LAS VEGAS — This notion of the Nets as one of the NBA’s “super teams” is going to take some getting used to. The addition of the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving-DeAndre Jordan triumvirate not only improves the public perception of the Nets but obviously increases expectations and aspirations inside the locker room.
Durant won’t play next season while recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, but Taurean Prince, who described himself as “elated” to be acquired by the Nets in a trade for Allen Crabbe, said that doesn’t matter. When he was introduced by his new team Sunday at the NBA Summer League, Prince set the bar as high as possible.
“Now it’s championship talk,” he said. “That’s all you’ve got to think about. It’s what we’ve got to work toward. We’ve got to do exactly what we’ve got to do to get there, whether it’s with Kevin Durant or without him. Then next year with him, it’s the same talk.
“Being around guys who have done it for a long time, that automatically brings us up to an advantage that a lot of teams don’t have without those superstars.”
Guard Caris LeVert, who figures to start in the backcourt alongside Irving, made his first courtside appearance at the Nets’ 74-58 Summer League win over Croatia. He expressed how thrilled the remaining core players feel about the Nets’ transformation.
“I feel like we got a lot better as a team,” LeVert said. “Obviously, you hate to see somebody like D’Angelo [Russell] go. He was great for our organization and one of my best friends. But good to see him get paid. Good team as well.”
LeVert was referring to the maximum-salary four-year deal worth $117 million that Russell received in the trade that sent him to the Warriors for Durant, which finally became official Sunday after Durant earlier announced that he will switch from No. 35 to wear No. 7 with the Nets. The Nets will get a protected 2020 first-round pick in the bargain.
While it hurts to say goodbye to Russell, LeVert has been friends with Durant over the past three years. “It’s going to be huge for myself as well as the rest of the team,” LeVert said of the opportunity to call Durant a teammate. “He’s a championship guy, multiple championships, multiple MVPs. So, huge to learn from someone like that who works so hard on their game and is such a great person.”
LeVert insisted he didn’t help recruit Durant, but he acknowledged answering a few questions from him about the Nets and living in New York. “We have a good friendship, but I never really pressured him about it or that type of stuff,” LeVert said. “When he got hurt, I reached out and kind of made sure he was OK. Obviously, he knows he’s a great player, he knows that I would love to play with him. But I kind of left him alone with that stuff.”
As it happens, Prince also is tight with Durant, considers him a “mentor” and also has worked out with him. But he never spoke to Durant about his free agency and had no idea of his plans to join Irving with the Nets.
“I’m blessed to just be friends with those guys now and even more blessed to have them as teammates, being two of the best players in the world, to be able to learn from them on a daily basis,” Prince said. “You’ve got to be a sponge in this league and always grow. With those two guys in front of your face every day, you have no choice.”
So this brave new Nets world means added pressure, right? LeVert smiled and shrugged, saying: “I don’t think there will be any pressure. Basketball is a fun game.”