With two preseason games and roughly a dozen practices under their belt, the Nets open their season against a team with a lot of familiar faces: the Golden State Warriors.
As DeAndre Jordan noted on Monday’s Zoom call with reporters, there’s always a level of emotion present when you go up against a former team. That relates to Kevin Durant, who played a huge role in bringing the Bay Area two championships, as well as their coach, Steve Nash, who spent the last five years as a development consultant with the Warriors. Still, Jordan, for one, thinks Durant will approach Tuesday’s season opener like any other basketball game.
“I am sure there will be some emotion,” Jordan said about Durant playing the Warriors. “There is always a little bit of emotion when you play against a former team that you have been with, especially one that you won multiple championships with. Me speaking from my personal opinion, you got to ask Kevin - I think it is just going to be another basketball game to try to go out there, compete, and win.”
Jordan was correct. Durant says he views Tuesday’s season opener with no extra importance than any other game. In his words, ‘It is nothing more than that.’
“I just feel like the game of basketball is going to have me on that level anyway and it is going to be good to see some of my old teammates. It is good to play against them and good to see some of the people I worked with in my time in Golden State - but nothing more than that.”
For Durant, that chapter of his basketball life concluded with a devastating thud. In Game 5 of the 2019 FInals, Durant fell to the floor, having ruptured his Achilles, beginning a 552-day absence that ended last week when the Nets faced the Warriors in a preseason game. When asked to recall the sequence of events following that injury, Durant says that injury doesn’t affect his relationship with the franchise and how he is approaching Tuesday’s season opener.
“I don’t remember anyone saying they let me down,” Durant said recalling his injury. “I never got that feeling from anybody. Injuries happen in this league and I had a tough one but I wouldn’t blame that on anybody and I don’t need this game for me to play well or win this game to feel like I have closure on that situation.
“Winning a basketball game is going to get me closure for three years then I really didn’t have a good time there I guess. It was deeper than just this game and it is bigger than just the injury. That has nothing to do with our relationship and how I am going to play, how I am going to approach my former teammates and organization. It is just about going out there and being me.”
As for Nash, the player development consultant with Golden State before during and after KD’s time in the Bay Area, he recalled the Nets superstar’s injury and its effect on the Warriors culture. He credited the Warriors for how they handled the situation despite commentary that Durant had been rushed back in the series against the Raptors.
“They were heartbroken,” Nash recalled. “They have an incredible medical staff and they’ve had a rash of injuries that have been really unlucky. People can look and point fingers but you can’t control everything in professional sports.
“It was an awful scenario, where they are at the end of the road - the NBA Finals - Kevin comes back from a calf and disastrously tears his Achilles but people made the assumption that it was the calf that led to the Achillies. Maybe at the end of day, it did but with three medical opinions, probably a hundred or more years of medical experience, that is not the history of that injury. It is not a calf tear turns into an Achillies rupture. It just looks like that from the outside so a lot of it is bad luck but they were heartbroken.
“They put family and people before basketball in that organization so Kevin wanting to play, they wanted to support him in doing that but they also know there was a risk. We were heartbroken when that risk came to life.”
As mentioned before, it is all love between Durant and Golden State. From the championships to a life-long bond, the 32-year-old superstar is grateful for that three-year experience.
“There’s a lot. Championship experience and winning at that level, that is the whole experience,” Durant said. “So much goes into that from a team aspect to individual standpoints and everybody has to be on one page. From the owner all the way down to the equipment manager. When you are chasing a championship, you experience so much as a group together and there was that bond - even on teams that we haven’t won a championship. We were just right there and we end up losing in the conference finals. I feel like you always build a life-long bond with those guys and it feels the same with the Warriors.”
Like Durant, Nash gained a lot from that experience. From evolving his relationship with Durant to the knowledge he gained from Steve Kerr. Not to mention how that organization as a whole conducts itself.” The 46-year-old head coach is grateful for the memories and relationships formed.
“It was a big part of it,” Nash said about his relationship with Durant. “Got to work together more officially. All that history, they played a big role in it. It gave me a comfort level with the type of person and character that will be leading our team.”
“So much honestly. From the individuals there, their quality, their character, and traits to the collective,” Nash said about his experience with the Warriors. “I think Steve [Kerr], Bob Meyers, and obviously, working closer with Steve - it’s beautiful to see how he manages the group and is able to lead and create that environment. I gained so much from that experience that I think is influenced the way I tried to approach this position and our organization. I’m really grateful for that experience, have a lot of great memories, and a lot of great friends over there.”
Looking ahead to Tuesday’s season-opener, Nash already acknowledged the difficult task of controlling Stephen Curry, noting him as ‘the greatest shooter of all-time.’ The Nets head coach knows he’ll be shooting from everywhere and hopes his team can make him work from what he does best.
“That is yet to be determined,” he said when asked how he would “control” Curry. “Obviously, he’s one of the all-time greats and we have to pay a lot of attention to him, especially this season with Klay [Thompson] being out and he is going to shoot from anywhere early and often. That is the way it should be because he is the greatest shooter of all time. We just got to pay a lot of attention to him. We have to be diligent with our talk, our support, be up with the level, be able to not give him a lot of clean looks as possible, and make him work for what he does get.”
Another of Durant’s teammates, Draymond Green, is currently listed as doubtful for Tuesday’s season opener. Nash explained the value of having Green on the court. But if he does not play, he wants his players to not overlook the rest of their talent. In the end, he wants his team to be tested.
“Draymond [Green] is a big player. He is an incredibly intelligent and physical defender. He is a talented playmaker and just a great competitor and winner. Anytime he’s not in the lineup it is going to hurt your team a lot,” Nash said.
“I think it is also important that we do not underestimate some of the other guys on their team. Kevon Looney is an excellent player, Marquise Chriss has really grown and they really believe in him and like him a lot, and then they got two athletic wings and skillful wings in [Andrew] Wiggins and [Kelly] Oubre so there is plenty of talent to go around there. Maybe just not the names we are accustomed to seeing but Steph makes everyone better. He creates space for everyone because of the gravity and tension he garners. They are going to be tough. They are going to challenge us and test us but we need to be tested.”
In short, Tuesday’s season-opener will be filled with reunions and good vibes for the Nets, who’d like to use Durant to replicate the Warriors success this season.