People have been talking for months about the possibility of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving teaming up in Brooklyn. At some point, I started believing the Irving half of that rumor, but adding Durant too felt out of reach. When he tore his Achilles in the Finals, I thought he’d pick up his player option with the Warriors, rehab for a year, and then go back into free agency next Summer.
But Durant didn’t pick up that player option. And then, Sunday afternoon, reports started coming out that Durant was heading to the Nets:
was where it started. Durant having made a decision that quickly mixed with all the signs pointing to the Nets not even considering a move to keep D’Angelo Russell felt like it meant something. And then, Woj dropped this one:
BOOM. BAM. Kevin Durant’s a Net. And that’s not all:
Over the next few weeks, Nets Republic is going to be busy. We’ll have video breakdowns of all the new pieces. We’ll have in-depth articles about different things related to this new team. I’ll even have a piece about D’Angelo Russell coming soon that serves as both a goodbye post and a look ahead to how he’ll fit in Golden State. But before we get to all of those things, let’s take a pretty basic look at what these moves mean for the Brooklyn Nets.
2019-2020: The Kyrie Irving Year
So, Kevin Durant’s not playing next year. He torn his Achilles in June, it takes a long time for that to heal, he’ll be lucky to even be close to 100% by the time he does return for the 2020-2021 season.
This means that the Nets next season aren’t going to be title favorites. They’ll be postseason favorites, because the team next year will be better than the team that snagged the sixth seed this year, but they’re still behind Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Toronto (if Kawhi returns), and maybe…maybe…Indiana, who quietly killed it in free agency and will get Victor Oladipo back at some point soon.
Brooklyn’s in play for the four or five seed, though, and has their best shot in awhile to advance to the second round of the playoffs.
What does Irving bring that D’Angelo Russell didn’t?
Well, for one, Irving’s a better scorer. No offense to Russell, but last season was his breakout year. He took 0.2 more shots per game than Irving, but Irving had a higher field goal percentage overall and on threes and scored 2.7 more points per game. He does a better job of getting to the free throw line and on converting once he’s there, and he’s a better rebounder than Russell, mainly because he puts himself in better positions to get those rebounds, especially on the offensive end. Irving isn’t afraid to go inside. Look, I loved watching D’Lo play, but he had a tendency to stop his drive and throw up a floater from the top of the paint, and while he was pretty efficient on those shots, they aren’t the best shots you can take.
And while Irving has spent his career being known as a pretty pass-resistant guy, he really blossomed as a passer in Boston, especially this past season. Irving has the ability to get the ball to his teammates in great positions, and I’m just sitting here imagining the beauty of Irving kicking the ball out to Joe Harris for an open three right now, or lobbing it up to DeAndre Jordan or Jarrett Allen, or…
Or even Irving getting to spend some time off the ball. Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie are both capable ball handlers who can ease the burden on Irving this year. This upcoming season should be about winning basketball games, yes, but it should also be about the continued development of Allen and LeVert, who can be HUGE parts of the Durant era. Allen is basically a younger and (probably) better DeAndre Jordan, while LeVert was playing like Brooklyn’s best player last year before his foot injury and was outplaying D’Angelo Russell in the postseason.
2020-???: Enter Durant
Now, here’s where things get really interesting.
First, we have to address the track record of players with Achilles injuries. The Achilles tear is supposedly the worst injury in basketball, something that limits lateral quickness and explosiveness in a way that you just don’t recover from. Durant will never be as fluid as a runner as he was before, just as DeMarcus Cousins isn’t, or Kobe Bryant wasn’t, or Rudy Gay wasn’t.
But Durant’s game is a lot more about length and shooting than it is about quickness, and this injury shouldn’t sap him of those things. The Achilles is still there, for one thing, which means he isn’t suddenly going to shrink a few inches, and he’s still going to have those long arms and that beautiful jumper.
2020-2021 will be a transition year as Durant works his way back in. Because I don’t know what the rest of the East will look like, I’m not guessing on a seed or anything, but they’ll be a good team. They can run out a starting lineup of Irving-LeVert-Harris-Durant-Jordan, which has the potential to be very, very good offensively. Durant will likely play an abbreviated schedule that year, missing things like back-to-backs to keep him healthy and ready to go for the playoffs.
2021-2022 should be the year the Nets are targeting to be really good. Durant will be farther removed from the injury and as close as he’ll ever be again to his old self. The starting unit and bench could look significantly different by then so I won’t speculate, but a healthy Durant/Irving core can win the East with the right pieces around it.
Yes, a lot of the Durant stuff is speculative at this point because of the injury, but Nets fans should be excited. Y’all got Durant and Kyrie! Y’all are now definitely in a better spot than the Celtics, which is shocking after that Nets/Celtics trade that looked like it doomed Brooklyn to a lifetime of mediocrity. The fact that Sean Marks turned that team into this one in such a relatively short time is remarkable.
One last thing, before I close this piece and get started on all of our other Kyrie and Durant coverage:
Going into last season, I really thought the Nets should tank, that they should be as bad as possible to get into the lottery and the Zion Williamson sweepstakes. I didn’t imagine they’d be as good as they were. Without D’Angelo Russell’s emergence and that sixth seed, Irving and Durant aren’t taking this team seriously as a team they should sign with. Brooklyn would have basically been in “maybe if we get Zion, they’ll want to come” territory with the Knicks.
The Nets front office made the right call, keeping veterans around and going for the playoffs last year despite owning their own pick for the first time in awhile. It worked. They have a top-five player (albeit an injured one who’ll miss a year) and a top-10 or 15 guy in Irving, depending on who you ask. They’re set up well for the next few years. Brooklyn played this right.