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Kenny Smith: Nets should contend for East title ... with or without Kevin Durant

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Speaking at the NBA Crossover event in London, two-time NBA champion Kenny Smith said the Nets should contend for the Eastern Conference championship — with or without Kevin Durant. Although the Nets have not provided a timetable for KD’s return —and won’t— there’s a growing consensus around the league that we’ll see No. 7 on the court sometime this season.

But even with Durant in street clothes, TNT’s Smith thinks the Nets will have enough to make some noise, noting the addition of Kyrie Irving to a strong core that made the playoffs last year. Irving, he said, has something to prove.

“Brooklyn should be better - that’s the expectation,” said Smith at the SkySports conference. “Even without Kevin Durant there, they should be contending for the East.”

Asked about Irving’s objectives for the upcoming campaign, Smith said: “I would say health will be his No 1 priority. No 2 would be his integration with his new team-mates and understanding what they do well. The Nets played well last year and Kyrie’s job will be to elevate that. Those will be the two things he thinks about the most.

”Everyone talks about leadership. I don’t know how he is in the locker room, I’ve never been in there with him. He’s on a new team that had mild success without him and his job will be to lift that level of success.”

Irving, of course, became the scapegoat for Boston’s disappointing season but many in the Celtics organization have said that’s a simplistic explanation, that the team was riven with other issues, including cliques and immaturity.

Smith also explained that the Raptors’ triumph last year proved that teamwork, chemistry is more powerful than superstar pairings.

“Basketball is a team sport like no other. If you look at Toronto last year, it wasn’t a duo that bought them the title,” said Smith. “There was a really great player in Kawhi Leonard with really good players around him that understood how to play well. That structure is always going to be more consistent than two guys or three guys dominating because that becomes too much weight to carry.”