There was time for Brooklyn’s post-practice media scrum for Jacque Vaughn and Kevin Durant to answer questions that didn’t relate to KD’s rehab from an MCL sprain. (They did, of course, answer every question imaginable about Durant’s recovery timetable first. The Durant injury article can be found here.)
And while the KD news was (decently) encouraging, the non-Slim Reaper Nets have a game to play on Wednesday. It’ll be in Philadelphia, which Nets fans are certainly pumped up about after an embarrassing loss in their last trip to the Cheesesteak Capital of the World, facing a depleted 76ers team without their three best players. Perhaps this time, missing Durant, Brooklyn can return the favor against their division foe.
That, of course, is not the only reason Nets fans may have this game circled on the calendar. It will be persona non grata James Harden’s first game against Brooklyn this season - he still hasn’t made his return to the Barclays Center, where I’m sure the reception will be wonderful. It will be Ben Simmons’ second game back in Philly, where we know his reception won’t be.
Vaughn and Durant, though, threw water on the idea of a rivalry between the two Eastern Conference powerhouses, in their typical fashions.
When asked if the guys were amped to face their former teammate in James Harden and the rival Sixers in general, Vaughn instead focused on the fact that “...more than anything, it is Philly is a game, game-and-a-half above us in the standings. And I think that makes it important...At the end of the day that’s the most important thing.”
Well, coach-speak, am I right? What else was he going to say?
But Kevin Durant, who at this point in his career is never wont to shy away from what he really thinks, offered different evidence to make the same point: “I’ve been saying, rivalries in the NBA are not really a thing, in my opinion. It’s gonna be a battle between each fanbase on social media, but as far as the players it’s another game on the schedule.”
And, if you’ll recall, KD is doing some truth-telling. He's previously stated this opinion during his time as a Net, first in reference to the Milwaukee Bucks after that brutal playoff series we don't need to talk about.”
Kevin Durant says the Nets-Bucks rivalry is more between fans on social media and less between the players: “If we play them a few more times in the playoffs then maybe, but there’s not enough continuity in our league for teams to have rivalries.”— Kristian Winfield (@Krisplashed) October 9, 2021
It’s fair to wonder how much of this is knowing what to say to the media and what is truth. Remember how Kyrie Irving guarded James Harden in Brooklyn’s total domination of Philadelphia last regular season? He, personally, cares. They want to beat Harden, duh. But it is fair to question the notion of a rivalry despite that 2019 playoff series.
Joel Embiid, of course, is still a Sixer, but few of the other players in that drama are still on the teams. Jared Dudley, D’Angelo Russell, Jimmy Butler, Jarrett Allen will be on the premises on Wednesday night. Ben Simmons will be, but that’s a whole different story. And those were the main characters the last time these teams met in the playoffs, an admittedly contentious series. This seems like more of a potential rivalry than an actualized one.
But then again...Harden! Duh! And Ben! They’re gonna boo the daylights out of him again; Wells Fargo Center will be amped up every time Simmons returns to Philly, and ditto for Barclays Center with Harden. The first thing Nets fans associate with Harden is certainly not playing through a hamstring injury (that he should not have gutted through) in the playoffs.
So, if there is a rivalry, Brooklyn’s coach and star player won’t admit to it. But Jacque Vaughn, you at least know what it’s like to be in Simmons’ shoes, right? What’s it like heading to such a hostile environment that used to be a former home? “I hope a left a positive impression on my stops along the way where I got a little applause instead of boos.”
Welp. I don’t think that’s gonna help that much. Thanks anyway, Jacque.