The Nets will take their first step on what they hope is a journey toward their first NBA title when they take the court for their first full team practice on Sunday at their Brooklyn training facility. That will be the first chance to see Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving together, with first-time coach Steve Nash running the show.
It’s an exciting prospect for all concerned. From the outside looking in, there will be a tremendous focus on the high-powered collection of egos and personalities. Since the decision to part ways with former coach Kenny Atkinson in March, it has been clear that Durant and Irving have a powerful voice in the direction of the team. General manager Sean Marks has been open about consulting with his superstars and other veterans such as DeAndre Jordan.
Durant and Irving are sensitive to criticism and regard media attention as a nuisance to be endured. But in the end, they understood what they signed up for as free agents in the summer of 2019, and they know it’s on them to take ownership now.
During a video news conference last week, forward Taurean Prince predicted that the leadership of Durant and Irving is what will surprise most about the Nets this season.
"Those guys are better leaders than I think people realize," Prince said. "They always try to get certain guys together whenever the situation calls for it. I try to take advantage of it every day, learn as much as I can and pick their brains."
Describing the approach by Durant and Irving, Prince added, "They’re both vocal. They both lead by example. They both will come up and talk to you, say what you did wrong. But the thing that surprised not only myself but I am sure a lot of guys is that they receive criticism from their teammates very well. If we are talking about a situation where they could’ve [helped] us, you don’t feel that pressure not to be able to tell your star.
"Why people don’t realize their leadership is just because they’re not around them daily. With Kyrie, you see his highlights every so often when you were not on his team. When he is in front of you doing it every single day, it just makes you more wowed by everything. So I think it’s a situation where people just have to be around them to see it for themselves."
Of course, the background narrative for the Nets this season will revolve around reports that three-time NBA scoring leader James Harden wants to force the Rockets to trade him to the Nets. It would be a difficult move for the Nets to pass up, though it would cost dearly in terms of players along with multiple draft picks.
But if the current roster remains intact, the Nets have one of the NBA’s deepest, most versatile rosters. Besides Irving at point guard and Durant at power forward, the starting unit likely will have Caris LeVert at shooting guard, Joe Harris at small forward and Jordan at center.
The tricky part for Nash will be finding enough playing time for a bench that consists of guards Spencer Dinwiddie, Landry Shamet, Bruce Brown and Tyler Johnson, forwards Prince, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Jeff Green, Nicolas Claxton and Rodions Kurucs and center Jarrett Allen.
Everyone in the top 15 has proved he can play, but there won’t be room for all in the rotation. However, their versatile skill sets give Nash a variety of options for how to play.
If one thing is clear, it’s that Marks loaded up on perimeter shooters with the additions of Shamet, Johnson and Green and also added a top-notch defender in Brown.
Last season, Prince and Luwawu-Cabarrot had moments when they shined as starters.
Asked about the offense Nash and assistant Mike D’Antoni are installing, Luwawu-Cabarrot said, "Oh, man, it’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be a very fast pace, shoot threes, get to the rim, get fouled, play in the first quarter of the 24-second clock. So it’s a very, very high pace."
Many of the Nets who play on the perimeter have emphasized that they are working on their catch-and-shoot ability because they know they will be open when opposing defenses focus on Durant and try to keep Irving out of the paint.
"We just have to be prepared to bring up our level . . . take a step," Luwawu-Cabarrot said.
No doubt, that championship step is a big one. "This year, we have championship aspirations," Dinwiddie said. "But we’re also playing with no fans [because of the COVID-19 pandemic]. It’s going to be a new experience. Everybody’s going to be walking into this blind to a certain extent.
"It’s kind of on us to come together as a group. The most cohesive group probably wins a championship of the teams that have the talent to do so, of which we are one."