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In those scrimmages before shutdown, Kevin Durant was unguardable, say teammates

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New Orleans Pelicans v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images

No, he’s not coming back. Everyone including his agent and mother have said that with increasing clarity. But Alex Schiffer writes Tuesday about what went on in those 3-on-3 scrimmages we saw just before things shut down.

Like this one, posted by his brother and widely retweeted on March 10, one day before the NBA went into hibernation.

Getting to 3-on-3 in his rehab had been a slow but steady process. Three weeks before that video, we saw him trying out his Achilles, ruptured eight months earlier ...

And days before KD posterized Nicolas Claxton, reporters got a glimpse of him working out with Dan Meehan, the Nets director of sports science and the man in charge of the performance team.

As Schiffer writes, those who watched his progress —and guarded him in those scrimmages— have no doubt he’ll come back the same player he was before he ruptured his Achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals in June of last year.

Schiffer quoted both Theo Pinson and Garrett Temple who had gone up against KD before the shutdown ... and before Durant tested positive for coronavirus.

[E]ven though he was at less than full strength, stopping him proved challenging.

“He’s unguardable,” Pinson said last month. “You think you’re contesting it, playing good defense and in a way he doesn’t even see you. It makes us better, and we’re trying to challenge him, too.”

Pinson of course is a second year player, but his assessment was echoed by Temple, a 10-year veteran who gets paid for his defense. He participated in the final 3-on-3, the day the league shut down. Temple spoke to The Athletic in a telephone interview last week.

“The places he scores from, he’s very efficient in the way that he scores and the shots that he takes, even in 3-on-3. It really isn’t much different what he does in 3-on-3 than he does in five-on-five. He assesses the defense and goes from there.”

Durant had been asked in his courtside interview with Richard Jefferson on March 4 about the physicality of the scrimmages. Yes, he said, his teammates could foul him. In fact, he offered this about Pinson’s D, “He’s a hack.”

In that same interview, as Schiffer notes, Durant said he had been using his time on the bench to observe the NBA game ... and “habits.”

“I’m just looking at the game from a different lens,” Durant said during the Nets-Grizzlies game that night. “You see the landscape of the league and just looking at our team and seeing guys get better every day. I’m looking at practice habits and how they transfer into games.”

Ironically —or not, an hour or so later, KD brought up the Nets’ habits in a contentious team meeting following their blowout loss to Memphis. According to an article Schiffer and Shams Charania wrote two days after Kenny Atkinson was dumped, Durant had pointed out in that meeting how “the Nets must improve their habits and that they were not building the proper culture traits necessary for a title contender.”

ALL that said, Schiffer doesn’t offer any realistic hope for those who believe that maybe, just maybe, Durant will return if and when the NBA resumes this summer. Also, he noted that Durant was still not at full strength when things shut down. And of course, since then, he’s tested positive for coronavirus (without symptoms), quarantined and the final stages of his his rehab slowed with HSS Training Center shuttered. So, we’ll all wait for 5-on-5 whenever that takes place.

It should be worth the wait, Temple told Schiffer.

“Whether he’s playing 3-on-3, 1-on-1, 5-on-5, he’s KD,” Temple said. “And he’s an amazing player.”