digits and keep fighting back. The good thing about it is teams have lost. We get two or three more cracks at it.”

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