Lichtenstein: A Healthy Kevin Durant Should Absolutely Play if NBA Season Resumes

Steve Lichtenstein
May 07, 2020 - 9:27 am
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Throughout the 2019-20 season, the Nets consistently asserted their expectation that superstar forward Kevin Durant would sit it out entirely while finishing his rehabilitation from the Achilles injury that he suffered in last year’s NBA Finals with Golden State.

Brooklyn’s organization wanted to be clear that it would be putting no pressure on the 2014 NBA MVP who was earning about $37.2 million in the first season of the four-year, $117 million contract (with the fourth season a player option) he signed as a free agent last offseason.

Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has suspended the season, everyone wants to know if anything should change regarding Durant’s return-to-play protocol.

Assuming there is a resumption at some point, of course it should.

Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks, for the first time, at least laid out the possibility that KD might be ready for whatever the NBA plans for the summer in an interview on Sunday with a website from his native New Zealand.

“That’s the $110 million question,” Marks said.

I’ve been consistent in my view that Durant should suit up for Brooklyn whenever he is healthy, and by that I mean that he has both been cleared by his doctors AND he also feels 100% comfortable with his movements on the basketball court. If, at any point, KD says he isn’t ready, so be it.  

I found it mindboggling that this was once a minority opinion.

Durant’s age (31) and severity of his tear might pose additional hurdles to the average nine-month return timeline, but we’re already closing in on 11 months since the surgery.  As YES broadcaster Ian Eagle noted in an interview on Radio.com’s Mike Francesa show, the 2020-21 season might not start until December, which would mean about 18 months without competitive basketball for KD.

Durant was reportedly playing five-on-five with his Nets teammates at practices right up to the break. While the NBA has been allowing injured players to use team practice facilities during this hiatus, it’s unclear whether Durant has taken advantage of it since he was diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus infection in March.    

Obviously, NBA basketball—and NBA playoff basketball in particular—is a lot more stressful than pick-up games. Whenever Durant returns, his minutes will have to be managed carefully.  

Then again, aren’t everyone’s these days? The Nets wouldn’t let guard Caris LeVert play in an overtime against Oklahoma City—and he was coming off an injured thumb! Like when guard Kyrie Irving initially returned from a shoulder injury in January, Durant will be involved, to say the least, with decisions regarding how much he can take each day.

So, what’s the argument against it? That the Nets, even with KD at, say, 80% of his peak performance, aren’t good enough to challenge the East’s elite, especially if Irving hasn’t fully mended from his March 3 shoulder surgery (his return timeline was expected to be four-to-six months)? You might as well forgo all risk and wait until 2020-21 to start fresh, right?

Hogwash. 

According to the pundits who espouse this theory, it would have been okay for KD to play in the Tokyo Olympic Games that were originally scheduled for late July. Don’t tell me that the risks from competing against the world’s best would have been so much less. It’s high-level basketball.

So, what would KD be telling his current teammates, some of whom won’t be around next season, by choosing not to play with them when able? That they’re not worth his time?  Who knows what next season will bring anyway?

After a February loss in Philadelphia, I asked Nets wing Joe Harris, a pending unrestricted free agent, if he ever wondered what it would be like to have KD around for even five games plus the playoffs.  Harris said, “(Expletive), I wish, man.  He looks great. Make sure he sees your article.”

More likely, Durant has been watching the ESPN documentary “The Last Dance” on Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Maybe he caught Part II, the episode that reviewed MJ’s second NBA season, the one where a foot injury sidelined him for 61 games. 

Down the stretch of that season, Bulls management did not want Jordan to return even if it meant that the team would miss the playoffs. They warned Jordan that there was a 10% chance that his career would be over from a re-injury.    

Jordan felt fine to play and, though the Bulls were swept by Boston in the first round, he created an everlasting memory with an NBA-record 63-point performance in Game 2.

I’m hoping Durant values Jordan’s takes on the subject over confidantes like agent Rich Kleiman and ESPN analyst Jay Williams, both of whom seem to relish throwing cold water on the heads of Nets fans.

Durant is allegedly a basketball savant who understands legacy. He could have easily remained on the Golden State gravy train and captured more rings alongside their All Star cast, but he opted to break away to try to do something only Jason Kidd in the franchise’s NBA history has ever done—make the Nets relevant.

He can’t do it in street clothes. 

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.