Nets Get Reprieve in Awkward First Year of Irving-Durant Era

Jason Keidel
April 17, 2020 - 1:57 pm

Depending on the doctor, professor, or politician, this coronavirus is either screeching to a halt or still destined to roll over America. So there's no way we can predict when we will hear helmets clang into each other, a fastball pop in a catcher's mitt, or the staccato squeak of sneakers echo from NBA courts.

But let's look at the latter, the NBA, the only of the three major sports that actually played a bunch of real games before COVID-19 ripped the ball from the league. 

What happens if, heaven forbid, we don't crack this virus until late-summer. Can the NBA really play out a season? Surely the regular season is over now, even if they reopen for business as early as June. The NBA Playoffs are about two months long. So the idea that you can play the last 20 games, and dance through the minefield of the postseason, is aspirational, if not delusional. 

So what happens if, heaven forbid, the NBA cancels its season? That's the doomsday scenario looming over every team in the thick of the playoff race, particularly those jousting for top seeds. But the Bucks, Lakers, and Clippers all lose mightily if the NBA is nixed until next year. In fact, every team will hang its mournful head at such news. 

Except, perhaps, the Nets.

Yes, the Brooklyn Nets would smell like tulips after a flatlined season. The world mocked the Nets for buying a wounded Kevin Durant, luring him to Brooklyn, and paying $41 million for him to heal his torn achilles tendon. Essentially, he made a mint to sit and play XboX.

But if the NBA throws its ball into the stands and leaves the arena, then the optics improve exponentially. Now the Nets look much less like suckers and more like soothsayers. Of course, the Nets had no inside scoop on this savage virus. But through some biblical plague, the Nets wouldn't look biblically bad. 

Even better, what if the Nets (30-34), currently in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, qualify for the NBA Playoffs this summer? There were whispers that Durant wanted to play in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, starting in July. So if he was willing to stretch his stitched heel on the court for a team that doesn't pay him a dime, perhaps Durant would be even more motivated to play for his actual employers in the league that actually pays his prodigious salary. 

And what about his wingman? Kyrie Irving underwent surgery to fix a right shoulder impingement at the beginning of March. Imagine Irving and Durant joining a club that hovered around .500 without them.  Irving had rather conflicted time as the Nets' best player, flashing physical brilliance while reminding fans why he's such a confounding, conflicted star. Irving has the skills, stats, and salary of a franchise player, but has never thrived in the role.  His season ended after 20 games, averaging 27.4 points, including a 50-point explosion in his first game, and a 54-point eruption against the Bulls in his 19th game. 

Some guys just aren't meant to be a No.1. Irving is example No. 1. His best days by far came when he was Robin to LeBron's Batman. When Irving doesn't have to answer all the questions, take all the shots, and win all the games, he can just play fast and loose, like he did in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, when his famous crossover and step-back three over Steph Curry all but sealed the world title.  That's Kyrie Irving at his best, when he's not forced to feel the gravity of singular greatness. 

Indeed, the Nets were much better last year, sans Uncle Drew.They went 42-40 with D'Angelo Russell as their best player. That's how cleverly constructed and secretly deep the Nets are. But once Durant and Irving return, together, the Nets instantly shoot up the standings, projections, and Vegas odds as favorites to reach the NBA Finals. They may even have enough to bump the Bucks and their supernatural superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo.  

Depending on the scope of the injury and skill of the surgeon, the recovery time for Irving's surgery lasts anywhere from two to five months. If Uncle Drew returns this summer, then it's a miraculous, hardwood harvest. If it happens next season, then the Nets will finally get what they paid for - two true superstars on the same roster, free from injury and excuses.

Somehow, the Knicks are still the Big Apple team of record, despite two decades of abject failure, a conga line of coaches whisked through the MSG turnstiles, and a fractured relationship with fans and former players. The Nets can finally leapfrog their more famous cousins with Durant and Irving on the court. When this will happen is above our pay grade. We don't know when the NBA will open for business. But we know the Nets will soon be ready to handle their business. 

Twitter: @JasonKeidel