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NEW YORK -- At Barclays Center on Thursday, the Brooklyn Nets started the post-Kevin Durant era with a win over the Chicago Bulls. It was a nationally televised game, but the stakes felt low. With the trade deadline over and championship expectations out the window, general manager Sean Marks stood in front of a team-branded backdrop and said he was "extremely thrilled" to welcome the four new additions. 

The ESPN writer who had been assigned to Brooklyn did not ask Marks any questions. He was in Atlanta, where the Phoenix Suns -- Durant's new superteam -- were playing. 

Letting go of Durant was not easy. "I'll be honest, last night I was sad," Marks said. But that gave way to excitement about the new players, the picks and the future. "There's a lot of emotions that are running through, I think, a lot of people, if I'm going to be brutally honest."

The Nets no longer have to worry about what crisis Kyrie Irving will create next. They no longer have to nail every minimum-contract signing, though they will try. And if this is starting over, then, given what Marks walked into in 2016, they have a massive head start. 

"Will we go about building it a little bit of a different way? Yeah, because the last time I took over, I didn't have any picks," he said. 

Marks said that, since the Nets internally had championship expectations, the project they've been working on since Durant and Irving arrived in 2019 "didn't work." He also said that his front office had shown it could build a team that has a chance to win a title. 

"We built it up twice," Marks said.

The 2020-21 team looked like a juggernaut before both James Harden and Irving got injured in the playoffs. This year's team, put together with limited resources after Irving refused to get vaccinated, Harden successfully requested a trade and Durant unsuccessfully requested a trade, looked like a legitimate contender, too -- one month ago, Brooklyn had won 18 of 20 games. 

On some level, the franchise will always be haunted by Irving's ankle sprain, Harden's hamstring strain and Durant's giant shoe. With all of them gone, that history feels less heavy. Trading Durant at once represents a colossal failure and a massive sigh of relief.

At the Nets' practice facility in October 2021, I asked Joe Harris if there was anything he missed about the old days, back when opposing coaches were gushing about their style of play and Theo Pinson was dancing on the sideline. 

"Yeah," Harris said. "I mean, I think at that time, it was fun. We were all trying to sort of solidify a niche in the league."

Harris said the 2018-19 team was young and hungry, with a bunch of players trying to prove themselves at the same time. "The camaraderie was really special," he said, adding that they "jelled almost like a college team." He said it's different when you're chasing a championship and there's a target on your back.

In discussing Brooklyn's pivot on Thursday, Harris referenced that 42-win team and the ones that came before it. "It's obviously really early," he said, "but the energy around the group feels similar to what it was like when we had those development years."

Harris has played with 105 teammates, including the newly acquired Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson and the 14 guys who only suited up in the preseason, per RealGM. "This is my seventh year here, so I've seen a lot," Harris said, understating it wildly. He knows what the Nets have lost this week, and the Durant trade was a "complete surprise" when he woke up to the news at about 7:30 a.m., but he already sounds like he's turned the page. 

"We don't have a legit superstar talent, where you can just toss him the ball and know that they're probably going to take and make a lot of tough shots," he said. "So it's more by committee. But I think everybody that we brought in, in their own right, is a very talented player and elite at different things. And if we can get everybody together on the same page, I think we can be a very competitive team."

Harris shot 6-for-9 from 3-point range on Thursday. Before he took to the podium, Spencer Dinwiddie, who had 25 points, five rebounds and six assists, had his turn to look back on the pre-superteam era and looking forward to this next one. 

"We're probably a little bit more talented than we were," Dinwiddie said. 

Brooklyn doesn't have an All-NBA-caliber player on the roster, but it has everything else. It might even have too many rotation guys. Even after dumping Jae Crowder, who was never officially a Net, the roster is stuffed with big, two-way wings. The defense, with Nic Claxton protecting the paint and the likes of Bridges, Dorian Finney-Smith, Ben Simmons and Royce O'Neale on the perimeter, should be elite. (Claxton missed the Bulls game because of hamstring tightness.)

"I told Nic I can't wait to get on the court with him because I know how he can affect a game," Finney-Smith said. "And being in the game with Ben, it's love 'cause we can switch everything. It's going to be fun shutting guys down and making 'em work on defense."

For the last five seasons, Finney-Smith has been a huge part of the Dallas Mavericks' defense and mostly a bystander on offense. The Mavs play at a snail's pace, and everything they do revolves around Luka Doncic. His new situation is drastically different. 

"I'm not sitting in the corner like I usually do," he said. "I'm in the offense, cutting and dribble-handoffs and driving the ball. So it's going to take everybody to create shots for each other."

Finney-Smith found himself "playing a lot faster," he said. "Getting more shots early in the clock than I usually do. I got guys on the team yelling at me, telling me to shoot."

When he arrived in Brooklyn, Finney-Smith thought he was going to team up with Durant on a team that was still chasing a championship. "I guess I'm gonna stick to guarding him for right now," he said. He is looking forward to teaming up with Bridges and Johnson on Saturday, even though he "told 'em I didn't like 'em last year," he said. Finney-Smith said he feels like Johnson never misses and Bridges can guard anybody. 

"I ain't trippin' at all," he said.