When the NBA announced its plan for 22 teams to resume play on July 31 at Disney World in Orlando, it raised the tantalizing possibility for the Nets that they might get their first look at Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving playing together this season with a playoff berth on the line. No one from the Nets immediately was available for comment following the NBA announcement on Thursday, but a stoppage of more than four months because of the COVID-19 pandemic easily might alter the timetable for Durant and Irving to return to health.
Durant has missed the entire season while recovering from Achilles tendon surgery last June 12, and Irving appeared in only 20 of the 64 games played so far by the Nets because of a variety of injuries before undergoing shoulder surgery on March 3. Although both were presumed out for the season, they were on the list of candidates to play for the U.S. Olympic team in July and August before the Tokyo Games were postponed to 2021.
Nets general manager Sean Marks repeatedly has said that Durant will not play this season, there is no pressure from the organization for him to return and, ultimately, the decision will be up to him. In a recent interview with SkySport from his native New Zealand, Marks said, “How does Kevin look when he comes back? I can tell you now he looks pretty damn good, and I’m excited about him being back on the floor at Barclays.”
Although Marks spoke in terms of Durant playing next season, his comment underlined the fact Durant had been scrimmaging five-on-five with some Nets backup players and assistant coaches prior to the NBA stoppage on March 11. In one video that was posted online, Durant drove hard past rookie Nic Claxton on his way to a powerful dunk.
One of the players who was working out with Durant was Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who recently made some intriguing comments about Durant to an outlet in France. Asked by the interviewer if he expects Durant to play this season, Luwawu-Cabarrot said, “I don’t think so. I know he wants to play…Here is a guy who has been in great shape for five months and that plays every day, but I don’t know if he will resume this year.”
When he was with the Nets, Marks said Durant obviously was making great progress in his rehabilitation, but the stoppage might have slowed his progress because the training facility was closed. Durant also identified himself as one of four Nets who tested positive for coronavirus but later said he was asymptomatic and had recovered fully.
If anything, Irving’s health status is more uncertain, but his recovery from shoulder surgery was expected to take about four months, which would put him in good shape to return when NBA teams are allowed to open training camp late this month and work for a month ahead of the restart on July 31. Since Irving played when healthy this season, it’s reasonable to assume he would return to action barring any setbacks during the training period.
The 30-34 Nets currently are the seventh playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, half a game ahead of eighth-place Orlando and six games ahead of ninth-place Washington, the only other Eastern team still in contention for a playoff berth when teams play eight more regular-season games before the playoff field is set. Any combination of seven Nets wins or Wizards losses would secure a playoff berth for the Nets.
Ordinarily, stepping into a playoff situation coming off a serious injury would be viewed as a risk, but with a training camp and eight games to adjust to playing again, Durant might give it a shot this season rather than wait until the 2020-21 season, which is expected to begin in December.
On Wednesday, Irving posted a picture on his Instagram account of himself, Durant and other Nets teammates posing with the NBA championship trophy, so it’s obvious the possibility is on his mind.