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Despite 60-loss season, Nets not looking to rush the rebuild

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets own two first-round draft picks, though not the one that has a 25 percent chance of being No. 1 overall.

They have money to spend in free agency, if they want to go that route.

So there are ways to upgrade the worst team in the NBA.

They just won’t rush it.

“Listen, I know we have big strides to make and 20 wins, not enough. It’s not good enough for any of us, but I do think we’re going to reap the benefits of going through this struggle,” coach Kenny Atkinson said Monday.

The Nets finished 20-62 in their first season under Atkinson, getting most of those victories during the final two months of the season. It was expected to be a rough season and it was, as they undertake a rebuilding process under general manager Sean Marks after years of sometimes reckless spending that never brought them close to a championship.

They won’t get near one anytime soon, either. Marks used the work “strategically” about a half-dozen times Monday in his season-ending news conference to describe the way he will build the team.

The easiest chance for an immediate score in a promising draft is long gone, because the Nets have to swap picks with Boston as they continuing paying for the trade that landed them Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. So the Celtics will have no worse than the No. 4 pick in the draft.

But the Nets do have the Celtics’ pick and acquired Washington’s during the season, giving them two selections later in the first round.

“I like having two picks, that’s for sure,” Marks said. “I think it just gives us another swing at it.”

Beyond that, the Nets could try to sign a veteran star to become the headliner of the team, but that doesn’t sound like the plan.

“I think we’ve got to really evaluate the roster and if you go after one of the top-tier guys, you obviously would hope to get them – you hope to get all your targets that you go for – but does that really make you better? Does it get you to 30 wins, 35 wins?” Marks said.

“The objective here is for us to be in the playoffs. When that comes, we’ll have to wait and see, but you don’t want to go and sign free agents and next thing your payroll is capped out and so forth and you’re a 25-win team.”

Nets executives are bound this week for Europe, where they will meet with Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov and do some scouting. The makeup of the roster for next season seems wide open beyond point guard Jeremy Lin, with center Brook Lopez perennial trade bait even as he adapted his game well this season to fit Atkinson’s offense.

Prokhorov, who once longed to win a championship within five years, now seems on board with a gradual rebuild.

It took time to get the Nets into the situation they’re in, and they’re prepared to take time to get out.

“Obviously the losses weren’t easy but I did understand, I think we understood what we’re getting into and I know in the long run that the adversity that we had to face, it’s almost like you deserve to face that,” Atkinson said.

“So I kind of like that process and looking back on it, having to fight through some tough times, I think that’s going to make us better in the long run. But I know it’s one foot in front of the other.”

Report: Teams are calling Clippers about DeAndre Jordan trades

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Injuries have ravaged the Clippers. They started the season 4-0 have been without three starters from opening night: Milos Teodosic (plantar fascia injury, he is still in a walking boot), Danilo Gallinari (strained left glute), and now point guard Patrick Beverley is out for the season after microfracture surgery on his knee.

All this has led to the Clippers losing nine in a row before beating the Hawks Friday night. All the weight of the offense has fallen on Blake Griffin‘s shoulders, and while he’s been good most of the game in the fourth quarter his numbers have plummeted, and the Clippers have stumbled.

It’s left the Clippers with a couple of hard questions.

Do they need a coaching change? There was a sense from sources around the league that Rivers is already on his way out — he was stripped of GM/president powers over the summer — and what kept him around was the couple of seasons at $10 million a year on his contract. That’s a lot of money for an owner to eat, even Steve Ballmer, but the time may be coming as a way to shake up the team.

The other, what to do with DeAndre Jordan? They could not work out a contract extension with him (Jordan was acting as his own agent), and one of the league’s top traditional centers is a free agent next summer, but new head basketball guy Lawrence Frank said they want Jordan to be a “Clipper for life.” Does Jordan want to be a Clipper for life? Do the Clippers really want him back, and if so at what price? Does a Clipper franchise trying to get approvals for a new arena in Inglewood want to rebuild now, because it does not help that process? If it’s time to move on and rebuild, do they need to trade him now?

Teams are calling about Jordan, reports Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

DeAndre Jordan, who can become a free agent after the season, has been coming up in trade conversations, with multiple teams talking potential trades. Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank said last month that Jordan will be a “Clipper for life,” muddled matters, as does the limited number of teams who need a center and the size of Jordan’s contract ($22.6 million).

Jordan is an All-NBA center, a defensive force in the paint who sets a strong pick, rolls hard to the rim, can finish with the best of them, and is averaging 10.4 points (scoring and attempts are down without Chris Paul feeding him) and 13.4 rebounds a game. Jordan knows who he is and plays within himself.

It’s not hard to imagine how he could help teams such as Cleveland, Washington, Milwaukee, and a host of others. The question is what would teams be willing to give up to get him — they have to send back salary to match, but will not want to give up assets that help them win now. The Clippers will be looking for good young players and picks back in the package, which makes it hard for a team such as Cleveland to put together a package.

But before they discuss trade scenarios, the Clippers need to figure out what they want to do. Life has come at them fast this season and led to a lot of big-picture questions that Frank and Ballmer need to answer.

Lonzo Ball finishes one-handed alley-oop on Willie Cauley-Stein (video)

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So much attention is paid to Lonzo Ball‘s father, jumper and passes. Those are the major storylines for the Lakers rookie.

But he has such a diverse skill set, and this is absolutely part of it. Ball is a savvy off-ball cutter in the halfcourt with the athleticism to get above the rim and finish alley-oops.

But finish them over 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, who was tracking the play (though slightly late)? That’s an eye-opener, even in the Kings’ 113-102 win.

Marc Gasol makes 3/4-court shot just after buzzer (video)

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When Marc Gasol‘s 3/4-court attempt went through the net, it seemed to barely matter the ball left his hands just after the first-quarter buzzer. After all, the Grizzlies led the Mavericks by 15, anyway.

Turns out, Memphis really needed that basket.

Watch Knicks string together 28-0 run against Raptors

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Toronto has been the second best team in the East this young season. Not that anyone is really convinced they will be called that by the time we get to the playoffs (or even the All-Star break, or even Christmas), but for the first 16-18 games of the season their new move-the-ball offense had them at 11-5 and looking solid.

Wednesday night the Knicks dismantled the Raptors.

Especially in the third quarter when the Knicks went on a 28-0 run to blow the doors off the Raptors (video above). The Knicks dominated the third 41-10, when Toronto shot just 1-of-16 from the floor.

New York is gaining confidence with each win this season, they are a fun team to watch that is starting to find an identity (now that a certain three-sided shaped one is not being forced upon them). Kristaps Porzingis is a monster, and while the Knicks overpaid the market for Tim Hardaway Jr. he has lived up to his contract this season. With rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina showing some nice defense and playmaking skills as a rookie (although he is undoubtedly still a work in progress), you can see a path to a strong future unfolding. There are real reasons for hope in New York. Someone just keep James Dolan distracted and away from the basketball operations side of the building.