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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Nets have a nice team, but are a long way from big success

In order to break through as both a basketball team and a brand, they need big names and big success, neither of which is on the immediate horizon.

Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson and GM Sean

Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson and GM Sean Marksanswerquestions from the media at the HSS Training Center inBrooklyn on Sept. 19, 2017. Photo Credit: Errol Anderson

This must be said before anything else regarding the state of the Nets as they embark upon another spring watching other people play basketball:

Many folks around the NBA who know more about the NBA than you or I say the regime headed by general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson is highly competent and has done as well as could be expected under the circumstances.

Those “circumstances” include the infamous 2013 trade in which the Nets sent first-round draft picks in 2014, ’16 and ’18 and the right to swap 2017 first-round picks to the Celtics in exchange for a tyrannosaurus rex, a triceratops and a stegosaurus to be named later.

Now, finally, they are only a couple of months away from the end of that error, in which — pending the lottery — the Cavaliers are scheduled to take the Nets’ No. 8 slot in the draft, having acquired said selection from the Celtics.

More about that later. First, back to the positives: Did we mention that Marks and Northport’s own Atkinson seem to know what they are doing?

They do, as evidenced by the savvy acquiring and/or developing of talent that made for an improvement of eight victories to a still-modest 28, compared to last season and to a far more competitive squad.

Of the Nets’ 54 losses, 25 were by eight points or fewer, and a 26th came by 10 points, but in double overtime. This for a team that in 2016-17 endured a 1-27 stretch.

Marks seems to have missed the mark in acquiring Jahlil Okafor in a not-much-to-lose trade with the 76ers, but other than that, the Nets have traded for, drafted or developed an admirable collection of useful players.

That includes, just since last season, talent upgrades in D’Angelo Russell, DeMarre Caroll, Allen Crabbe and Jarrett Allen.

Things might have been better with better injury luck, including Russell’s left knee surgery that limited him to 48 games, but especially for Jeremy Lin, who was lost for the season in the very first game when he injured his right patella tendon.

Lin expects to be at full strength come fall, and will join Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert on the depth chart at guard to form a potentially solid group.

Beyond the personnel ups and downs, the Nets have shown a dogged commitment to analytics — three-point shots and drives to the basket good, everything else less good — to a fast pace in general and to an aggressive defense.

Compare that to the Knicks, who have spent the past two seasons unsure what system they are using, with presumably a new one on tap when the next head coach arrives.

But let’s be real here, and again use the Knicks as a counterpoint.

The Manhattanites have a seemingly elite talent in Kristaps Porzingis, with another high draft pick on the way. Their new coach likely will be a big name that generates fan and media buzz. And they are the Knicks, an iconic NBA brand.

The Nets . . . have none of that.

In order to break through as both a basketball team and a brand, they need big names and big success, neither of which is on the immediate horizon.

Let’s just say that high-profile free agents will not be clamoring to join the movement this summer, even if Brooklyn the borough has become a powerful brand itself. (Plus, the Nets have cool merchandise, which can’t hurt.)

Comparing this to the 76ers’ “Process” is not quite right, because they had far more high picks than the post-Celtics-trade Nets, some of which have been hits and others of which have been Okafor.

Still, the Nets absolutely do have a process of their own in motion. Slow motion, yes. But motion.

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