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Nets open training camp, with high hopes and restrictions

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets-Media Day Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Although Tuesday is the official opening of training camp, it won’t be anything close to normal. Only four players and staff members are allowed in the team training facility for court and weight room workouts at any one time. Players and staff will be tested daily as they were in the “bubble.” Real drills start Friday.

But amid all the COVID restrictions —that will also keep fans out of the stands, there are the high hopes for a season like no other in Nets history. The roster will finally boast one of the game’s greatest players ... of all time, Kevin Durant, and his best friend, the electrifying Kyrie Irving as well as a young player in Caris LeVert, who exploded on the big stage in Orlando, averaging 25, seven and five. Not to mention a roster as deep as any in the NBA.

No one is stepping back from expectations. In an interview that will air Tuesday night on YES, rookie head coach Steve Nash says, “We’re going to be an incredibly formidable team.” His boss and friend, the architect of the roster, Sean Marks said basically the same thing when he met with the press 10 days ago.

“They’ve been back in our gym now for a couple days. And being around, the feedback from our performance team and how they’ve looked, their preparing has been terrific,” Marks said. “They’re hungry. It goes back to what these guys set out to accomplish a year ago when they said ‘I want to come to Brooklyn. I want to be a part of this. I want to build something sustainable and do something special.’”

“Something special,” of course, is win it all, the Larry O’Brien Trophy come July when the NBA’s season finally comes to an end, perhaps with fans cheering on the black-and-white. Marks, Nash and Durant will all speak to the media Tuesday as part of “Media Week,” the virtual replacement for “Media Day.”

The big question in the interviews and throughout camp will be KD’s health. Tuesday is Day 540 of KD’s time away from the court. It was June 10, 2019 that he ruptured his Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, depriving him and his Warriors a shot at a three-peat.

We’ve all read and heard that Durant is playing at (or by some estimates) above the level he played at before the injury. A healthy KD almost guarantees a run for the championship. He made the NBA Finals four times in the nine years before he was hurt, winning it twice while taking home the Finals MVP. Three other times, his Thunder teams made it to the conference finals. Only LeBron James can rival that run.

Like his bosses, KD also believes the Nets are ready.

“Once I got into Brooklyn I had this view on how I wanted to approach this,” he told a podcast a few weeks back. “And I was like I had to totally throw that out the door because they got the championship mindset already.”

Then, there’s Irving who after missing more than 50 games last season with shoulder issues is back and healthy. In the 20 games, he did play, Irving was often sensational with two 50-point games and a 27 point scoring average. He has made it plain, as a childhood Nets fan in New Jersey grown into a Brooklyn star, what his goal is.

“I’m going to make sure that when the Nets gat back to The Finals, we will make sure we’re going to be winning this!” he told YES last month.

“KD and Ky,” as Marks often refer to them, joined other Nets in Los Angeles this fall to work out. In addition to them, the workouts included at one point or another, LeVert, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, and even the newcomers, Landry Shamet and Bruce Brown. Will that chemistry carry over? That’ll be up to Steve Nash, whose rookie status, is right up there with Durant’s health on the list of Nets questions.

“How does the fit work and that is not just going to be myself but that is where Steve comes into play here,” Marks said in the same interview a week and a half ago.

“Steve has managed this before. He has been the point guard on some really important teams with a lot of different personalities. That is what we are going to do over the course of this year is manage them, do what is best for our roster, and hopefully, at the same time, do what’s best for all of our players.”

Marks has surrounded Nash with a group of top assistants, some holdovers led by Jacque Vaughn plus Mike D’Antoni and Amar’e Stoudemire who were his head coach and teammate at Phoenix, defensive specialist Ime Udoka, development specialist Royal Ivey, etc., etc.

There are of course other questions, elephants in the room, actually. Will the Nets make a big trade for James Harden, a medium-sized one that sends Dinwiddie to a new team? Those, at this point, can wait.

Pundits and bettors seem to be on opposite sides in casting the Nets future. Pundits are skeptical, wondering if the Nets can put it all together while bettors are more enthusiastic. But the real experts, the NBA’s players, think that the Nets will be just fine, that Durant will be Durant ... and that’s just fine.

“I’m looking forward to seeing KD. My preseason MVP [pick],” Andre Iguodala said in an appearance on “The Match: Champions for Change” broadcast over the weekend,

Who’s going to be right? We will find out soon enough and it all starts today.