Love ’em or hate ’em, Kevin Durant and the Nets are the most compelling team in the NBA – The Denver Post

Just eight months ago, the Nets were swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the Celtics. In the end, let’s face it, it looked like the Celtics could have finished the job with a damp mop. Ben Simmons was not playing and no one was sure he would play again. Kyrie was Kyrie, after a season he helped sabotage in the first place, and dramatically, by not getting a COVID shot.

And even after all that, the Brooklyn Nets were just getting started. All of a sudden, Kevin Durant, the best basketball player to ever play for a New York team (sorry, Clyde, sorry Doc) didn’t want to play in Brooklyn anymore. He wanted to leave the Nets like he left the Warriors after going to them for easy rings.

Then Kyrie got stuck, and a lot of it, on social media because of a winged racist movie. Then he did what he often does and got himself into more trouble talking about all this, and before he was good and suspended. Steve Nash was not suspended. He was fired. And put me as someone who thought at the time that the Nets had become the richest and most talented clown car in the NBA; that it was time for Durant and the Nets to leave Kyrie Irving, as much talent as he has, and how he can sometimes make his game ridiculously easy.

Now they are here.

Here are your Brooklyn Nets, playing as well as any team in the league, making a run at the Celtics from first place in the conference. This may be a team that basketball fans outside of New York — and often within the city limits — love to hate. But they’ve once again assembled a team to watch, and maybe the team to watch right now in professional basketball.

At a time when their league badly needs a compelling narrative, the Nets are, like it or not. Hate them or not. Not only is Durant here, but he’s also a star like he’s never been, at the heart of the MVP conversation with Luka and Jokic and Giannis and Ja. LeBron James, who turned 38 on Friday, still plays himself like a big star. But he’s with the Lakers. And even though the Nets had become a joke a few months ago, here’s something that’s no joke:

You better believe LeBron would rather be where Durant is right now, which means Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY, than where he is.

Can the Nets endure this for six more months? Who knows? Never forget that they are still the Nets, and Kyrie is still Kyrie, and it would take next to nothing to derail them.

For now, however, they have shocked all of us who have written them off. Jacque Vaughn, who replaced Nash, entered this weekend with a 21-7 record as Nets coach. Since taking over, no coach in the league has done a better job than Vaughn. He did what the best managers in the sport are supposed to do, especially when they have the kind of talent in the room that the Nets have, which means he got them to play together.

And, beyond the din that so often defined Kevin and Kyrie’s Nets, he got them to listen and buy in. And to be truly responsible.

“It’s a belief and it’s a huge part of the NBA,” Vaughn said the other day. “It’s confidence and belief, whatever the situation, you can come out the other side.”

For now — and you always have to call it that way with this particular team, never looking too far ahead — he’s kept the Nets quiet and just playing.

It all starts with Durant, because that’s exactly what he did, after all the drama over the summer, which was self-generating. He played at this extraordinarily high level because the players around him, including Kyrie, raised their own levels. Somehow, after everything he’s done in the pros, after the Achilles injury and all that, he’s still only 34 years old. He’s playing younger than that this season, accepting the responsibilities that come with the stadium he chose when he took the Nets money.

There are of course a lot of differences between the Nets and the Knicks. But ultimately, and even with Kyrie playing for the Nets and not the Knicks, the difference between the two teams is Durant. He’s one of those guys. The Knicks have no one near him. They are a famous name yet. They play in what everyone considers to be the most famous arena in the world, the Facial Recognition Garden. They charge star prices. They just don’t have a real star. And not having one in sight. There was a point when everyone seemed to think Durant would pick them. He did not do it.

Now, Durant has his chance to establish his own historic legacy once and for all, much as he thinks he did with the Warriors. But the Warriors already had Steph Curry when Durant arrived. And Draymond. The other Splash Brother, Klay Thompson. They won before Durant came in, then they won after Durant left, and that will always be the reality of basketball. He was going to come to Brooklyn and show he could win anywhere, like LeBron had already done. Somehow, after the sinking that started his team’s season, he now has that chance. In all the big ways, he can make himself even bigger than he already is. Be one of those guys, not just for now, but forever.

It’s that way even when the fourth quarter belongs to the other guy – Kyrie – like he did the other night against Atlanta.

“It’s always fun [watching Irving get hot]Durant said after that one. “So many people love what Kyrie brings to the table, but in the fourth quarter, it’s really his time. We sit down and let him get to work, and he’s been doing big shot after big shot. We’re just trying to feed us with his energy and also play defensively.

Do I think they can do it, and in the lights, and go all the way in 2023? I do not know. But guess what? I also didn’t think they could end 2022 the way they did.


Good for Steve Cohen for taking a big swing with Carlos Correa, and good for Scott Boras for calling an audible when the Giants got wobbly after Correa’s physique.

But now that the Mets have seen everything the Giants have seen, you can see why they put the brakes on sticking with their original 12-year, $350 million offer.

If you think Cohen is going to get played here by the media, think again.

And if Boras is so worried about losing face that he’s still stuck on the initial offer, the Mets should walk away.

understand something:

The Giants were desperate to make a splash as they had just been 1st runner-up with Aaron Judge.

They needed a star and they had money to spend.

Did I mention they were desperate?

They were always ready to get away from Correa.

That’s why this notion of Boras that there are no medical issues with Correa, none, nothing to do here, go to the press conference, it’s just that Boras is a fabulist with so much money on the table for one of his clients.

If Boras thinks there is a similar deal after the Giants leave and the Mets are reluctant to give Correa so much money and so many years, then he definitely needs to find that deal.

It was such a great story in the middle of the night when Cohen rushed the way he did.

Now the situation on the ground has changed, more than a little.

There isn’t a Mets fan I know who doesn’t want Correa to play alongside Francisco Lindor.

And that’s how it could still play out.

But if not, don’t blame Cohen.

Our own Giants could be back in the playoffs on Sunday night, and raise your hand if you saw that coming with Coach Daboll’s team before the season started.

Daboll came here and rocked it like Rex Ryan did with the Jets.

My friend Barry Stanton is right when he says Buffalo deserves all the joy the Bills can give them for the rest of this football season.

The way things are going with all this facial recognition stuff at Jimmy Dolan’s Garden, I think they’d come get me out front as soon as I got out of the cab.

Do you know why it is sometimes difficult to support the Knicks and the Rangers?

Because an autocrat like Dolan is the big boss of the place, always working on public relations.

It’s hilarious to see the TV cameras do anything but go black not to show you how many empty seats there were at some of those early bowling games.

The Jets aren’t going to lose to Geno in Seattle, are they?

If Nick Foles is the answer for the Colts, what is the question?

Just remember how close the Nets were to passing Jacque Vaughn for Ime Udoka.

In case you didn’t already know, these three iconic American athletes share December 30 as their birthday:

Sandy Koufax, Lafayette High School, Brooklyn, NY

Tiger Woods.

James LeBron.

Someone please explain to me why they play college football semifinals on New Years Eve.


Good year.

* * *

James Patterson’s new novel with Mike Lupica, “The House of Wolves,” goes on sale Jan. 9.


denverpost sports

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