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Ian Eagle, YES Network sky high about Nets' possibilities

Sarah Kustok, a Brooklyn Nets analyst for the

Sarah Kustok, a Brooklyn Nets analyst for the YES network, speaks with Ian Eagle, a YES network announcer, before a game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center on Feb. 26, 2018. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Ian Eagle will begin his 27th season calling Nets games this month, but he never before has felt quite like this entering one.

"I would say this is the most anticipated season in Nets history," the YES Network play-by-play man said on Tuesday during a digital news conference to promote the network’s coverage.

"With everything that was done last offseason combined with moves made this offseason, I can’t think of a year where Nets fans felt like they were part of the overall conversation about the league more so than this year."

Sarah Kustok, who has covered the Nets for YES since 2012, currently as lead game analyst, added, "Without a doubt, I think it’s the most highly anticipated season I have been a part of, covering any sport and any team."

The primary reason is the returns of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving from injuries, starting Dec. 22 against the Warriors. (The game will be on TNT, but YES will have pre- and postgame coverage.)

But they are not the only reasons the Nets are in the national conversation.

First, they added two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash as their coach. Now, they find themselves amid chatter surrounding a potential trade for the Rockets’ James Harden to create a three-superstar core.

This is not what Nets fans — or Nets announcers — are used to for a franchise long accustomed to flying under the national radar.

"What we’ve seen in recent years in this league is you’ve got to have the horses to win it all," Eagle said. "The Nets have true superstars on their roster, and that’s why they keep getting mentioned in the same breath with other teams that are very much in the championship conversation.

"How the supporting cast develops, the chemistry between Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, these are all compelling questions. And we get to document what should be an incredibly memorable season."

The way they document it will reflect the COVID-19 pandemic times. YES announcers will call home games on-site at Barclays Center — which also is where they will be located when they call road games off monitors.

YES’ Yankees announcers followed the same procedure last season.

It is not easy, but increasingly announcers have gotten accustomed to the arrangement, including when the Nets were playing in the NBA bubble in Orlando last season.

"While we may be detached from the action, it’s our job to not let the viewer feel detached," Eagle said. "It’s something we experienced with the bubble, so we’re not going into this blindly. But your job doesn’t change. The job is still to inform and entertain.

"Just because you’re not up close doesn’t mean you have a built-in excuse to change the way you do your job. We’re going to do it the same way . . . If anything, I think covering this particular team is going to raise the level for everyone to make sure that we’re providing great content."

YES will carry both of the Nets’ preseason games and 30 of their first 37 in the regular season, beginning Dec. 27 against the Hornets.

The team always has been a modest ratings generator, but YES intends to take full advantage of the added interest this season.

"We’re going to do everything we can to showcase them and make sure that they are one of the biggest stars on our network," senior coordinating producer Jared Boshnack said.

"I can tell you that we’re going to treat the Brooklyn Nets as big as any event or any team we have on YES."

That is a mouthful for a network built primarily on its association with the Yankees. But such is the intrigue surrounding these Nets.

"I could not be more excited just as a fan of basketball to see Kevin Durant back on the floor again," Kustok said. "How he plays, the skill level he possesses, the amount of talent I think we will be witness to — as I think we saw in many cases with Kyrie Irving last season."

It remains unclear how much Irving will help to promote the team off the floor, having declined to speak to reporters during training camp, issuing a statement instead.

"The worst thing you can tell the New York media is that you’re never going to talk to the New York media," YES analyst and former Net Richard Jefferson said.

"So I think that his goal is to just play basketball and limit that. Whether or not he’s able to accomplish that, I don’t know how the NBA or how the Nets in particular will handle that. That’s to be seen."

Jefferson said he has mixed emotions about the notion of damaging the team’s depth for the sake of adding a third star such as Harden, which also would mean the stars accepting relatively lesser personal statistics.

"I do believe there can be too many cooks in the kitchen, but that’s only if people aren’t willing to sacrifice their ego," Jefferson said. "I don’t care if it’s James Harden, Bradley Beal, whoever you are, there’s going to be a high level of sacrifice. So if you can’t get your ego out of the way, then there’s too many cooks in the kitchen."

The last time there was this much hype surrounding a Nets season was 2013-14, when the team added veterans stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who won only one playoff series and were past their primes.

Eagle said this time feels different.

"The curiosity now is, everyone knows it’s going to work; it’s a matter of what level," he said. "There’s no doubt in my mind that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are going to be successful together.

"The only question is: Will they bring home a championship? And I’m not throwing that out as hyperbole. That to me is the question that we have going into this season."

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