TODAY'S PAPER
Good Evening
Good Evening
SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

This Nets experiment hinges on Kevin Durant

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant goes to the

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant goes to the basket against the Orlando Magic on Jan. 16, 2021. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

A decent percentage of basketball fans just hate the concept of super-teams.

They hate the fact that the league’s elite players have formed alliances with one another, that they have leveraged the power that their talent gives them to try to determine where they play and with whom.

Many fans are semi-gleefully predicting disaster in Brooklyn this season as the Nets add James Harden — who forced his way out of Houston — to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

While it’s true that the Nets are conducting a grand chemistry experiment by creating a potentially explosive mix of on-the-court style and off-court personalities, there are two big reasons that it has a chance to succeed: The players want it to and Durant is one of the players.

 

That was on display Saturday night as the team debuted two-thirds of its Big 3. With Irving missing his sixth straight game for personal reasons and COVID protocols, former Thunder teammates Harden and Durant scored a combined 74 points to lead the Nets to an impressive 122-115 win over Orlando.

Harden, the focal point of the offense for eight seasons, made an effort to get everyone involved early, finishing with a triple-double: 32 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists.

It’s Durant, however, who will remain the most important player in the super-trio as he showed in scoring 42 points and shooting 16-for-26.

Durant is a once-in-a-generation talent and the best shooter for his size the league has ever seen. It was Durant, not Irving, who was the primary target of the Nets in the summer of 2019.

Nets coach Steve Nash, who may have the hardest assignment of any first-year coach in NBA history, said before Saturday’s game that Durant will be critical in forging the chemistry on the team.

"Well, I think Kevin is the one that is the most versatile and adaptable," Nash said. "You know, he is just as comfortable off the ball — or you could argue more comfortable off the ball — coming off pindowns or getting into the post or elbow or whatever it may be as he is coming off screen-and-rolls or bringing the ball up the court and dictating. So he is probably the most versatile in his skill set, length, size, athleticism."

Even critics of the team, those who are predicting an implosion, believe that Durant is going to be the key to whether this group meshes.

"The only one of those three guys who has proved to me that he’s not selfish and not a ‘me’ guy is KD," Charles Barkley recently said on "Inside the NBA.’’ "KD went to Golden State and he sacrificed. James Harden and Kyrie Irving have never shown me ‘I just want to win. That’s the most important thing.’ You’ve got one guy, KD, he’s unselfish. The other two guys, they just care about their numbers, and I don’t think they’re going to make the sacrifice."

There are plenty who called Durant selfish when he forced his way out of Oklahoma City and ultimately decided he wanted to leave Golden State because he knew he could never be "the guy" with Steph Curry as a teammate.

There’s no doubt that Durant is the guy now. Saturday night’s win gave us a chance to see how great he can be playing along with another great player. Soon we will see how great he can be playing along with two other great players.

It’s going to be interesting.

Saturday’s win was just one game, but Harden looked more than prepared to make the sacrifice. This is the team he wanted to be playing for, the teammate he wanted to be playing next to.

The Nets still have one more superstar to absorb, and it appears that Irving could rejoin the team Monday night. That is when they host Milwaukee, the team many believe they could end up meeting in the Eastern Conference finals.

Said Harden: "I’m so excited for Ky to get back . . . The sooner we can get back on the court together, it’s gonna be scary hours."

New York Sports