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Nets are still a work in progress

This offseason, the Brooklyn Nets have locked up Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young.

They’ve also become younger and more athletic with the additions of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough (who may not play this season due to an ACL injury), Thomas Robinson and Shane Larkin.

But there is still work to be done.

Going into the weekend, former Nets assistant GM Bobby Marks, who has become a must-follow on Twitter for his cap expertise, had Brooklyn paying $38.1 million in projected luxury/repeater taxes for 2015-16. And that’s something the Nets absolutely, positively don’t want to do with a borderline playoff roster -- yes, even in the Eastern Conference.

That’s why they’ve conducted trade talks with the Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers about Joe Johnson, who is owed $24.9 million next season, the final year of his deal. And that’s why the Nets have been trying to find trade suitors for Deron Williams, who is still owed $43.3 million over the next two seasons. A daunting task, trying to move both members of “Brooklyn’s Backcourt,” but a necessary one -- even if the motivation is purely financial.

Just take a look at the East.

Even if it is way weaker than the Western Conference, and even if a major injury or two could change its dynamic, the Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls haven’t gotten any worse.

The Atlanta Hawks added Tiago Splitter despite losing DeMarre Carroll to the defending Atlantic Division-champion Toronto Raptors. The Raptors themselves lost Lou Williams and Amir Johnson, but managed to bring in Cory Joseph.

The Washington Wizards will try to replace Paul Pierce with a combination of Jared Dudley, Gary Neal and perhaps others, while the Milwaukee Bucks only got better with the addition of Greg Monroe to go along with their emerging young core of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams.

The Boston Celtics still have a superstar coach in Brad Stevens, the Miami Heat retained Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade, and the Indiana Pacers successfully re-tooled, adding Monta Ellis to a younger, smaller, more athletic mix that hopefully includes a now healthy Paul George. And it stands to reason that the Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks will all be better, if only because it would be hard from them to be any worse.

The Nets, for the most part, have made seemingly prudent financial decisions this summer, which is a stark contrast from summers during their failed five-year plan of old.

Lopez, despite possessing a significant foot injury history, was a max player before, and with a dominant, healthy second half of last season, earned himself another short-term max deal. Young got a raise, albeit at an average annual value of $12.5 million, which isn’t bad given the inevitable rise of the salary cap.

Maybe it will turn out that the Nets overpaid their frontcourt duo and locked themselves into mediocrity. But because of some regrettable moves that continue to eat away their cap space, they essentially had no choice.

It was either make sure Lopez and Young -- two talented players who have always been good citizens -- stay in Brooklyn, or risk losing them and facing significant backlash without the necessary salary cap means to replace them. Now, they can be building blocks or perhaps even valuable trade assets down the road.

Making the playoffs is important because Brooklyn’s 2016 first-round pick belongs to Boston. But, at some point, the Nets were going to have to abandon their win-now, worry later strategy that put them in this giant ditch to begin with and start worrying about the future, which GM Billy King and Co. have begun to do.

Quiet cost-cutting is happening throughout the organization -- from basketball operations on down.

Times have changed. These aren’t spend-thrift Mikhail Prokhorov’s Nets of the past.

Whether the Nets can shed Johnson and Williams remains to be seen, but they’re trying. Yes, they may add and/or keep some depth pieces -- and they can’t carry five point guards forever -- but their biggest priority remains in trying to move on from their biggest contracts.

In this situation, it seems like the right thing to do -- even if it comes at the expense of having to sweat the draft lottery a year from now, and it just might.

As for actually being able to pull it off? Well, that’s an entirely different matter.

Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make. The Detroit Pistons completed a five-year, $80 million agreement with Reggie Jackson on Sunday night. If you recall at the trade deadline, the Nets were hoping to give Jackson that same deal after acquiring him from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Brook Lopez. Of course, in the final hour, that didn’t happen.

Summer League roundup: So far, Hollis-Jefferson has, as advertised, shown the ability to defend, and even hit a couple of jumpers. Undrafted Ryan Boatwright, who was recently given a partial guarantee, has shown a strong ability to shoot from the outside. Undrafted Cliff Alexander has had a few nice dunks.