Part 6 of a series analyzing the Brooklyn Nets:
Kevin Durant’s absence is the elephant in the room, the shadow hanging over this tumultuous season. His eventual return is the thing that will make the Nets contenders. But when will that be?
Both Durant, who is rehabbing after Achilles surgery, and the Nets have insisted he won’t play this season. But the NBA shutdown because of the coronavirus — for which Durant tested positive — raises the question of what would happen if he’s ready to return before the league is.
Durant’s manager, Rich Kleiman, insisted should the suspension of the NBA continue until the summer, it wouldn’t change plans to have his client sit out the season. But BetOnline still dropped Brooklyn’s title odds from 150-1 on March 16 to the current 66-1, and Nets broadcaster Ian Eagle added fuel to the fire, saying Durant could play today.
“Durant and his people have downplayed it. Obviously Kevin right now, the focus after his positive test for coronavirus, clearly it’s just all about health. But yeah, you allow your mind to wander a bit,” Eagle said on YES Network. “Whether or not Durant, from those little video snippets that we’ve seen … he looks good. He looks like himself. He looks like a player that could step in and play today.
“The question would be probably posed to him: what do you want to do? And I think they would lean on him. Medically, my understanding is — from this point on — he can play. It’s now a question is the team comfortable, is he comfortable? And then look at the timing on Kyrie [Irving]. He got the shoulder surgery done at a time where if you look at a 4-to-6 week period, it’d be right around [June].”
All signs are neither side would be comfortable playing Durant. With Irving also out, and both having opt-outs in the fourth year of their deals, the Nets have a two-year window to be contenders that they can’t risk.
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“The upside is huge with those two guys on the floor at the same time. The Nets show a lot of promise,” Nets legend Julius Erving told The Post. “Maybe it’s time to bring [a title] home.”
The Wizards’ Scott Brooks — who coached Durant for eight years in Oklahoma City — sounded as if he thought a championship was an achievable goal.
“He’s an impossible guard. I mean, impossible,” Brooks said.
“He’s a complete player. … He wants to rebound, block shots, guard 1-through-4, and nowadays I’m sure he can guard 1-through-5. He’s a winning player, and they’re going to be a handful once he comes back.”
If that isn’t until next season, nobody knows who will be coaching Durant.
The Nets parted ways with coach Kenny Atkinson, with the perception being if Durant and Irving had backed him, he’d still be in Brooklyn. Instead, now they have interim coach Jacque Vaughn, who praised Durant’s rehab.
“He’s put in a lot of dedicated work behind the scenes,” Vaughn said. “A lot of days it was just he and a trainer and staff accomplishing a lot of milestones. It’s an arduous task for him to get back, and he’s done a great job.”
Even if he’s ready to be back before the NBA is — and even if the Nets hold him out to protect him.
“He’s the second-best scorer of all-time, and he’s a good dude,” Spencer Dinwiddie said. “His presence lifts us.”
Eventually his play will lift them even more.
Position: Power forward
Contract status: First year of a four-year $164 million deal.
2019-20 stats: No stats