There was a time in his early NBA days when Kevin Durant stressed over how well he would perform from game to game. But now that he is on the verge of returning from a ruptured right Achilles tendon suffered nearly 18 months ago, Durant is doing his best to downplay expectations and take things as they come.
Speaking on a video conference with the media after his first individual workout of training camp on Tuesday, Durant said, "I definitely used to have crazy anxiety wondering how I was going to play the next day or the next (playoff) series. It used to drive me crazy. For my mental health, it’s easier to have this approach and just wait and see what happens and then fall back on the work that I’ve put in.
"If I fall back on that work, then, I don’t have to worry too much about what will happen. I already know it will come natural…I’ve just got to see how I feel in a real NBA game again."
Of course, expectations are through the roof for a superstar like Durant, who won two NBA titles with Golden State and was Finals MVP both times as well as being NBA MVP in 2014 with the Thunder. Based on a videos posted on Twitter and glowing accounts from teammates about how he looked during offseason workouts with Kyrie Irving and several other top players in Los Angeles, there is reason to believe the 12-year veteran can regain his MVP form.
"I feel good playing," Durant said. "I am not even thinking about awards at all. I am taking it a day at a time. I feel good though."
Durant and Irving shocked many NBA observers when they agreed to join the Nets as free agents in June 2019. But Durant spent the entire season in rehab, and Irving only played 20 games before undergoing shoulder surgery. So, their Los Angeles workouts represented the first chance to play together as Nets.
"Just played pickup, got shots up," Durant said. "I think consistency was what we did, going four or five times a week. We did normal work, but it was good to finally get back out there and start playing up and down again."
Describing the challenge he and Irving face to develop the chemistry necessary to lift the Nets to title contender status, Durant said, "We both respect each other’s games and know each other’s game inside out. We know what championship level basketball looks like. It’s about crafting every single day with the group and coming together and seeing what’s the best way for us to play.
"It’s still early in the season and there was COVID, and guys have been separated all summer and doing their own thing. So, it’s going to take some time for us to figure out the best way to approach this thing, but we’re looking forward to the challenge."
New Nets coach Steve Nash acknowledged Durant and Irving will be monitored closely, and it is unlikely either will be available for all 72 games because of the need for load management. "They’re healthy, in shape and look great," Nash said. "The way they play off each other is a gift. They will be a great partnership for the other guys on the team because of how diverse their skill sets are and how many things they can do with the ball and how they make people around them better. We’re fortunate to have two players of that caliber."
One question likely to follow the Nets this season is whether they might trade for a third major star in the Rockets’ James Harden. Durant bristled when asked about reports he and his former Thunder teammate talked about a trade.
"I don’t know where that came from," Durant said. "James is a friend of mine, but I let the front office handle all of that stuff. I heard all the noise that James potentially wanted to come to the Nets, but anyone can write a story and it gets some traction. Nothing’s ever set in stone until it’s set in stone. So, I never thought too much about it, just focused on myself, and my teammates probably did the same thing and we just move forward.
"We’re all professionals. Whatever happens, guys will be prepared for anything."