The NBA set up a convenient story line by matching Kevin Durant in his season-opening game with the Nets against his former Golden State team Tuesday night at Barclays Center. It will be the first game that counts for Durant since he ruptured his right Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals when he tried to play hurt against the Raptors.
Despite all the emotional crosscurrents, Durant is approaching the beginning of the next phase of his career on an even keel. He said he will cherish the lifelong bond he formed with the Golden State teammates who won NBA titles in 2017-18 and won’t be trying to prove anything when he faces them for the first time since leaving as a free agent.
"Playing against old teammates never really ratcheted me up," Durant said after practice on Monday. "I feel like each game is important to me . . . It’s going to be good to see some of my old teammates – good to play against them, good to see some of the people I worked with in my time at Golden State. But nothing more than that. I am going to play extremely hard every time I am out there."
At the time Durant suffered his ruptured Achilles, he was trying to come back from an extended absence in the playoffs related to a right calf injury. He lasted barely a quarter before the Achilles injury and Golden State general manager Bob Myers said he would accept the blame for putting Durant in that situation.
Yet, Durant insists he has no ill will toward that organization because of the injury. "Injuries happen in this league and I had a tough one, but I wouldn't blame that on anybody," Durant said. "I don’t need this game or for me to play well or win this game to feel like I have closure on that situation.
"It’s deeper than just this game and bigger than that injury. That has nothing to do with our relationship and how I’m going to play or approach my former teammates and organization. It’s just about going out there and being me."
Durant was a two-time NBA Finals MVP with Golden State, but the story lines at that time suggested he left the Thunder to join an established dynasty built around the talents of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Despite the pivotal role Durant played, there was a sense that maybe he didn’t receive full credit for his contribution because he had hitched his wagon to other stars.
But Durant downplayed that narrative when asked if he joined the Nets for the opportunity to build something of his own with close friends Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan, who also signed in the summer of 2019.
"Everything I’ve been a part of is my own," Durant said. "I feel like every team I’ve been a part of, I left my mark on each team. I understand what I bring to the table, and I never looked at it as mine. I never looked at the Nets as mine. It is our team. From the fans to the owners to the players, it’s our team. I add my piece, and my role is to go out there and be me every single day.
"Personality-wise, individual-wise, I try not to make myself bigger than the group…I felt that way with the Warriors. So, it wasn’t about me going to the Nets to try to prove that I can make my own thing. I’m coming here to play basketball and add to a great group of guys."
The excitement for Nets fans starts Tuesday night.