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Kevin Durant ‘kick-starting’ next year in Japan

Nets superstar shooting for record-tying third gold medal

July 14, 2021 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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Kevin Durant would love to add a record-tying third gold medal to his count during the upcoming Olympic games in Japan.

But the Nets superstar, who has also amassed two NBA titles and a pair of Finals MVPs as a member of the Golden State Warriors, is just as focused on honing his game for a bid at Brooklyn’s first-ever NBA championship.

“Finished the year off healthy, the regular season and the playoffs, so I felt it would be cool to get, I guess a kick-start on next season by getting in shape a little earlier in the summer with Team USA,” Durant said last week from Las Vegas, where the men’s basketball team is already into its exhibition slate.

“Fortunate to be around the best players in the world and around the best athletes as well so I just wanted to take in the experience.”

The world got to take in Durant’s epic performances during Brooklyn’s ultimately ill-fated playoff run, which ended with a bitter Game 7 loss at Barclays Center to the Eastern Conference champion Milwaukee Bucks.

The University of Texas alum played nearly every minute of the conference semifinals vs. the Bucks and averaged 34.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists per contest during the first two rounds.

He also put together an historic 49-point, 17-rebound, 10-assist performance against Milwaukee in Game 5 here in Downtown Brooklyn before nearly bailing the Nets out of elimination twice in Game 7.

None of it was enough after Durant missed his first full season in Brooklyn while recovering from an Achilles injury and testing positive twice for COVID-19.

He did manage to play in 35 games during this past regular season, putting up 26.9 points, 7.1 helpers and 5.6 assists per contest.

But Durant’s mastery on the hardwood went unrewarded as injuries to Kyrie Irving and James Harden made Brooklyn more vulnerable when it was supposed to be steeling itself for our borough’s first major pro sports championship since 1955.

Kevin Durant led Team USA in scoring en route to earning his first two Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016. AP Photo by Matt York

Now, on the precipice of joining Brooklyn-born Carmelo Anthony as just the second member of Team USA to don gold on three occasions, Durant is both embracing this historic opportunity and building himself up for a full regular season and playoff run in 2021-22 with the Nets.

“I think everybody here is bought in to what we’re trying to do and we’re going to go out there and capture this gold,” he said before the U.S. dropped its first two exhibition contests in Vegas to Nigeria and Australia before topping Argentina, 108-90, Tuesday behind 17 points from Durant.

Durant’s teammates, including Draymond Green from his Warriors days, believe that the former NBA MVP is playing the same leadership role with Team USA as he did with Brooklyn.

“There’s this very cliché line that everyone uses in basketball when you’re working out — ‘Go game speed every rep.’” said Green.

“Quite frankly, I’ve never seen anyone do it — except (Durant) — that I have seen, had an opportunity to really watch work out.”

With exhibition contests slated for Friday and Sunday before he departs for Japan, Durant is also drawing plenty of admiration from well-decorated Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich, who has captured five NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs.

“What (Durant’s participation in these Olympics) says about him, No. 1 is, that he loves the game. He really loves to play basketball. He loves to win,” Popovich noted.

“He loves the camaraderie. He wants to be part of this all the time as we all know and that’s his motivation. At the core, that’s what he loves to do. Luckily for all of us, that’s who he is. So it’s a testament to his character and just desire to be part of a team and have a challenge and seek the success.”

U.S. teammate Bradley Beal was also amazed at Durant’s eagerness to keep playing after he logged 141 of a possible 149 minutes over the final three games of the Milwaukee series.

“It speaks volumes for him to be 10-plus years in the league and still wanting to come back and be a part of this prestigious fraternity. We definitely look up to him to push us and lead us,” Beal said.

“But at the same time he’s very unselfish. He’s very encouraging. He wants everybody to do well. He said something very unique today, he’s like, ‘Be special. That’s why we’re here.’ That stuck home with me. Hopefully we can all keep that mentality and understand that we’re here for a reason.”

Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich and forward Draymond Green know the importance of adding Kevin Durant to the roster before the upcoming Olympics in Japan. AP Photo by John Locher

 

Though he doubtlessly wants that third medal, Durant has another reason for being in Vegas and flying over to Japan: he wants the Nets to learn from his example and follow suit when next season tips off at Barclays.

“We know who he is,” said Beal. “We know what he’s capable of doing.”

So do Brooklynites, who would love to see Durant do it for at least another two rounds of playoffs next year.


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