Kevin Durant says he’s ready to return. ‘It’ll come naturally.’
By Sopan Deb
Kevin Durant, the Brooklyn Nets star, is healthy and ready to play NBA basketball — or at least, as healthy as he’ll ever be, he told reporters in a news conference earlier this week.
“Every drill that I’ve done, I’ve been going as hard as I could,” Durant said Tuesday in one of his first comments to reporters since last year.
He added, with an expletive: “I mean, I’ve been in the league for 14 years. Even if I didn’t have an Achilles, I probably wouldn’t be 100 percent, you know? So the wear and tear over time, I guess, but I feel solid.”
Nevertheless, with NBA training camps now getting underway — months later than usual because of last season’s delayed finish as a result of the coronavirus pandemic — Durant’s official return to the court is welcome news for the Nets franchise and its fan base. It signifies the Nets’ transition from an up-and-coming team to one with high expectations.
Durant’s pairing with his friend Kyrie Irving, whom new coach Steve Nash said was also healthy after injuries last season, may make for the most talented duo the Nets have ever had.
And with several quality supporting pieces, this might be the team’s best chance at a championship since it entered the NBA in 1976-77.
The last time the 32-year-old Durant played in an NBA game was almost 18 months ago, when he tore an Achilles tendon during Game 5 of the 2018-19 NBA Finals as a member of the Golden State Warriors.
At the time, he was considered one of the best basketball players in the world after winning the Most Valuable Player Award in 2013-14 and being selected for 10 All-Star Games. He won two championships with the Warriors, and won the finals MVP award each time. He has career regular-season averages of 27 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists a game.
Now Durant will be back on the court full time, trying to return to his previous heights from what is considered one of the most debilitating injuries in basketball.
“I definitely used to have crazy anxiety wondering how I was going to play the next day or the next series and it used to drive me crazy, you know what I’m saying?” Durant said. “With my mental health, I guess, it’s easier for me to have this approach just to wait and see what happens and then falling back on the work that I’ve put in.
“If I fall back on that work, I won’t have to worry too much about what will happen. I already know it’ll come naturally.”
The landscape of professional basketball shifted during Durant’s absence, in part because of the pandemic and social justice protests. And several star players — Kawhi Leonard last summer, and now Chris Paul and Jrue Holiday — have changed teams over the past 18 months, reshuffling the balance of power in the league.
Many of the upcoming games, presuming Durant remains healthy for the start of the regular season on Dec. 22, will be played without fans in seats. But last spring’s pause in the NBA season because of the pandemic allowed Durant more time to heal, both physically and mentally.
“It actually wasn’t that frustrating, to be honest,” Durant said of being on the sidelines last season, with a hint of a smile. “I enjoyed having a lot of ‘me time’ away from you all and the NBA life in general.”
Aside from rehabilitation, Durant did keep busy, appearing on several podcasts, and starting a podcast venture of his own over the summer. His debut guest in September was Irving.
Nash, who also spoke to reporters Tuesday, said that Irving and Durant “are in great states of health, so to speak. They’re healthy, in shape and look great. That’s obviously the best scenario for us after a long layoff for both of them.” (Nash, who was hired in September, also joked that he was “undefeated” in his coaching tenure thus far.)
Irving, a 28-year-old six-time All-Star, was plagued by a right shoulder injury last year and was ruled out for the second half of the season in February and eventually had surgery. Nash said he did not expect either of the two stars to play all 72 games of the regular season. (The season, normally 82 games, has been shortened because of the delayed start.)
“There’s been such a layoff for both of them,” Nash said. “In particular, Kevin coming off one of the toughest injuries to deal with as a basketball player. We have to be careful with him and his adaptation process back into the game.”
Nash did not say whether Durant or Irving would have minutes restrictions.
But Durant said, “In a game, when Coach tries to pull me out early unexpectedly, of course, I’m going to push back, but I know they have my best interest.”