Let’s put aside all the speculation on whether Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will return and assume, for the sake of argument, what that would mean when the Nets take the court at Walt Disney World on July 31 (or shortly thereafter.)
Greg Logan tries his hand at that Saturday, looking at whether they will play, of course, but also wondering aloud on how a return would affect not just the play on the court but also whether the Nets would need a third star and whether Jacque Vaughn can make the interim head coaching job his own.
As for whether the two will return, Logan says it’s really down to Sean Marks weighing “short-term gains against the long-term interests of the franchise.” A second training camp and a “bubble” environment may not be the best way to bring the two, particularly KD, back to basketball. You’d want to bring him back under normal circumstances, not in what will be, in effect, an experimental set-up.
[A] delay of four months prior to the resumption of play means both stars likely will be healthy enough to return if they choose, but it would come with the added risk of returning amid playoff intensity rather than with the benefit of training camp and a season-long buildup. The temptation will be great because of possible playoff matchups with the defending champion Raptors if the league maintains the conference playoff format or a matchup with the No. 2 overall Lakers, featuring LeBron James and Anthony Davis, if the league seeds playoff teams 1-16.
That said, Logan looked at how he sees the Nets with everyone healthy.
Because (DeAndre) Jordan signed at the same time in free agency as part of a package deal with Durant and Irving, his move to the starting lineup under Vaughn was significant. Third-year center (Jarrett) Allen is regarded as a future building block, but Jordan played better than Allen after the All-Star break.
If Durant and Irving make themselves available, they would replace current starting power forward Taurean Prince and point guard Spencer Dinwiddie alongside Jordan, shooting guard Caris LeVert and small forward Joe Harris. Dinwiddie and Prince obviously would strengthen a second unit that also would include Allen, Wilson Chandler at power forward, Prince shifting to small forward and likely Garrett Temple at shooting guard. Le
LeVert would no doubt see his usage rate drop. He may have scored 51 points in one game and had a triple double in another the week prior to the shutdown, but he’ll be playing now with two of the game’s greatest scorers. LeVert would have to defer. So would Dinwiddie.
Jacque Vaughn, Logan writes, will be facing a lot of pressure. He had two solid victories in his only games as an interim head coach, including a road win over the Lakers in the final game. In addition, Marks has praised the way he and his staff have handled the suspension of play, particularly his connection with the players in the early days when so little was known about the future and four Nets, including KD, had been diagnosed as having the infection. But a lot of people want the Nets job.
Vaughn has the players’ respect, but with the coaching situation up in the air as well as the injury status of Durant and Irving, he faces a chaotic situation against tough opposition, especially if it includes trying to integrate Durant and Irving in what would amount to a do-over that would be a departure from everything the Nets did in the regular season...
Vaughn served as Atkinson’s top assistant, was Irving’s position coach and has a strong relationship with the point guard. But there are several other potential head coaches with ties to Irving and Durant, including former Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue, who won an NBA title with Irving in 2016. Mark Jackson recently told Newsday he would like to return to the NBA coaching ranks, and he has a relationship with Durant and his business partner Rich Kleiman.
That leads to the other big question. Did someone say “third star?: How will the Nets’ play over the remainder of the season affect what the Nets will do in off-season? At this point, it looks like off-season will start in late September or early October and continue through November and some of December. There’s also some thought being given to reversing free agency and the Draft, with free agency coming first. Logan writes...
NBA commentators and Nets fans have speculated incessantly about what move Marks might make to obtain a third major star to pair with Durant and Irving. Much of the talk has focused on Wizards guard Bradley Beal, who is averaging 30.5 points. That would be dramatic, but given his two-year deal worth $72 million, it also would eat up Nets cap space and likely cost them either LeVert or Dinwiddie plus Allen and two first-round picks, a very steep price indeed, especially if the Nets believe LeVert can approach third-star status after averaging 23 points, five rebounds and five assists over his final 17 games.
A more sensible approach might be to chase a free agent power forward, such as Serge Ibaka or Marcus Morris, who could add size and relieve pressure on Durant, allowing him to play small forward.
The Nets will also have to be looking long term. They are in very good shape with a roster built for stability and title contention, but with enough flexibility to make key moves if they want. Their reputation as being player and family friendly has grown during the crisis. They may have faced outside criticism for their decision to test players and staff back in March, but NBA players likely see that as a positive, not a negative. Nets players have also said that friends playing on other teams have noticed how Brooklyn is treating their players.
There has to be some concern about whether New York’s heavy death toll from coronavirus will be a deterrent long term. Also, will the current anti-China rhetoric being pushed (primarily) by the Trump White House hurt Tsai economically and by extension, the Nets? Tsai is a citizen of Taiwan and Canada and his wife, Clara, is native-born American, but his company, Alibaba, is China’s e-commerce leader ... and he refers to himself as Chinese. So far, that hasn’t happened, but as everyone has seen this year, there are no guarantees.
- 5 pressing issues facing Nets this season and beyond - Greg Logan - Newsday