Purely as a matter of semantics, general manager Sean Marks went out of his way on Day One of the “new era Nets” to put zero pressure on All-Star free-agent acquisition Kevin Durant to return from right Achilles tendon surgery during the 2019-20 season. But that doesn’t mean Durant’s timetable to rejoin fellow All-Stars Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan won’t be a source of season-long speculation.
“With Kevin, I think what we’re going to say is the expectations are that he’ll be out for the year,” Marks said in Tuesday’s annual news conference prior to media day on Friday and the opening of training camp. “We’re not going to plan on him playing…Ultimately, Kevin will have a large say in when he comes back and how he’s feeling. The expectation is for him to be out.”
Shortly after Durant, Irving and Jordan shockingly chose the Nets in July’s free-agency period, Marks declined to rule out a Durant return late in the season. Based on the recovery period by other players with the same injury, Durant might return as soon as mid-February or March. He ruptured his Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on June 10.
Asked if Durant’s progress might have slowed, Marks said nothing has changed since his original pronouncement. “This is just an easier way to say that Kevin controls the rehab,” Marks said. “He has been attacking it like no other. I’ve been excited to see it. At the end of the day, this is a long-term plan here.
“This was never about next season. This is about getting an elite athlete back to elite physical shape on the court whatever that takes.”
Marks said Durant and the Nets have not discussed what happened regarding the Warriors’ decision to play him in the Finals with dire consequences. But clearly, caution is the watchword for the Nets.
“You’re looking at one of the greatest competitors out there, so I’d be remiss if I said he probably doesn’t want to play,” Marks said. “It’s obvious he wants to play. But there’s more at stake here. This is a long-term approach. I think it will be a group that makes the decision, and obviously, Kevin is included as to when and how that return will be made.”
With one superstar on the shelf, the Nets got a minor scare Tuesday when Irving took an elbow to the face during a morning scrimmage and went to the hospital accompanied by coach Kenny Atkinson, who opted out of the news conference. A Nets spokesman said Irving is under evaluation and there would be no update before Wednesday.
Despite that mishap, Marks said Irving already has made an impact and has been “religious” about attending voluntary workouts at the training facility the past three weeks.
“We’re obviously pretty excited about having Kyrie in here, and we’ve seen it out on the court already in these pickup games,” Marks said. “The leadership, the work ethic and the competitive nature that he has brought to the group has been terrific.”
Durant, Irving and Jordan are just three of eight veteran free agents, including Taurean Prince, Garrett Temple, Wilson Chandler, David Nwaba and Henry Ellenson, that Marks added to the Nets’ young core. Although players like Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie still occupy important roles, it’s clear the added experience and talent will result in more mature leadership.
“Someone will organically take charge,” Marks said, noting that Atkinson consults a leadership council. “It’s a players’ league, and these guys want to have ownership…Things are different now. You’re in the limelight, you’re in the spotlight. How you conduct yourself off the court is super important. All the guys that have come in this year are going to contribute to that.”