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Kevin Durant, Brooklyn’s veteran leader: ‘I’m looking forward to stepping into this position’

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Kevin Durant addressed the virtual crowd of media for his first time since January––back before the election, the pandemic, the (still ongoing) George Floyd protests, and back when a media scrum was actually in-person.

You could hear it in his voice. You could see in his face as he wiped sweat from his brow as the interview started. He’s ready to return. The Slim Reaper––Brooklyn’s sleeping giant–– arose from his 12-month slumber.

“I just got to see how it feels in a real NBA game again.... I am excited about the first day and putting on my practice jersey again. It was a cool feeling today,”

This year has been anything but easy for Kevin Durant. As he noted Tuesday, prior to rupturing his Achilles back in June of 2019, Durant mentioned that he had never missed time due to injury for more than three months. He wasn’t necessarily prepared for the grueling nature of his rehabilitation process––a process that spanned longer than his expected nine-month recovery period, causing him to miss the bubble restart in Orlando.

“I had to learn how to walk again. I had to ride a scooter,” said the four-time scoring champ, whose stride will soon span near the lengths of Barclays Center grey-streaked hardwood.

But during that time off, Durant has grown more and more reflective of his role in the NBA, he said, and more appreciative of the glowing leadership opportunity with his young group of Brooklyn teammates.

“I always appreciate the game, I always was grateful to play this game every single day. I’m looking forward to having some new energy, some fresh energy to play with on this team––especially the younger players on this team. I’m looking forward to helping them any way that I can, telling them about the experiences that I went through in this league. And hopefully it kind of... helps them as they go throughout this league.

“I’m just looking forward to stepping into this position.”

Durant wasn’t always this wise veteran leader, quarterbacking a Brooklyn Nets locker room that would be the youngest roster to take home the Larry O’Brien since the 2015 Golden State Warriors. It’s taken time, hard work, and a growing sense of self-fulfillment for Durant to fully lean into taking on larger responsibilities––and only time itself has helped KD handle those responsibilities comfortably.

“I definitely used to have crazy anxiety wondering how I was going to play the next day or the next series and it used to drive me crazy... For my mental health, I guess, it’s for me to have this approach of just waiting to see what happens––and then falling back on the work I put in. If I fall back on that work, I don’t have to worry too much about what’ll happen. I already know it’ll come natural.”

Durant’s leadership will go beyond just passing down words of wisdom to the youngsters about navigating an NBA season amidst a pandemic, the angst that comes from this year’s (especially) grueling NBA schedule, and all other walks of life... women, finances, New York living... you know the drill.

By the sound of it, Steve Nash expects Durant to “guard 4s,” perhaps the toughest position in the league to defend given the almost comical amount of talent at that position: Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James (in smaller lineups), Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo... the list goes on and on. He’ll be one of the most important––if not THE most–– pieces to Brooklyn’s defense as the starting power forward tasked with starry assignments all season (and postseason!) long.

Durant, knowing that a great defense isn’t build overnight, expressed some light skepticism on the immediate success of Brooklyn’s defense, calling it “a process.”

Mind you, this might read worse than it is. You have to remember, every NBA team is working under an incredibly condensed schedule, with individual workouts, team workouts, the preseason, and the regular season tip-off all occurring in the span of three short weeks. Struggles are to be had; growing pains are to be expected; establishing a concrete culture and identity on both ends of the floor takes time––time that is not particularly available to each of these 30 NBA franchises as they frantically prepare for the road ahead. (I mean seriously, we’re just eight days removed from having trade season, the draft, and free agency all in the same week!)

With the NBA schedule possibly dropping soon, which be particularly rigorous, full of back-to-backs and three-in-four-nights (strap in, folks!), coach Steve Nash offered some light into what Durant’s playing time will look like to optimize bodily recovery.

“There is no plan in place,” said Nash to the idea of planned rest for Durant and his co-Clean Sweeper, Kyrie Irving. “But it’s probably unlikely they both play 72 games.”

Durant re-affirmed his coach’s statements, emphasizing the importance of maintaining his health in what should be a long season and deep playoff birth.

“It’ll be difficult because I love the game, and I’m sure I’ll push back when coach takes me out of a game unexpectedly. But I have (to be smart).”

Whether he’s in the lineup or not, resting or “going as hard as (he) as possibly can,” it’s clear Durant’s role will not change.

From a nervously anticipatory youngster to the grizzled veteran and leader of the championship-contending Brooklyn Nets, Kevin Durant is going to take things day-by-day, upholding that Brooklyn culture we’ve come to learn and love.

“Our only goal is to be the best version of ourselves every single day...Only the people in this building matter.”

Oh, and one last thing. Maybe, just maybe, we refrain from asking him about the James Harden rumors next time, hm?

“I heard all the noise that James potentially wanted to come to the Nets, but anyone can make up stories, anyone can write a story and it gets some traction,” Durant said. “Nothing’s ever set in stone until it’s set in stone. So I’ve never thought too much about it, just focused on myself and my teammates probably did the same thing, and we just move forward.”

Hmm.