Whatever you want to say, no matter how few games they’ve played, whatever they’ve said or done, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving remain two of the best players in basketball ... and in the case of KD, one of the best ever.
They played a total of 20 games, all of them by Kyrie, but hope remains high. As Ian Eagle has said, Durant “looks like a player that could step in and play today.” Irving shouldn’t be far behind. He underwent the knife on March 3 and as Eagle noted in the same YES interview last week, “He got the shoulder surgery done at a time where, if you look at a four-to-six week period, it would be right around [June],” said Eagle.
There’s also the other health issue. Durant, the only one of four Nets who disclosed he tested positive for coronavirus, seems fine. He was fooling around online with Rihanna over the weekend. (Neither the Nets nor any of the three other positives have revealed who the other three players are ... or how they’re doing.)
Spencer Dinwiddie in an interview with GQ last week downplayed any concerns. When asked about whether he’s checked in on him, Dinwiddie responded this way.
“Yeah, of course. KD is my guy, a good dude, and I love having him on the team. We all text each other in our team chat. We checked on him, but that’s not a big topic of conversation. We don’t get into all of that.”
Irving, of course, has been involved in good works, particularly in feeding the less fortunate, donating $323,000 on his birthday, March 23, to Feeding America. Locally he’s partnering with City Harvest and donating 250,000 meals across the New York area. He’s also arranged for Beyond Meat, a company he’s invested in, to donate 200,000 “Beyond Burgers “to the Food Bank, New York’s largest hunger relief organization.
In his only recent comment, on the occasion of his donations, Irving said, “Thank you to everyone on the front line working to keep all of us safe, healthy and fed. Together, we can change the word one small gesture at a time.”
Continuing the NBA season, of course, is still up in the air, but every passing day reduces the possibility that it will return despite all the well-placed hopes and plans.
Of the 22 states where NBA teams play, 10 of them have mandatory stay-at-home orders that limit the number of people who can gather together. Same with Ontario. At least three NBA cities in states without stay-at-home have also instituted such directives. It’s hard to imagine those orders being removed. As for playing games in one or two centralized locations, like Las Vegas, that depends on the city in question as well ... and Vegas for one is shutdown as well. Even without fans, putting on a game requires more than a handful of people.
So, what to expect when Durant and Irving play again?
“The upside is huge with those two guys on the floor at the same time. The Nets show a lot of promise,” Nets legend Julius Erving told Brian Lewis the night he was honored at Barclays Center. “Maybe it’s time to bring [a title] home.”
Scott Brooks who coached KD at Oklahoma City has no doubt that KD will be ready whenever he takes the court again.
“He’s an impossible guard. I mean, impossible,” Brooks said when he was in town with the Wizards. “He’s a complete player. … He wants to rebound, block shots, guard 1-through-4, and nowadays I’m sure he can guard 1-through-5. He’s a winning player, and they’re going to be a handful once he comes back.”
Jacque Vaughn noted that what we’ve seen in those enticing video snippets is not at all the full picture.
“He’s put in a lot of dedicated work behind the scenes,” Vaughn said. “A lot of days it was just he and a trainer and staff accomplishing a lot of milestones. It’s an arduous task for him to get back, and he’s done a great job.”
Maybe, Dinwiddie put it best. “He’s the second-best scorer of all-time, and he’s a good dude,” Dinwiddie said. “His presence lifts us.”
Irving is in a different place. Durant’s reputation didn’t get hammered this season like Irving’s did with everyone from Boston fans to Kendrick Perkins to David Fizdale piling on. He was accused of timing his injuries to avoid playing in Boston Garden and of undermining Kenny Atkinson to the point of getting him fired ... among other things.
At one point after Boston fans excoriated him for missing the Celtics game, he even took to Instagram to give his thoughts about how sports and entertainment aren’t real life ... comments that look more relevant today.
“It happens all the time and Tonight just shows how Sports/Entertainment will always be ignorant and obtrusive,” Irving wrote in late November. “It’s one big SHOW that means very little in the real world.”
And while KD could rehab in peace and quiet , Irving’s physical woes were all too evident. He started the season with facial fractures (plural) and then trying to get back into form following the China debacle, he overdid it and hurt his shoulder. His rehab was up and down and down again until at the end of February when his season ended.
Then, there was the emotional toll the death of friend and mentor Kobe Bryant took on him.
Of course, while he was on the court, he was mesmerizing. He scored 50 or more points twice in 20 games. In the Nets’ NBA history, that’s only happened nine times and he did it twice in a little more than three months! He also had games of 45, 39 and 37 and finished the season with a 27.4 scoring average.
Irving will get another chance to show his wares, more likely next season ... no matter what the NBA does with the rump of this season. That should help him revive his reputation on and off the court. A new start.
Ian Eagle told our Glue Guys in February that he thinks Irving is, after his tough first season with the Nets, “at peace” with who he is.
“I really do think there’s been a strange, false narrative that has been out there in regards to him,” said Eagle. “Maybe because he’s now been at this awhile and he’s achieved the ultimate success, winning a championship and he has come to peace with a lot of things that may have bothered him early in his career and he is at a stage in life where he doesn’t care as much.”
Eagle also said part of Irving’s problem with some fans is that he’s more than just his game.
“All my dealings with him on a personal level have been excellent. He is a really likable guy. He is a very smart guy, he is a very deep guy and often times that is hard for some people to accept or understand. They want a pat answer, they want the same old thing, it is a really weird dynamic.”
Physically, of course, Irving has played 70 games only three times in his career and he’ll need to show he’s recovered, rehabbed and ready. Same with KD.
Sean Marks said something in announcing Kyrie’s season-ending surgery that applies to both superstars,
“We’re looking at the big picture here. We are not looking at the next two-to-three months, we are looking at the next two-to-three years.”
And on Monday night, Ian Eagle and Sarah Kustok took a shot at how well the Nets could do when united and healthy.
“It just gets you thinking,” Eagle said for all of us.
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