The Kevin Durant injury provides unexpected opportunities to several Brooklyn Nets ballers during the 2019-20 NBA season.
When Kevin Durant ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, it was as heartbreaking a scene there is to watch in sports. There is nothing more awe-inspiring than watching a player put everything on the line—not for himself but his teammates.
In one singular moment, the “cupcake” narrative that plagued Durant’s image ceased to exist as fans and media alike were forced to re-evaluate just how soft he was.
All this new-found sympathy and support doesn’t help everybody ignore the fact that a 30-year-old just suffered an injury that few have been able to overcome. However, if there is one organization ready for the task, it is the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets and Durant have faced a surprisingly similar path to get where they are now. Both have been fighting against the perception that they are second-tier entities. Every athlete dreams about one day being the No. 1 pick. It’s an achievement that no one can take away. Durant was denied access to that exclusive club when he was drafted No. 2 in favor of Greg Odom.
During his time in Oklahoma City when he was a two-time scoring champion, multiple All-NBA selection and MVP of the league, there was always the notion it was Westbrook’s team. Then he goes to Golden State where he won two championships and two NBA Finals MVPs, but he was always going to be No. 2 next to Steph Curry.
When the Nets decided to move to Brooklyn in 2012, they were intruding on decades of history and lore. The Knicks played at an arena that seemed to be invented only for the brightest stars. The little brother distinction was suffocating so owner Mikhail Prokhorov did everything possible to capture the headlines.
He pressured general manager Billy King to build a championship team overnight. This, of course, was the catalyst for the infamous trade with the Celtics landing the Nets Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry and all that led to was a cover on Sports Illustrated. This atrocious deal may not have ever taken place had it been anywhere else but New York.
Being the second team in town does have its advantages. There is a lot less scrutiny from the media, expectations are lower, and, most importantly, it provides a blank canvas for the right artist to turn it into a masterpiece. That’s what Sean Marks was looking to do when deciding the type of people to bring into the building. The best way to define what qualities he was looking for is from an interview Gregg Popovich did in 2016.
Pop was asked what kind of qualities the Spurs look for when bringing people into their organization: pic.twitter.com/A5DoNg9YlZ
— Baxter Holmes (@Baxter) February 20, 2016
This was the blueprint to follow for each department of the organization from the coaching staff to public relations. However, the area that quote most rings true is in the creation of the medical team. Whether it’s new ways to monitor the body or introducing flavorful fruit smoothies players past and present swear by them. When it came time to evaluate Durant’s injury, they got as much information as possible by watching the video of the injury and examining media reports. According to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, when Marks asked whether they wanted to commit to a max the entire room agreed that they should.
“That was a pretty moving moment,” says Marks. “When you know there’s a group of young men and women that are here saying, ‘Hell, we can’t wait for that challenge. We cannot wait to sacrifice whatever it takes to get Durant out on the court again, and probably prove people wrong.’ Again, it’s that sort of chip on your shoulder. Kenny and I talk about it a lot, players having that. But I think it’s also important that your entire organization has something to prove.”
This is where the ideologies between Kevin Durant and the Nets overlap. Both always have and will continue to believe there’s a massive chip on their shoulder. For those who are so quick to count him out, or in the words of Skip Bayless, say “semi-retired,” recall that the following quote is who Kevin Durant is.
“Everything in my life, I had to take it. They are not going to give it to you out of sympathy. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
That doesn’t sound like someone just fine with finishing his career off the map. It sounds like a phoenix ready to rise from the ashes who can’t wait to softly chuckle I’m Kevin Durant y’all know who I am.
From the second Durant steps on the floor in a Brooklyn Nets uniform, it will be his team. There is no doubt that Kyrie by himself has to be the leader and will gain a lot of fans in the process. However, this fan base has patiently starved for a star knows who the true alpha is. He will get the credit for bringing a title to a team that a few years ago belonged in the G-League or the blame for failing to reach the mountaintop.
If he succeeds, it would be his third championship with his second team, something only two of his contemporaries have done, Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard. Can anyone reasonably say over the next five years Durant can’t win just as much if not more than both of them? If he does win four after coming off of such a horrific injury, that will legitimately put him in the conversation for the best player in his era.
For Brooklyn, it’s the chance to announce to their city who’s the best ticket in town in addition to hanging a banner. As the New York Post posted, “Signing Durant and Irving ought to be the culmination of a perfect storm for the Nets. They reside in the trendier neighborhood. (It’s a fact that the bars and restaurants around Barclays Center are far more appealing, on the whole.)
The Knicks have been a failing operation on the court and an embarrassing one off the court; neither Mikhail Prokhorov nor Joe Tsai has been spotted lately engaging forked-tongue fans. However, it goes beyond just outdoing the Knicks. It’s the opportunity to imprint themselves on young basketball fans for life.
All of these reasons culminate into why they will be such a perfect fit together. Each can give the other what they could never hope to achieve individually: The chance to the true number one.