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Nets want to keep Pierce, Garnett and the core of their team together next season

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Jason Kidd's shirt read "GOLF," which he said was more random wardrobe choice than upcoming itinerary.

He has plenty of time for that hobby with his first season as an NBA coach over, but it won't be all fun for the Brooklyn Nets this off-season. Not with the potential for surgery for Deron Williams and decisions to make for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who infused the Nets with a winner's mentality when they came from Boston last summer.

The Nets and their roster worth nearly $200 million in salaries and taxes couldn't reach their lofty expectations, falling to the Miami Heat in five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. But they surpassed where it appeared they were headed after a 10-21 start and the season-ending loss of All-Star centre Brook Lopez. So even facing some big questions, they like where they sit.

"I do think we've got Brooklyn being a place where players want to play and we've got a coach that players want to play for," general manager Billy King said. "I think we play a good style, so I don't look at it as the sky is falling as much we've got some assets and things to do and we'll work at it."

Pierce will be a free agent and showed he can still provide a team with scoring punch at 36. Garnett's game is further gone as he prepares to turn 38 next week. He remains a strong defender and team leader, but averaged a career-low 6.5 points in 54 games, missing a large chunk of the season with back spasms and playing just 20.5 minutes per game as Kidd tried to keep him fresh for the playoffs.

Garnett has a year and $12 million remaining on his contract, and the Nets want him back. King said he told Garnett to take some time when they spoke on the plane ride home from Miami, but Kidd realizes Garnett will have to consider walking away from guaranteed money, just as he did when he retired last season.

"He's done it for a long time at a very high level and the biggest thing and concerns that I've talked to him about is you don't want to leave with someone carrying you off the court," Kidd said.

"I mean, it's 19 or 20 years that he'll been playing and also being judged on what you've done, or some people holding you to where if you were 25, which can be unfair at times. But that's just part of the gig, so he's got to make a decision, but the big thing is we want him back because we understand the importance that he brings to this franchise."

Neither Pierce nor Garnett spoke when the Nets met with reporters at their practice facility.

Andrei Kirilenko, Andray Blatche and Alan Anderson all have player options on their contracts. Shaun Livingston will be a free agent, having to decide if he's found a home with the Nets, or if he can get the lucrative payday that once seemed a cinch but never came after the former No. 4 overall pick wrecked his knee in his third NBA season.

Then there's Jason Collins, who became the NBA's first openly gay player when he signed with the Nets in February. He said he doesn't know what his basketball plans are, but he will have far better and more influential options than being a 35-year-old backup centre.

"My goal right now is to empower others and also support those like Derrick Gordon, Michael Sam, Robbie Rogers, and over the next months, years, whoever else joins that list of out, active players," Collins said.

Williams plans to have an MRI on his ankles that have slowed him the last two seasons and he may end up surgically repairing them in hopes of relocating his game and his confidence.

"It just took a beating on me," the two-time Olympian said. "Just couldn't do what I wanted to, can't finish the way I want to finish. You just start thinking about things. So that was just the main thing. Confidence-wise, it's hard to get back to where I was."

If he gets back to form, Lopez does as well after surgeries on his broken right foot and left ankle, and Pierce and Garnett return, the Nets believe they will be fine next season. After two years of roster and coaching changes, King thinks the Nets' biggest need might just be continuity.

"Next season, we pick up right where we left off!" owner Mikhail Prokhorov said in a statement.

___

Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney

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