Kevin Durant won’t be part of Nets’ return to play next month
'It's just best for me to wait,' says Brooklyn superstar
The Brooklyn Nets are expected to be in Orlando, Florida next month, restarting an NBA season that has been paused since March 11 due to the novel coronavirus.
Kevin Durant won’t be there.
The superstar forward, whom the Nets signed last summer in the hopes of seriously pursuing their first-ever NBA title, told ESPN’s The Undefeated last Friday that he is content to sit out the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign and officially begin his career here in Brooklyn next season.
“It’s just best for me to wait,” said Durant, who missed the Nets’ first 64 games while recovering from an Achilles injury suffered during last year’s NBA Finals as a member of the Golden State Warriors.
As the NBA pause grew in length, so did rumors that Durant, who has been sidelined for a year since crumpling to the ground in pain during Game 5 of the Finals in Toronto on June 10, would rejoin his teammates if the season resumed at some point.
There were even stories circulating that Kyrie Irving, who had season-ending shoulder surgery earlier this year, could be back with the Nets as well, giving Brooklyn its much-ballyhooed dynamic duo on the hardwood together for the first time.
But Durant’s rehab, which was going splendidly prior to the league-wide shutdown, was also slowed by COVID-19, which the two-time Finals MVP and three of his Brooklyn teammates tested positive for back in March.
Though Durant has made a full recovery from the potentially deadly virus, he still hasn’t been able to return to the form that made him arguably the best player in the league.
“I don’t think I’m ready to play that type of intensity right now in the next month,” said Durant, as the NBA continues to make plans for a July 31 restart at Disney World.
“It gives me more time to get ready for next season and the rest of my career.”
With the Nets scheduled to play eight regular-season games and a potential play-in series ahead of the NBA’s reformatted playoff tournament, Brooklyn fans were clamoring for Durant’s return.
But the Nets’ hierarchy, spearheaded by General Manager Sean Marks, did its best to quell such hopes, even though Marks also intimated that Durant could be ready to go whenever the season resumed.
Those mixed messages are over now as the 31-year-old Durant, who has three years left on a four-year, $164 million pact with the Nets, finally let it be known that he will make his Brooklyn debut during the 2020-21 season.
“My season is over,” he emphasized. “I don’t plan on playing at all. We decided last summer when (the injury) first happened that I was just going to wait until the following season. I had no plans of playing at all this season.”
Irving, who played in only 20 games with Brooklyn before his season came to an end in February due to a nagging right-shoulder impingement, won’t rejoin his teammates either, except to perhaps sit on the bench and root them on at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
The absence of their two most important players won’t hinder the Nets’ excitement over returning to play as the team was already situated in the seventh Eastern Conference playoff spot sans its superstar tandem.
The Nets (30-34) will spend the abbreviated regular-season schedule trying to hold off the ninth-seeded Washington Wizards, the only team on the outside looking in at the East race that will make the trip to Disney World.
If the Wizards crawl within four games of the eighth-seed, currently held by the Orlando Magic, who are a half-game behind the Nets, the two teams will engage in a two-game play-in series, with the trailing team needing to win both contests to advance into the 16-team postseason field.
Brooklyn was riding a three-game winning streak, the last two of which came with Interim Head Coach Jacque Vaughn at the helm, when play was paused.
The Nets have been gathering in small groups at the HSS Training Center in Sunset Park to begin focusing on a potential return, which could begin with the teams flying down to Orlando as soon as early July for a modified training camp.
The NBA Board of Governors formally approved the league’s Return to Play plan last week, giving the go-ahead to kick-start a season that has laid dormant for three months.
“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts.
“We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways.”
Durant, who has an opt-out clause following the second year of his contract with Brooklyn, won’t be in Orlando alongside his teammates as a player or a cheerleader.
He’ll simply wait out what is shaping up as the most uneven and bizarre year in professional and amateur sports history by getting ready for next season.
“I was putting pressure on myself in previous injuries, wanting to hurry up and come back. I saw my teammates having fun and wanted to be out there,” Durant said.
“This time, I felt like I was more patient throughout the process mentally and not rushing myself mentally, not get too excited when my team plays well or I have a good [rehab] day. I’m taking things second by second, and I’m trying to look out for what is best long term.”
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