Lichtenstein: Expect KD’s Debut Date With Nets To Remain A Mystery

Steve Lichtenstein
July 10, 2019 - 3:02 pm
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There have been plenty of times in the last few years when I wished that the Nets would have been more transparent to the public with regard to their injured players.

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Under general manager Sean Marks, the Nets sometimes have more of a hockey mentality when it comes to the information they release to the media. Maybe not to the NHL’s “upper body/lower body” extreme of injury specifics, but timelines for returns to the court are rarely provided by Nets management.

In the case of Kevin Durant, however, I can’t blame them.

It serves no purpose at this stage to guess when the superstar forward, recently signed to a four-year, $164 million free-agent contract, will first suit up in a Brooklyn uniform following surgery to repair the ruptured Achilles he suffered in Game 5 of the NBA Finals while playing for the Warriors. Not even whether it will be this season or thereafter. 

“(Durant) will be evaluated with the performance team and so forth,” Marks told the media on Tuesday while in Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League. “A timeline will be given in due time, but as of now, we’re certainly not going to comment on when or if and make any sort of hypotheticals. It’s too early.”

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At this time, that’s the only logical response. Why would Marks make a proactive statement to definitively shut Durant down for the season when the history of prior recoveries indicates that it’s possible he could provide a late boost, even for limited minutes? At the same time, Marks probably doesn’t really know how KD will respond to his rehab. He may not even be able to give any updates until mid-season. As Nets fans are well aware, Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson are both quite adept at kicking the can down the road for as long as they need no matter how inundated they get with questions about injuries.

As for the Nets’ highly-regarded Performance Team, they have this reputation for being overly cautious and protective. However, I’m not sure if that was the case towards the end of last season. Look at what transpired with two players crucial to Brooklyn’s effort towards qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in four years.

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant sits on the court after an apparent injury in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Raptors on June 10, 2019, in Toronto.
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Images

Just as he was establishing himself as a standout lead guard, Caris LeVert suffered a gruesome foot injury in a fall November 12 in Minnesota. He returned less than three months later, though it wasn’t until the playoffs that he really regained his form. Similarly, point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, a candidate for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award until a thumb injury shelved him for 14 games, saw his shooting splits go from 46.1/36.6/79.5% before to 39.2/25.9/83.2% after. Maybe the Nets, for the first time under this regime, felt the pressure to get players back for a very difficult stretch run to the playoffs. 

If that was indeed the case, will they feel similar pressure with Durant this season? Remember, the fourth year of his deal is a player option. All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, whom the Nets swiped from Boston with a max contract in free agency to play alongside Durant, has a similar arrangement. Unless Durant’s game falls off drastically, he (and Irving) will likely opt out after Year 3 to sign a new and better contract. That’s just the nature of the biz.

That means a redshirt year would leave Durant with just two seasons to get Brooklyn to the Promised Land. And who knows how he’ll fare during a theoretical 2020-21 campaign at 32 after not playing competitive NBA basketball at all for about 18 months?

For the first time since the infamous 2013 trade with Boston, the Nets are facing expectations to win. Even with Durant out for all or most of the season, there’s a ton of buzz surrounding this franchise. According to reports, ticket sales have already topped last season’s total. Merchandise is flying off the shelves.    

Unlike the 2013 disaster, though, Marks’ haul on June 30 wasn’t meant to generate attention, or even take over this town from the Knicks. His mission is to compete for championships, like his old employers in San Antonio. 

To get there, the Nets are going to need Durant back to playing at something close to his Hall of Fame level. Whether that’s best accomplished by having Durant sit out this season entirely or by working out the kinks down the stretch remains to be seen.

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