NEW YORK (AP) — D'Angelo Russell was an All-Star and the Brooklyn Nets became a playoff team. Neither looked likely four months ago.
So it was a surprisingly successful season, though there's plenty of work left for the Nets to do — including deciding whether Russell will have a role.
Nets players were proud of their accomplishments but realistic about the future Wednesday, a day after they were routed by the 76ers in Game 5 of their return to the postseason.
Changes are necessary if the Nets want to contend with a team like Philadelphia. So players heading into free agency can't be certain of their futures in Brooklyn.
Not even Russell, the former No. 2 pick, who had a breakout season.
"Hell yeah, I definitely want to be here," he said. "But I also know it's a business too, so I'm not going to play that role like I don't know what could possibly happen."
Early in the season, Caris LeVert was the Nets' best player and Russell sometimes sat on the bench in the fourth quarter. But with the Nets at 8-18 in December and LeVert sidelined with a dislocated right foot, Russell began to find his form. Brooklyn surged up the standings, eventually finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference at 42-40 after missing the postseason the last three years.
Keep the young core of Russell, LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen, and the Nets can probably keep contending for spots toward the lower half of the East. But they might not get much farther without adding one of the superstars who'll be available this summer in free agency.
"We're a young, talented group, but you've also got to bring in a really, really talented player or players," veteran forward DeMarre Carroll said. "And that's the reality of the thing, because the young guys are going to continue to keep getting better — they were great this year. Then you've got veteran leaders who are going to definitely help those young guys out, but sometimes you've got to have a game-changer and I think what's what Brooklyn's going to try to do this year."
Some of those potential game-changers, such as Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker, play Russell's position. The point guard would be a restricted free agent, allowing the Nets to match any offer for him, and he gave them plenty of reasons to want him around.
But he's seen enough to know nothing is certain, so he was careful to not even say much about what he hoped would happen. For now, he settled for being proud of his and the team's accomplishments, after rebuilding his reputation as more of a leader since arriving in Brooklyn after a trade with the Lakers.
"I talked to Kobe once and I remember him saying make new headlines," Russell said. "Whatever your old headline is or what people think about you, make new ones and I took pride into doing that."
Some other things to know about the Nets:
CHANGE IS INEVITABLE
Like Carroll, fellow veterans Jared Dudley and Ed Davis knew the Nets will want and need to upgrade in the summer, rather than keeping the team intact.
"You have to improve, some way, somehow," Davis said. "I've never been on a team where you brought back the same group. So that's not going down. That ain't happening."
POST TO PERIMETER
Allen said part of his offseason focus will be working on his 3-point shot. The center was 6 for 45 (13.3 behind the arc this season.
After winning 21, 20 and 28 games the last three seasons, the Nets believe their leap to an above-.500 finish came at the perfect time heading into free agency.
"The story before this was the Nets were the worst team in the NBA," Allen said. "Even when we weren't the worst team, we still were in the eyes of the public. So just coming in here, just showing that we made the playoffs and have a lot of talent, young talent, I think we made it a more attractive destination."
REGARDS FROM RUSSIA
Team owner Mikhail Prokhorov issued a statement congratulating the Nets for landing a playoff spot that few people believed they would.
"More importantly, it's clear that the Nets are a team building a winning culture and our future is bright," Prokhorov added.
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