The prolonged 18-month wait for Kevin Durant to recover from his Achilles injury and make his regular-season debut in a Nets uniform alongside Kyrie Irving finally arrives Tuesday night at Barclays Center. For anyone wondering what kind of profound impact a superstar such as Durant might make, all they have to do was look to the Golden State bench at the opposite end and ask coach Steve Kerr and All-Star Stephen Curry.
Those two went through a similar experience four years ago when Durant joined Golden State as a free agent. Unlike the Nets, Golden State was a fully formed team coming off two straight trips to the NBA Finals, including a title in 2015. But Durant made Golden State a dynasty with titles in 2017 and 2018 and another trip to the Finals in 2019 when he was injured and played barely one quarter in Game 5 before rupturing his Achilles tendon.
"The first thing I would tell you about Kevin is his work ethic is off the charts," Kerr said Monday. "His routine after practice every day, he’d be at one end of the court and Steph would be at the other. Sometimes, they’d go together, but to watch them both work on their craft is really amazing. I would frequently have our young players pay attention to both Steph and Kevin. I think that’s what Kevin brought to us.
"Obviously, the incredible talent, and the first year in particular was really fun given that it was a new style for him. He really embraced the change in the style of play, the movement, playing off the ball more, playing with other shooters like Steph and Klay [Thompson]. He really embraced it, and then, it felt like we were just kind of a machine at that point once we got through those first couple of months."
Durant was joining a Golden State team that already had a collection of stars, including Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green. So, he was the one who adapted his playing style to theirs, as Kerr suggested.
"We knew what it was going to entail and what it was going to take to be successful," Curry said. "That first year was a lot of adjustments, but we won a championship and figured it out and backed it up. Obviously, the last year was tough with all the injuries, but it was an amazing three years that we’ll remember for a lifetime."
When asked if his respect for Durant grew when they were sharing the same practice space, Curry didn’t hesitate. "Absolutely," Curry said. "The great ones bring the best out in you, and hopefully, I did that for him in terms of pushing each other. I’m watching him work out, and he’s watching me. Over those three years, there was a lot of that chemistry and camaraderie on the court.
"You always kind of find yourself in awe of stuff he can do on the floor, and I know he’s commented about certain stuff from me. That was a big part of our success was kind of feeding off each other and that energy and that pursuit of greatness every day. When you see it up close and personal, you’ve got no choice but to meet that level every day."
Kerr was impressed by the deep supporting cast the Nets have around Durant and was bracing for a tough challenge. "I probably deserve this given that I was coaching a team like that for five years," Kerr said. "It’s probably about time I had to face this, where you’ve got all these weapons, all these players who can hurt you. They’re loaded with talent, and [coaches] Steve [Nash] and Mike [D'Antoni] are going to do a great job with the group."