Even after signing maximum-salary superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving last summer, the Nets understand this season is a bridge to the future because they expect Durant to miss the entire season while rehabbing from Achilles tendon surgery. Thanks to a plethora of injuries, their roster has been a collection of moving parts, including Irving, who has a sprained knee and is assured of missing his 32nd game Monday at Indiana.
But when the stars align and all the pieces finally fall into place, the team that general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson put together will be poised to make a quantum leap. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said as much after his team was blown out last Wednesday at Barclays Center.
“I’ve said over the last couple of years just how impressive the job that Kenny Atkinson and Sean Marks have done in turning a program around that had no draft picks for several years,” Kerr said. “They did it by building a really strong culture and a strong player development foundation.
“They found guys like Joe Harris, Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie — all guys who were there for the taking around the league. They’re all excellent players now. Obviously, with the additions they’ve made in free agency in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, they’re going to be a team to reckon with.”
The events of last week underscored Kerr’s praise for the Nets’ model. Durant gave an interview on Showtime’s “All the Smoke” in which he said the hype about him and Irving coming to the Knicks was just that. “I never said anything about me wanting to play for the Knicks ever. Ever,” Durant told Showtime hosts Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson.
Durant looked at the Clippers and Knicks as a matter of due diligence, but the Nets always were his focus. “I really wanted to play for the black and white,” Durant said. “I liked the brand. Brooklyn was an up-and-coming city that needed some new flair, a new basketball injection.”
The chance to play with Irving, who grew up in New Jersey as a Nets fan, was a natural tie, and when Durant was in Oklahoma City, he developed ties with current Nets assistant Adam Harrington and trainer Sebastian Poirier. Durant’s decision to leave Golden State as well as long-term injuries to Klay Thompson and Steph Curry led to the deconstruction of the Warriors, who accepted D’Angelo Russell from the Nets in a sign-and-trade and then moved him to Minnesota in a subsequent trade deadline deal last Thursday.
“KD is one of the very best players in the history of the game, so, losing him, we obviously took a big hit,” Kerr told Newsday in an interview last week. “Losing him at the same time as Steph, Klay, Andre [Iguodala] and Shaun [Livingston], you throw all those guys in a pool together and say, ‘This is where you were, and this is where you are now.’ Those are tough losses to sustain. But I’m happy for him that he seems to be doing well with his rehab.
“We’re thankful for everything he did the last three years with us. It was a great relationship, and he decided to move on as a free agent, which is his right. We all wish him nothing but the best.”
Russell, too, was the subject of more Knicks hype before the trade deadline, but his visit to New York was confined to his homecoming celebration at Barclays Center. What remains in place are the building blocks the Nets had to attract Durant and Irving, including Harris, LeVert, Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen, all of whom heard their names in trade rumors but stayed put.
Following the Nets’ blowout of the Warriors on the eve of the trade deadline, Dinwiddie offered an intriguing comment when asked if the Nets are close to being whole. Dinwiddie disagreed with the premise and made it clear he and the Nets are focused on the future.
“At the end of the day, 50 percent of our offense is still sitting on the bench,” Dinwiddie said. “Even if you have numbers 3 through 15 playing, the whole makeup of everything changes when those two [Durant and Irving] get back. So, we shot 100 times tonight. That’s probably 45 shots sitting out, not counting free throws. So, like, that changes everything.”
Indeed, it does.
Nets at All-Star Saturday Night
The Nets don’t have an All-Star this year, but they will be well-represented at All-Star Saturday Night. Harris will defend the three-point shooting title he won last year, and 2018 Skills Challenge champion Dinwiddie will take part in that contest.
There had been some question about whether Harris would participate because of fatigue after playing for Team USA all summer.
“It’s not super-taxing physically,” Harris said of All-Star Weekend. “You have to do a lot of events and media, but you can manage that. The actual event is a lot of fun. Given the fact I won last year, I feel like I’m sort of obligated to go back and defend the crown.”
Dinwiddie had some fun when told that he is the betting favorite in his event. “I liked it better when I wasn’t because at least I could have dreamt of betting like a thousand dollars on myself,” Dinwiddie said. “But now, it’s going to be 2-1 or 3-1, so that’s not fun.” Leaning into a microphone as if talking to NBA officials, a smiling Dinwiddie added, “Don’t worry. I didn’t bet anything. This is all for fun. Love you guys.”