Durant, Irving look good together but Nets’ title hopes still fragile

For the first nine minutes and 27 seconds of the preseason game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Washington Wizards last Sunday night, the world saw a glimpse of the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving potential.

The 119-114 final scoreline in favor of the Nets didn’t tell the whole story.

Worth the long wait

It was a long wait for the Nets, who signed both superstars to separate four-year deals as the culmination of the reclamation project of GM Sean Marks in Brooklyn. But definitely worth it.

Started from the bottom, the Nets have gone a long way, morphing from a team with no cap space into a fringe playoff contender and now a serious title threat in the NBA.

In that glorious stretch in the opening quarter, the long recovery of both Durant and Irving from serious injuries was an afterthought. Irving’s contentious relationship with the media was sidetracked. James Harden was never needed.

Durant dusted off anxious moments and shrugged off nervousness with a baseline dunk for his basket since tearing his Achilles back in June of 2019.

The former MVP was back to his silky-smooth ways scoring 11 points on 3-of-3 shooting, while Irving’s court wizardry produced 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. The Nets were in full control with Durant and Irving on the floor. They opened up a 12-point lead, 30-28, that ballooned to as many 26 points.

‘I was anxious, nervous’

It didn’t matter the Wizards tried to come back when Durant went out for good in the third quarter while Irving didn’t see action in the second half. What mattered was they showed it’s really worth the wait.

“I was anxious, nervous. I visualized this moment for so long — nine, 10 months of thinking about how it would be, this next phase of my career,” Durant said postgame. “I felt like I was chomping at the bit, especially once COVID hit because I didn’t see a future — when the season was going to start in the future. I was going through it.

“So to go through this felt solid.”

Durant played a total of 24 minutes and finished with 15 points, three rebounds, three assists, and two blocks.

He looked confident in his first game back.

‘The world missed Durant’

Irving led the Nets with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting despite sitting out the whole second half.

“That’s one of the perks of this position, is you get to coach two incredible players,” said first-time head coach Steve Nash. “Ky was super sharp and Kevin, after such an extensive layoff was very good and close to being incredible.”

“When you have that type of injury,” Nash said of Durant after the game, “it is kind of remarkable he’s at the level he’s at.

“It’s amazing. This is an injury that very few people have conquered, so to speak. It’s beautiful to see him back on the basketball court. I think the world missed him — I certainly did.”

Without Durant and partially Irving (shoulder injury), the Nets were still able to contend for the last playoff spot in the East.

This season, they are expected to contend for the title.

But that will hinge on Durant and Irving’s fragile bodies to hold up for the condensed season.

Bench depth over Harden

James Harden could be their insurance. But if there’s anything their first preseason game revealed aside from the Durant-Irving dominance, the Nets also saw the depth they will potentially miss if the Houston Rockets’ superstar gets his wish.

The Rockets have maintained they do not want the Nets’ complimentary players plus picks, per ESPN report. They may need a third team where the Rockets can get a young star.

But Marks have earlier remarked that the Nets don’t want to mortgage their future for Harden. Durant, on the other hand, denied recruiting Harden.

The Nets, who played without young rising star Caris LeVert due to patella contusion, had four more players in double figures aside from Durant and Irving.

Spencer Dinwiddie had 10 points and seven assists. Newcomer Landry Shamet, acquired via Draft Day trade, his 3 of 5 from the outside to finish with 13 points. Taurean Prince and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot each added 11.

Irving breaks media silence

Irving, who skipped the postgame interviews, finally broke his media blackout Monday morning.

The Nets and their star point guard were fined $25,000 each for the media blackout to which he responded with a controversial Instagram:

“I’ve had enough of someone else propaganda… I pray we utilize the ‘fine money’ for the marginalized communities in need, especially seeing where our world is presently… I do not talk to Pawns. My attention is worth more.”

Irving addressed them in his first media session, denying it was directed to NBA writers.

“It’s really just about how I felt about the mistreatment of certain artists when we get to a certain platform of when we make decisions within our lives to have full control and ownership… We want to perform in a secure and protected space,” he said.

He also retracted his earlier statement on Durant’s podcast that he really didn’t see them having a coach.

“Steve’s been amazing,” Irving said Monday. “He kind of commands the respect. I think I’ve got to take back my comments in terms of the head coach back a few months ago. But it’s just like, man, we have such a great synergy. Everyone feels like we’re coaching one another to be better, so I’m grateful for that.”

If their first game together is any indication, the synergy looks great. Credit it to Nash for not having a big ego and having the right temperament to handle the issue that could have otherwise gone south.

While the Nets are off to a good start, their title hopes still hang in the balance of their superstars’ fragile bodies and egos. 

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Suns reunion in Brooklyn: Mike D’Antoni agrees to come as Steve Nash’s assistant

Former Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni has agreed to come to the Brooklyn Nets to assist his former player Steve Nash.

Ex-Philadelphia 76ers lead assistant coach Ime Udoka, who earlier interviewed for the New York Knicks job, will also come on board.

Top news breaker Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN first reported the news.

The Nets shortly confirmed the hiring and released an official statement from Nash.

“We’ve assembled an experienced staff of high-character individuals with varied backgrounds, both on and off the court, that will help create a solid foundation for me and our players,” Nash said in the statement.

When I set out to build this staff, I wanted to put together a committed group that would connect with our players and help put them in the best position to succeed as a team. With coaching and playing experience at the highest level, and a deep background in player development, I’m confident that we’ve put the right people in place to lead us forward.

D’Antoni will bring the much-needed experience to aid Nash in his first season as an NBA head coach.

D’Antoni coached Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire, who earlier agreed to be part of the Nets coaching staff, in Phoenix in the mid-2000s. That Suns team revolutionized the NBA with their seven seconds-or-less offense that helped them reach the Western Conference Finals in 2006 against the Dallas Mavericks. Nash also played the best stretch of his career under D’Antoni winning back-to-back MVPs in 2005-06.

Nash hinted at D’Antoni’s hire during his virtual town hall on Tuesday.

“People talk about the Phoenix teams I played on, and this sort of revolutionary tone of how it impacted the game, but the truth be told, Mike D’Antoni’s brilliance in much of that was he allowed it to evolve instead of getting in the way,” Nash said.

This is not the first time that a rookie head coach hires his former mentor to become his assistant. In 2013, Jason Kidd also sought his former coach Lawrence Frank during his first year as head coach, ironically, with the Nets. The partnership, though, quickly deteriorated and ended in an ugly falling out.

Meanwhile, Udoka will also get reunited with his former peers at San Antonio Spurs in Brooklyn. Udoka, Nets general manager Sean Marks and lead assistant Jacque Vaughn, and assistant coach Tiaggo Splitter have all been together in San Antonio at one point in the early part of the decade.

Adam Harrington, Jordan Ott, and Ryan Forehan-Kelly round up Nash’s staff.

The Nets will be one of the favorites next season with their top players Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving expected to return at full health.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

BREAKING NEWS: Brooklyn Nets to hire Steve Nash as next head coach (Report)

The Brooklyn Nets will reportedly hire Steve Nash as the 27th head coach in team history. Interim boss Jacque Vaughn will be retained.

Per ESPN Adrian Wojnarowski, the Brooklyn Nets are set to name Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash the 27th head coach in team history. Nash’s initial contract will be for four years.

Wojnarowski also reports that interim head coach Jacque Vaughn will be retained as an assistant and “become the league’s best compensated assistant coach”.

This will be the first coaching job for Nash, 46, who spent 18 seasons with Phoenix, Dallas, and the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Johannesburg, South Africa native entered the league as a first-round pick (15th overall) of the Suns in 1996 out of Santa Clara. Nash is generally regarded as one of the best point guards in NBA history, winning two MVP awards (2005, 2007) and reaching eight All-Star Games. He also leads NBA players with four 50-40-90 seasons, shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range, and 90 percent from the foul line. Larry Bird is the only other player in NBA history to earn multiple such seasons. Nash was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018 alongside fellow former Suns teammates Jason Kidd and Grant Hill.

After retiring in 2015, he took on part-time consultant duties with the Golden State Warriors, partaking in the team’s most recent two championship runs (2017, 2018). He also held a similar role for the Canadian national basketball squad, previously serving as the team’s general manager for nearly seven years. The team earned a silver medal at the 2015 PanAmerican Games in Toronto, their best finish in the tournament’s history.

Vaughn returns to assistant duties after taking over for the fired Kenny Atkinson in March. He went 7-3 during his time at the helm, including a surprising 5-3 mark in the NBA’s Orlando bubble proceedings. Brooklyn was swept in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs by the defending champion Toronto Raptors.

This story will be updated pending further information.

Geoff Maglocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags