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Poll provides hope for Nets’ return this year

Players eager to resume season in a safe way amid COVID-19 crisis

May 14, 2020 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Safety first and play ball second.

That was reportedly the general consensus of NBA players being polled this week to see if they would be willing to return to the hardwood and finish out the 2019-20 campaign after play was halted on March 11 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the league, which has been shuttered for a little over two months, has received positive feedback from the players’ poll, which was taken by their union, as long as the proper safety precautions are followed in advance of the season’s resumption.

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The Brooklyn Nets, who were 30-34 and in the seventh of eight Eastern Conference playoff spots at the time of the stoppage, have not been able to gather together or practice since returning from a shortened West Coast swing following a win over the Los Angeles Lakers on March 10.

Brooklyn players also haven’t had the option to return to their HSS Training Center in Sunset Park to resume workouts or individual drills due to New York City’s continued shelter-in-place order, which figures to run through at least early June.

Several NBA franchises in states that have begun to re-open have allowed players to return to team facilities, albeit with stringent rules in place to follow social distancing and other safety guidelines.

The league has yet to institute a league-wide COVID-19 testing program, but that would doubtlessly be a necessary step before even considering when or if the season could continue, and in what manner.

It is expected that more than 20 of the league’s 30 facilities will be open to no more than four players at a time by next week, but the Nets will not be one of them.

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Resuming the season without fans present and in a centralized site have been among the ideas the league has been pondering since the pause, but none of that will be possible until there is a sense that players would not be risking their personal safety by participating.

While Major League Baseball and the National Football League are still discussing how or if they may begin their respective campaigns, the NBA was about a month away from starting its playoffs when play was suspended indefinitely.

Teams that aren’t in the postseason hunt have a tougher decision to make as they have to weigh whether to put their players back at risk in what would generally be viewed as insignificant games in advance of the playoffs.

The Nets aren’t in that position as they are likely playoff-bound and have the added caveat of potentially bringing previously injured superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving for a run at Brooklyn’s first-ever NBA title.

Downtown’s Barclays Center has remained shuttered to events such as Brooklyn Nets games since March due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. AP Photo by John Minchillo.

 

Last week, Nets General Manager Sean Marks hinted that Durant, sidelined for the first 64 games due to to an Achilles injury suffered during last year’s NBA Finals as a member of the Golden State Warriors, might be ready to make his much-anticipated Brooklyn debut if play resumes at some point.

“That’s a $110 million question,” Marks told Newshub in his native New Zealand.

“In all seriousness, we’ve tried not to talk about his timeline a lot … He knows his body better than anybody. Our performance team and training staff have done a tremendous job getting him to this point, but I just don’t know how coming out of this pandemic will affect anybody, let alone Kevin.”

Durant was also one of four Nets who contracted coronavirus back in March, when the outbreak was still in its stateside infancy but growing rapidly.

He and his as-yet-unidentified teammates have since recovered from the virus, but Durant, who was inked to a four-year, $164 million contract last summer, is too valuable an asset to hurry back into action for a playoff run that may never take place.

“When you’ve got enough invested in a player like Kevin, we’re never going to push him to come back,” Marks said.

“When the timing is right, he’ll be 100 percent when he gets on the court. I can tell you this though — before the pandemic, he looked like Kevin Durant and that’s a good thing.”

Irving played in only 20 games this season before being shelved after having surgery on his right shoulder. He might also be ready to go if the NBA season resumes, giving Nets fans a chance to see their two high-priced superstars grace the same court as Brooklyn teammates for the first time.

But Marks has constantly reminded those clamoring to see the duo in action here at Downtown’s Barclays Center that those decisions will be made a little futher down the road.

“I don’t think that’s fair to those athletes, nor the performance team to put a timeline on it. I think everyone is dealing with bigger items, far more pressing items,” Mark said.

“I do know that those two players are continuing their rehab. But when you’re practicing social distancing and you’re in self-isolation, I haven’t physically seen them in three or four weeks, so it’s difficult for me to gauge as well as the performance team to where they are.”

The NBA will likely come to a decision regarding continuing its season in the next month or so, with player and staff safety being the primary factor in determining a path to come back.

But for the first time since this pandemic halted the season, the players have at least made it be known that they are willing and able to return to action.

That should be heartening news to a Brooklyn fan base that spent most of last summer and the lead up to this season dreaming of seriously vying or an NBA crown.


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