Nets can’t afford to waste another year from Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant is the greatest basketball player in New York history. He’s better than Patrick Ewing, Walt Frazier and Willis Reed on the Knicks side and better than Jason Kidd and Julius Erving on the Nets side.

When his career is over, Durant may rank among the 10 greatest NBA players of all time. Last but not least, the top 15 seems like a pretty good bet. Durant is 33, so he still has some time left to climb the ladder of historical figures in the game. He could be second on the unofficial all-time small forward scoreboard, ahead of Larry Bird and behind LeBron James.

So no, the Nets can’t afford to waste another season of Durant’s prime, not after wasting one last year. Durant is healthy and Kyrie Irving is healthy and who knows when or if that will be the case again this time of year.

That’s what makes Game 3 against the Celtics in Brooklyn on Saturday night feel so damn urgent.

On the subject of legacy, Durant’s 2016 decision to leave Oklahoma City for Golden State’s field-ready championship team is complicated, even though KD was hardly the first titan in the league to ally with other AAU-style titans and even though the Warriors were hardly the first stacked team of the league were.

On the other hand, after winning two rings with the Warriors, Durant’s ladder climb could be hampered by his 2019 decision to trade Stephen Curry for Irving and a new challenge in Brooklyn where he was guaranteed to have a much tougher road ahead won more titles — after recovering from his Achilles tendon rupture — than he would have had had he stayed with the Warriors.

Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant
NBAE via Getty Images

In the end, one thing is clear when it comes to judging superstars: Rings are hip. Durant did everything he could to win his third title last year after Irving went down with a gruesome ankle injury and James Harden became a one-legged playmaker. In Games 5 and 7 of the Nets’ conference semifinals against eventual champion Bucks, Durant averaged 97 points, 26 rebounds and 16 assists in 101 of a possible 101 minutes played. He sank a game-winning 3-pointer against the Bucks in Game 7 — if it weren’t for what he called “my big foot.”

The fat foot that stepped onto the 3-point line and turned an epic turnaround jumper into what appeared to be the longest 2-pointer ever, sending Durant into an overtime he had too exhausted to control.

The Nets ditched their franchise player last spring, not the other way around, which brings us to Saturday night at the Barclays Center and a first-round series with the Celtics that still seemed winnable despite Boston’s 2-0 lead.

It feels like the Nets lost 3-0 in the series because that’s how the games at TD Garden went. In the opening game, they threw away an otherworldly effort from a heated Irving to lose on a layup. In Game 2, they squandered a 17-point lead and a chance to inform the Celtics that this streak would end just like last year – with the Nets advancing to the second round.

Coach Steve Nash did next to nothing to help his team make it 1-1. Then, staring into the 2-0 abyss, the manager admitted his nets had somehow lost some of their intensity in the second half of an away playoff game they had to win. Worse, when Nash was given an apparent platform to fight Boston’s slurring of Durant to sway leadership over the series’ balance (referees are people too, remember), he did no such thing.

“I couldn’t believe and trust Kevin Durant anymore,” Nash said two days later. “Sometimes you walk through these little play bags. We’re playing against a defensively excellent team and against a great team. And they do a great job. But that doesn’t mean things can’t change.

Kevin Durant drives to the basket during the Nets' Game 2 loss to the Celtics.
Kevin Durant drives to the basket during the Nets’ Game 2 loss to the Celtics.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“I think Kevin Durant is one of the best players to ever play this game and he will continue to improve as the series progresses.”

Yes, it was hard to believe Durant wouldn’t improve his numbers in Boston — 13-41 from the floor, including a 0-10 in the fourth quarter Wednesday night. Despite pointing out that “two or three guys can beat me anywhere,” Durant took responsibility for his subpar game by saying, “It’s up to me to just finish it and find out.”

Only it’s not that easy. Irving can’t have another indifferent game like Wednesday night, and he can’t fail again — as the team’s quarterback — to put Durant in favorable positions to succeed. And more than his point guard, Nash, who is a Hall of Famer himself at this point, must come up with a plan that will make room for Durant to be what he needs to be for the Nets to survive and thrive: the best players on the floor.

The Nets only needed to win two home games to make this a streak and put the pressure on Boston that the Celtics’ defenders at TD Garden were putting on them. Failure to do so would mean a colossal failure and another wasted year of Kevin Durant’s prime that the Nets will never get back. Nets can’t afford to waste another year from Kevin Durant


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