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Nets’ most pivotal season begins now

After Elimination, Brooklyn Confronted With Uncertain Future

May 5, 2015 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young will all be mentioned prominently during what promises to be the Nets’ most important offseason since their arrival in Brooklyn. AP photo
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The longer the Nets’ first-round playoff series with Atlanta went on, the longer the franchise could delay what will likely prove to be the most important offseason since its arrival in our fair borough.

But the top-seeded Hawks finally sounded the death knell on Brooklyn’s up-and-mostly-down campaign last Friday night with an easy 111-87 Game 6 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 17,732 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

“I’m proud of our team, where we started back in September, the uncertainty, new coach, trying to blend it all together,’’ Lionel Hollins said in defense of a squad that won only 38 of its 82 regular-season contests to snag the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.

“Then injuries, and up and downs. I’m thankful for the players and what they gave and proud of how they stuck with it and stayed with it and we were able to secure a playoff spot. People would say, ‘Hey, we didn’t deserve it.’ But that’s their problem.”

The end of the road for the Nets sent billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov off to Turkey for an extravagant 50th birthday bash, with no mention of whether the fete is actually a bachelor party.

Prokhorov, you’ll remember, famously put forth a self-imposed mandate that he would end his prolonged single status and wed if the Nets failed to deliver a world championship to Brooklyn during his first five years at the helm.

So much for keeping his promises … at least as far as we can tell.

That leaves Billy King, the Nets’ suddenly embattled general manager, to deal with signing center Brook Lopez, who is doubtlessly eager to opt out of his current contract and test the free-agent waters after being Brooklyn’s best player by far following the All-Star break.

King will also try to secure the services of another opt-out candidate, power forward Thaddeus Young, who was a key component of the team’s late-season push to a third consecutive playoff berth after arriving in a trade-deadline deal.

As for Deron Williams, who displayed in Game 4 that he could in fact deliver a single franchise player-worthy performance in a playoff series, but couldn’t come close to sustaining that type of virtuoso effort, the Nets are stuck with his $21 million price tag for at least another year.

“He’s not a franchise player anymore,” Hollins said of Williams on the day after the Nets suffered their second first-round exit in three seasons.

“He’s a good player, he’s a solid player, but I don’t think he’s a franchise player anymore,” Hollins added. “There’s so much pressure on him to be a franchise player, and everybody talks about a franchise player, but we need to have a franchise team.”

That will be difficult considering Brooklyn doesn’t have control of its own first-round draft pick again until the end of the decade, based on the blockbuster offseason deals it made in 2012 and 2013 with the Hawks and Boston Celtics, respectively.

Joe Johnson, whom the Nets acquired from Atlanta for all those future first-rounders back in the summer of 2012, will receive a nearly $25 million chunk of Brooklyn’s payroll next season.

That’s a lot of franchise-player money locked up in a pair of players that hardly live up to their hefty price tags.

Assuming King finds a way to bring Lopez back in the fold, at an even higher rate, the Nets will once again have three grossly high-paid foundation players that haven’t come close to making even a conference finals appearance during their first three seasons together.

Unless, of course, King magically finds a way to unload either Johnson or Williams before next season begins.

But that’s a long shot, as is the chance Brooklyn will actually boast a 50-win team with a legitimate shot at competing for a title in the next several years.

“I have no idea. Something’s going to happen. I don’t know what,” Johnson readily admitted in an interview with the Daily News.

“I don’t see us coming back as the same team,” he added. “This is my third year here. I could see if we were getting better each year, but it’s kind of been the opposite. So to not even be a .500 ball club in the East. It’s disheartening and I don’t know. I think everyone in that locker room is unsure of the future here. So we’ll see what happens going into the summer.”

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