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Durant ‘controls’ his rehab, says GM Marks

Nets' newly-acquired superstar still hopeful for 2019-20 return

September 25, 2019 JT Torenli
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Never underestimate the best player in the world.

That was the message, albeit a subtle one, sent by Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks on Tuesday, when he addressed the status of injured superstar Kevin Durant and his rehabilitation from a devastating Achilles’ injury suffered during last season’s NBA Finals.

Durant, a two-time Finals MVP and the biggest offseason acquisition in franchise history, isn’t expected to play at all in 2019-20, according to Marks, who addressed the media at the team’s practice facility in Sunset Park in advance of the opening of Brooklyn’s training camp on Saturday.

However, Marks also noted that the timing of Durant’s return will ultimately be left up to the 30-year-old forward and former league MVP as he continues a vigorous training program in the hopes of rejoining his new teammates sometime later this season.

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“Kevin controls the rehab,” said Marks. “He’s attacking this like no other. I’ve been excited to see it, I think we all have, how he’s approached this rehab, which has been great, very refreshing and energizing to the whole group.

“At the end of the day, this is a long-term plan here,” Marks added. “This was never about this next season. This is about getting an elite athlete back to elite physical shape on the court, whatever that takes.”

Marks, who has rebuilt this team from afterthought to serious Eastern Conference contender over the last three years, made the biggest splash of the summer by bringing both Durant and former Cleveland and Boston star Kyrie Irving to Downtown Brooklyn while the rest of the NBA stood in awe.

But Durant, who crumpled to the hardwood in pain during Game 5 of last year’s Finals against Toronto while chasing a third consecutive NBA crown with Golden State, isn’t likely to make his Nets debut until the 2021-22 campaign.

Unless, of course, he does.

There has already been speculation that the 10-time All-Star is pushing to be back in time for a second straight Brooklyn playoff run after the team rose from the ashes to go 42-40 and reached the postseason for the first time in four years during a spirited and hope-inspiring 2018-19 season.

But Marks is clearly choosing to lower that expectation, especially since Durant would not be able to play again until next February or March at the earliest even if everything went perfectly with his rehab.

“With Kevin, I think what we’re going to say is the expectations are that he’ll be out for the year,” Marks said.

“We’re not going to plan on him playing. His rehab will obviously be predetermined over the course of the next few months, how he goes with the performance team.”

That performance team, ranked among the league’s best, and the Nets’ medical staff will doubtlessly be working diligently to get Durant back on the floor at 100 percent.

Anything less would be a detriment not only to Durant’s career, but to the future of the Nets, who are hoping to translate their offseason windfall into the team’s first-ever NBA title.

Though he underwent surgery this past June, Durant isn’t likely to bypass an entire season if he feels he can be a factor in Brooklyn’s push toward that ultimate goal.

“Kevin will have a large say in when he comes back and how he’s feeling,” noted Marks.

“I think you’re looking at one of the great competitors out there so I think I’d be remiss if I said he probably doesn’t want to play. I think it’s obvious he wants to play, But I think there’s more at stake here. This is, again, a long-term approach.”

Durant inked a four-year, $164 million deal to come here, and Marks won’t risk the remaining three seasons on his contract for a shot at getting him back in time for the playoffs this year.

“There’s a lot of people with a lot of sweat equity in this from the rehab perspective and so forth,” Marks said.

“So I think it will be a group that makes the decision and obviously Kevin included as to when and how that return is made.”

Marks also revealed that Irving had taken an inadvertent elbow to the face during a workout with teammates earlier Tuesday and was escorted to the hospital by Nets Head Coach Kenny Atkinson.

Kyrie Irving, one of the Nets’ two big offseason acquisitions this summer, took an inadvertent elbow to the face in practice Tuesday, but should be fine when Brooklyn opens training camp Saturday. AP Photo by Michael Dwyer.

That explained Atkinson’s absence from the media session, but Marks also insisted that all would be fine with Irving, who is expected to be one of the on-the-floor leader for this team in Durant’s absence.

“The leadership, the work ethic and the competitive nature that he has brought to the group has been terrific,” Marks said of Irving, who has had issues with teammates and management in his previous two NBA stops.

Whether Durant rejoins this team in time for a playoff push or not, Marks indicated that the team’s goals will be the same.

“I think we would be in the wrong business if we said our goal is to be sort of sustainable and along for the ride of mediocrity,” said Marks. “None of those words exist with us. We’re gonna compete at the highest level, and we expect the ultimate goal.

“That is why we’re all in this business,” he added. “Whether that comes whenever, but we’re definitely not gonna limit ourselves and say we have to do it then or we have to do it here. Part of the fun with all this is the journey along the way.”

That journey will be a lot more compelling and rewarding as soon as Durant is back on the court here in Brooklyn, be it in February, March or even next season.

Knowing Durant and his desire to prove he’s the biggest difference-maker in the sport, bank on that return being sooner rather than later, no matter what Marks says before the season tips off.

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