Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving could lead improbable Nets run if they're back for playoffs

Written By Dan Bernstein
(Getty Images)

Kevin Durant has long hoped he would be able to suit up for Team USA this summer in the 2020 Olympics after tearing his Achilles last postseason.

Never did it occur to him — or anyone, really — that he could play for the Nets this season after signing with Brooklyn as a free agent.

With the NBA unlikely to resume until at least mid-June because of restrictions on large gatherings in the U.S., Durant and Kyrie Irving have an outside chance of joining the Nets' active playoff roster. Should that happen, the team would be well-positioned to make an unlikely postseason run despite a low seed (they're currently in the No. 7 spot). Irving had arthroscopic shoulder surgery earlier this month, a procedure that general manager Sean Marks said would put him in position to participate in summer workouts (a time that could now align with the playoffs).

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Durant's longtime business partner, Rich Kleiman, told The Washington Post last week that Tokyo Games are "definitely a possibility" for the forward to make a return. The Olympics, though, might not take place this summer because of the ongoing coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

Kleiman appeared on ESPN Radio's "Golic & Wingo" on Monday to dim talk of Durant coming back, calling the possibility "not very realistic" while acknowledging it was difficult to have a definitive perspective at this point.

"It feels like (Durant playing in the 2019-20 season) clearly was not something that was in the cards prior to all this," Kleiman said. "And now, I think, just like the rest of the world, it's hard to take anything more than day by day."

Irving, just weeks removed from surgery, is also somewhat of a long shot to play again this season, even if play doesn't conclude until late summer.

Still, it's fun to imagine how disruptive Brooklyn could be in the East if it has its superstars available. Here are the reasons why the Nets would (and would not) be a serious contender in a delayed postseason with Durant and Irving:

Why: When healthy, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving form the best combo in the East

The only comparable one-two punch is the Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, a duo largely carried by the Greek Freak, a repeat MVP candidate. Durant and Irving are NBA champions who have a combined 16 All-Star appearances, 11 All-NBA honors, two Rookie of the Year awards and one MVP. They've hit two of the most iconic NBA Finals shots of the past decade. For all of their drama and shenanigans that often take place during the regular season, there is no question about their abilities to minimize distractions when the games matter most.

Why not: Brooklyn would likely never have home-court advantage

Even in the rosy scenario of Durant and Irving being back in the fold, Brooklyn would currently have to go through Toronto in the first round and almost certainly not have home-court advantage at any point in the postseason should it advance past the No. 2-seed Raptors.

Why: Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert are fantastic secondary scorers

Most Eastern Conference playoff teams are built on depth over superteam roster construction. The Nets in some ways have the best of both worlds when Durant and Irving are available. As the team has demonstrated without its stars, there is abundant depth worthy of playoff minutes. Point guard Spencer Dinwiddie (20.6 points, 6.8 assists per game) and wing Caris LeVert (17.7 points per game, 38 percent shooting from 3) are particularly strong options to complement Durant and Irving. Sharpshooter Joe Harris, versatile forward Taurean Prince and reserve big man Jarrett Allen are nice additional pieces with unique skill sets.

Why not: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving would be rusty

After having sat out a full year, it's possible Durant would be a shell of himself even if he were cleared to return. Irving has also missed most of the campaign, dressing for only 20 games. Rounding into game shape while trying to pull off a playoff upset is a huge ask.

Why: So would the rest of the NBA

Durant and Irving would be rusty. But who wouldn't be? Without anyone playing a game for at least three months, the all-around quality of basketball would likely be pretty rough.

Why not: Other teams could get players back, too

The Raptors and Celtics have battled injuries up and down their rosters throughout the season, and a few months off is the ideal antidote to any lingering ailments. The 76ers could also return Ben Simmons, though his back injury appears serious enough to put his medium-term future in jeopardy.

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