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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The big blockbusters haven't done much for the Brooklyn Nets. So now general manager Billy King is looking to improve from within.
Just don't rule out another trade.
Keeping Brook Lopez is the priority, while moving Deron Williams and Joe Johnson could be options if King decides to break up Brooklyn's core.
"Joe may have summed it up best," King said Wednesday. "It may be the group, just together — maybe it's time to maybe split it up, or maybe add to it to help them. So we'll look to add to complement them, to make them better. Or do you look to maybe move a piece to add some other pieces to it?"
The group was good enough to get the Nets into the playoffs, though that was mostly because of Lopez's strong play down the stretch. The 7-footer rebounded from another injury-shortened season by averaging 17.2 points, with numbers much higher after the All-Star break.
"For us to get in the playoffs, that stretch, he was the guy who carried us. He was our best player," King said at the team's practice facility.
"Without Brook Lopez, there's no way we even get to where we go to this year. What you saw in the playoffs, teams are double-teaming, game-planning how to stop him. And so that to me, when you've got a guy that can average 20 and is rebounding the basketball and getting double-doubles, there's not a lot of guys that can do that."
Lopez can become a free agent, as can forward Thaddeus Young, who was acquired for Kevin Garnett at the trade deadline. King said he wants to keep both, and he added that both indicated they wanted to return.
That leaves Williams and Johnson.
King said he explored trading both — and Lopez — during the season. He could try again in the summer, especially because Williams' injuries and struggles don't make him worth the two years and $43 million left on his contract.
Yet King, who already didn't re-sign Paul Pierce only a year after he and Garnett came from Boston, is aware the Nets could use some stability — especially because all the wheeling and dealing has provided only one playoff series victory.
"We can't keep turning over the roster every year thinking, OK, we're going to find it outside," he said. "Sometimes you just have to build within."
They may have little choice. The right to swap first-round picks given to Atlanta in the Johnson trade means the Nets will draft 29th, instead of in the middle of the round. They traded away two future first-rounders in the Boston deal and won't be able to spend in free agency this summer if they keep Lopez and Young. Even if they don't, King says they want to avoid paying the luxury tax after owning the NBA's highest payroll the last two seasons.
King also thinks keeping the team together would help at the start of the season, when the Nets have struggled previously. New players and new coaches have meant starting over the last two summers, and they were slow out of the gate under Jason Kidd and then Lionel Hollins.
They recovered enough to finish 38-44 this season and earn the last playoff spot in the weaker East.
"I thought our guys battled in the playoffs. To take Atlanta to six games was good, but it wasn't a successful season because you like to go further, you like to be playing," King said.
But the experience it provided rookies such as Bojan Bogdanovic and Markel Brown could be important if they inherit bigger roles next season.
"We've put some young guys in position to be successful and I think at times they've played pretty well," King said. "So we're going to continue to go that route, add some guys and have Lionel put them out there and challenge them to play."