This is my first byline for New York Sports Nation, and my assignment will be writing op-ed columns on the Brooklyn Nets.
Writing about the Nets will be interesting in so many ways. With Kevin Durant coming back from an Achilles injury, the Nets will become relevant nationally next season after he agreed to a four-year deal worth $164 million last offseason. They seek to hire a head coach who can be the guy that leads Durant and Kyrie Irving to a championship. They could be in the market to acquire Wizards guard Bradley Beal in forming a super team. They aim to supplant the Knicks as the team that wins the heart of New Yorkers.
Oh, and they would be in the playoffs if the season ended. The NBA seems determined to have the playoffs this year in hub places such as Las Vegas and Orlando, so the Nets can redeem themselves of an underachieving season by proving their worth in the playoffs. Maybe the Nets can beat the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors in the first round. Stranger things have happened (think No. 8 seed Denver Nuggets’ upset of the No. 1 seed Seattle SuperSonics in the first round of the 1994 playoffs), and with everyone rusty from a long layoff, any team has a shot for an upset.
Sure this is far-fetched, but that’s the beauty of this year’s NBA playoffs.
But everyone knows this is about next year. Durant changes the complexion of the team, Eastern Conference and the NBA. We know he can be a game-changer. But here’s the catch: Can he be the same player he was again after tearing his Achilles? With age and health, there’s no way he can do the things he did prior to his injury in a sense there won’t be a game-changing speed he offers.
Also, can Durant and Irving play together? Yes, Durant and Irving talked about wanting to play together last season, but this all sounds good until they play on the court. Both are high maintenance, so the chemistry of those two will be interesting with questions.
The next coach of the Nets deals with the task of making it all work. This means the Nets are going to hire an experienced coach that knows how to win and how to handle egos. Durant and Irving will have a say on who the coach is. Bet on Tom Thibodeau to be that guy since he commands respect. Plus, Durant and Thibodeau sat next to each other and were being chummy throughout the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden in November.
The Nets will try to get another star to make this work with Durant and Irving, even though no one even knows how they will work together. They are a win-now team, so chemistry be damned. For the Nets, it’s about talent, not more about what fits. This could be high risk, high reward or high risk, low reward.
No question next year gets interesting for the Nets. Anything short of an NBA Finals appearance will be a disappointment, and if the Nets don’t win a championship in the three years of Durant’s contract, this run will be a failure.
How the Nets respond to pressure presents more of a story than the end result itself. The characters of the story make up the story. With these high personalities on the Nets, there won’t be any dull moments.
This could be a great thing or a bad thing. Maybe Durant embraces being a villain like he did with the Warriors. Irving could be another story since he is sensitive.
Durant also has a legacy to live up to. No one credited him for his success with the Golden State Warriors since he rode the coattails of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. He needed to go to a team like the Nets to create a legacy of his own when it comes to greatness, and he realized that heading to his final season with the Warriors. I know Durant wants to be up there with the greats such as LeBron James, Michael Jordan, the late Kobe Bryant and Larry Bird, and no one can deny him of it if he wins a championship with the Nets.
The Nets offered nothing to a basketball fan in this town since Jason Kidd orchestrated a trade to the Dallas Mavericks in 2008. No one cared, even when they moved to Brooklyn.
Everything changes next season.
High stakes. Plenty of drama. Meaningful NBA games in New York City.
So what if it’s not the Knicks. After seeing the NBA be irrelevant for the last seven years, this is better than nothing. This assignment turns out to be a boon for me.
It beats writing about the Knicks.
You can reach me on Twitter: @ByLeslieMontei1