Forget everything that bewitched, annoyed and baffled the Nets this season. There’s been a reason to tune in every night to watch and then play for, well, at least 55 days and nights, anyway. Kevin Durant is that reason.
Nothing else has gone according to plan during this three-year chapter. The Nets were quickly excused from the bubble in 2020. James Harden worked his way up here, came in, played well, got disillusioned, worked his way out, all in the space of 14 months. Kyrie Irving has been injured, has not been vaccinated and is unavailable. The Nets were going to win 60 games this year. They decided at 44 and needed a good run of 12-5 at the end to get there.
Through it all, Durant has been magnificent.
Through it all, Durant has been the only thing the Nets can count on, game after game, night after night, crisis after crisis. He was assigned a rookie coach and all he has done is help make Steve Nash’s job easier for him. He was given a pair of supporting stars in Harden and Irving who were chronically unreliable, and a third, Ben Simmons, who has yet to suit up for the Nets, and continued to play at an almost unimaginably high level.
Through it all, Durant has remained, at age 33, at worst, the third or fourth best basketball player on the planet, averaging 29.9/7.4/6.4 and shots of .518/.383/.910.
(One man’s list, for kicks and laughs: 1. Giannis Antetokounmpo; 2. Nikola Jokic; 3. Durant; 4. Joel Embiid. I’d vote Jokic for MVP, though.)
He has a knack for handling most things well. He may have crossed the line a few weeks ago in pushing Mayor Adams to lift the mandate, but that was the product of five months of pent-up frustration. He gets a mulligan for it. And for his genuine and thoughtful comments on the shooting in the Brooklyn subway on Tuesday morning.
“It’s devastating to hear,” Durant said Tuesday morning, following the Nets’ roam in anticipation of their opening game against the Cavaliers Tuesday night at Barclays Center.
“Hearing the sirens outside the practice facility and seeing so much commotion outside, you hope and pray for the best for everyone involved.”
Durant was similarly thoughtful when discussing the MVP race. It’s indisputable that when Durant played this year, he played at an MVP level all the time, just getting derailed for 25-plus games with a knee problem. He reckons that will hurt his chances when the votes roll in soon.
“If I had to choose, it would go to Joel Embiid,” Durant said. “He led the league in scoring, double-doubles, his team won 50 games this year. The numbers were incredible. It’s a great year.
“But you can close your eyes and pick any of the top six or seven, and you can have a good MVP this year. That shows how great our league is right now and how talented our league is from top to bottom, but I would go with Embiid if I had to choose.”
Among those six or seven, of course, is Durant, who has constantly brushed off the various and sundry issues that have tried to subvert the Nets’ mission. He is, in truth, the main reason the Nets still have a mission.
“I see why I’m not in that conversation,” Durant said. “But I’m sure there are a lot of guys in the league who play MVP-caliber basketball for their clubs. Help their clubs reach heights they probably won’t reach this year. [without them]But when it comes to the entire league, there are so many great players playing right now that it’s hard to choose. But I can really say that maybe there are 10 or 12 of us that can be in that conversation.
“It’s great to see that in our league.”
And reassuring to Nets fans who have known all year that no matter what happens, there is always a No. 7. It’s not bad to have a player like Durant on your side, and not someone else’s.