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Nets future is relying on a different young star-in-waiting

D’Angelo Russell became an All-Star, and the Nets may well chase another in free agency. But Jared Dudley called young center Jarrett Allen the key to the team and the foundation for their future.

And Kenny Atkinson said he’s not wrong.

“Can Jarrett Allen come back [with] seven, eight pounds more weight, more muscle, stronger?” Dudley said. “I told him this story about Giannis [Antetokounmpo]. I had Giannis four years ago when we were in the first round he averaged 16 [points], now Giannis is [averaging] 27. A lot of it has to do [with] his body, his size. He’s running through people now.

“Before, you could bump Giannis off his position. You can’t bump Giannis anymore. How hard does Jarrett Allen want to work? People talk about the D-Los and all that: Jarrett Allen is the key. He’s the key because he’s the foundation. He blocks the shots, he’s [catching] the drop-offs. He’s the one that’s going to give you 18 points without even calling a play in his level. So it’s definitely going to be an interesting summer.”

Allen, who just turned 21 on Sunday, was second in the East in dunks behind only Antetokounmpo. And among all players who ended the season 20 years old or under, he was first in blocks (1.5), second in rebounds (8.4) and tied for third in double-doubles.

But the playoff loss to Joel Embiid and the 76ers underscored his need to get both bigger and stronger. If he does, the Nets are convinced he can be an elite center.

“I agree with Jared: It’s one of our priorities this offseason, keep [Allen] on an improving plane,” Atkinson said. “I was really impressed with how he improved during the playoffs alone from Game 1 to Game 5, and how he just kept getting better.”

“His rebounding improved this year. He’s a key cog and still 21. In our exit meetings we talked to him about the things he wanted to work on. I expect him to listen, and in two, three years, to be an elite center in this league. He’s going in that direction. I’m really thrilled with his development so far.”

GM Sean Marks addressed his barging into the referees’ locker room after Game 4.

“Obviously I don’t condone breaking league rules. … I’ve apologized to the powers that be on that one,” Marks said. “At the end of the day it’s combination of things. It’s about standing up for your team and standing up for what you believe in. And sending a message at what I deem to be the right time.”

Caris LeVert was the Nets’ leading scorer in the playoffs, but Marks said they still may not have seen the best of the guard.

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