Here are the top three questions facing the Nets as they enter the 2019-20 season with a roster that was drastically upgraded in free agency:
1. Will Kevin Durant return this season?
General manager Sean Marks specifically said the Nets expect Durant to miss the entire season while recovering from the ruptured right Achilles tendon he suffered in Game 5 of the NBA Finals with the Warriors in June. But Marks admitted it simply was “easier” to take that approach, and he didn’t discount Durant’s passion to attack his rehab regimen and try to return this season. At the same time, the Nets always have been cautious with injuries under Marks, and that most certainly will be the case with a player who signed a four-year, $164 million deal knowing that he would miss most, if not all, of next season. But if the Nets are headed to the playoffs and Durant not only is healthy but fit to return to action in March, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him back on the court for the playoff push.
2. What kind of leadership will Kyrie Irving provide?
When the Nets knew they had a clear opportunity to sign the All-Star point guard to a four-year deal worth $141 million, they leaped at the chance and traded All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell, who was a fan favorite. As well as Russell played, Irving is elite, starting with his ballhandling, his ability to get to the basket and his outside shooting. Irving has career averages of 22.2 points, 5.7 assists and 39.0 three-point percentage, including four of past five seasons over 40 percent. He is a significant upgrade, but his leadership was questioned with the Celtics. As a New Jersey native, Irving is coming home, and he was the key to signing close friend Durant as well as center DeAndre Jordan. Expect Irving to be fully committed to the Nets because it’s the first time he was able to choose his own destiny.
3. How will Nets youthful core respond to additions of top free agents?
The Nets have added eight veteran free agents, including Durant, Irving and Jordan, the three of them assuming team leadership. The holdovers from the youthful core include Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs. Dinwiddie, LeVert and Kurucs all have been productive on the offensive end, but all three are slightly below the 33.3 shooting percentage from three-point range that equates to a 50.0 percentage from two-point range. Allen has averaged 1.4 blocks per game, but he also has been overpowered in the post by physical centers. So it’s easy to imagine Jordan supplanting him as the starter, especially against Sixers center Joel Embiid and Pistons center Andre Drummond. The net effect is a much deeper, more versatile center position. As for Harris, he spent the summer with the U.S. Men’s National team, and he led the NBA with a 47.4 three-point shooting percentage last season.