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D'Angelo Russell is the lottery pick the Nets never had

Brooklyn lost its picks in the Paul Pierce trade. That didn’t work. Now, they may have recouped one in trading for Russell.

Nestled in-between Nets GM Sean Marks, head coach Kenny Atkinson, and newly acquired center Timofey Mozgov, Brooklyn’s future shuffled up to the podium.

D’Angelo Russell — donning thin gold glasses and his signature twists — was introduced as Brooklyn’s new point guard on Monday. He’s the player the Nets hope becomes the recognizable face of a franchise without much to show for itself.

It was as if Brooklyn was introducing its newest first-round draft pick.

A post shared by D'Angelo Russell (@dloading) on

That, of course, wasn’t the case.

The Nets were the worst team in the NBA last season, but a ballsy trade gone wrong in 2013 cost Brooklyn its future. Instead, the Nets watched the Boston Celtics claim the No. 1 overall pick before dealing it to the 76ers.

Boston owns Brooklyn’s pick next year, too. So when the opportunity arose for the Nets to get a potential future All-Star in such an early stage of his career, Brooklyn did what it does best.

“We’re always in talent acquisition mode here, we will be for awhile,” Marks said during Monday’s introductory press conference. “But I think adding a player, specifically D’Angelo, who’s 21, we could have easily drafted someone a year older than him. So the fact that we get somebody here 21 years old, can develop — Kenny and our player development coaches, as I’ve said many times, that’s what I’m banking on.”

The Nets acquired Russell in a trade that signaled the changing of the guards.

Brooklyn sent the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, Brook Lopez, to the Lakers. Lopez is entering the final year of his contract worth $22.6 million, which would have come off Brooklyn’s salary cap to sign free agents next summer. Instead, they took back Mozgov and the three years worth of $48 million left on his deal.

That’s because developing Russell into the star many project is worth the cap hit.

Make no mistake: Russell isn’t a finished product. He’ll be the first to admit it.

The dynamic point guard averaged 15.6 points and 4.8 assists in his sophomore year with the Lakers but found himself benched at different points in the season. It was an unceremonious end to a second year that followed a rookie season underscored by off-court trouble and whispers of a lack of maturity.

“I control what I can control,” Russell repeated throughout his interview.

But Russell does feel he’s “ahead of [his] curve.” He’s never satisfied with his game but continues to put the work in. Publicly, he refuses to use Magic Johnson’s public criticism toward his leadership as motivation.

“Me proving everybody wrong is not my focus,” he responded while calling Johnson’s comment “irrelevant.”

Dang, Magic

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Instead, Russell will continue to put the work in. He worked out in Brooklyn on Sunday, hitting the practice gym by himself. He expected a few of his new teammates to show, but he willingly commanded the attention of player development coach Chris Brickley all by himself.

@cbrickley603 Late Nights

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Brooklyn’s put an emphasis on defense, though you couldn’t tell through its league-worst 20-62 record. It’s an area Russell knows he has to improve and has labeled an area of focus over the years to come.

“I definitely wanna embrace being on defense,” Russell said. “I think the attitude of wanting to play defense can change your whole perspective towards it. So that’s really my focus right now.”

Russell had a lot to overcome in his first two seasons. He had a much-publicized Snapchat feud with teammate Nick Young, resulting in Young calling off the wedding with ex-fiancee Iggy Azalea.

He was benched in the second half of the season, then reinserted as an off-guard. He had his leadership questioned as the Lakers moved onto Lonzo Ball as their point guard of the future.

But as Russell likes to say, he’ll control what he can control. And what he can control is his play on a budding, young Brooklyn team moving forward.

The Nets didn’t have a lottery pick in this year’s draft, and unless they trade for one next season, they’ll be on the outside looking in again. But they landed D’Angelo Russell, a point guard they hope to develop into the face of the franchise — a face the Lakers once hoped would be theirs before they quickly soured on him.

Maybe it won’t work in Brooklyn, either. But if you’re a team with the NBA’s worst record, getting a young player of his caliber is all you can ask.