Brooklyn Nets: A letter to Kevin Durant

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 03: Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles during the second half against the Washington Wizards at Barclays Center on January 03, 2021 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Wizards won 123-122. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 03: Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles during the second half against the Washington Wizards at Barclays Center on January 03, 2021 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Wizards won 123-122. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

It’s like a motion picture plot straight from Spike Lee’s (40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks) production company. The tone of Casanova’s “So Brooklyn” fades in and crescendos as the visual starts to take shape. This is a blockbuster movie in the making.

He told you in an interview during the 2019 playoffs against the Clippers, “I’m Kevin Durant, you know who I am.” We do know who he is. Everyone knows who Kevin Durant is.

He has transcended past basketball star to a global sports Icon. You mention the name Durant and only one person comes to mind. That guy known as “Slim Reaper,” “Easy-Money Sniper,” “Durantula,” or simply, “KD.”

None of this is ground breaking news. So why am I scribing this letter to KD?

Well, it’s because I see something brewing on the horizon. The calm before the storm. Durant is in a defining chapter of his career and I’m just here to enjoy the show and document it.

Let’s elaborate on the word “defining.” KD is a first-ballot Hall of Famer without a shadow of a doubt. One of the most skilled and dominant players to ever grace the hardwood. He is solidified, certified, and leaves most defenders petrified.

2014 MVP, two-time champion, two-time finals MVP, 10 time All-Star, twice an Olympic gold medalist, and a career average of 27.1 points per game. The list of his on-court accomplishments and accolades extend longer than his (7-4 ¾ in.) wing-span. KD is a highly-decorated player with his name already etched in stone as an all-time great and that’s not up for debate.

How do you get more “defining” than the aforementioned? KD has done a lot, but as the late, great, Kobe Bryant said in the 2009 NBA finals, up 2-0 against the Orlando Magic, “Job’s not finished.”

“First they love me then they hate me then they love me again.” –   Jay-Z

Job not finished…what job? Understanding why this period of Durant’s career may be his most meaningful and defining calls for a quick reflection of how this conclusion came to fruition.

Allow us to reflect.

Durant gave the Oklahoma City Thunder organization (2007-08 Seattle Supersonics) nearly a decade of his blood, sweat and highlights. Copious amounts of spectacular moments mixed with a 2012 Finals appearance and a handful of division titles.

When Durant wanted to start a new chapter and take his talents to the 73-9 Golden State Warriors and partner with the Splash Brothers (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson), his departure was met with harsh critique from fans and media alike. Whether the subjective opprobrium was warranted is null and void at this point.

“First they love me, then they hate me….”

Fast-forward to the 2016-17 season.

If the pundits and fans’ contempt for Durant’s departure bothered him, it didn’t show in his play once he graced the floor in Warriors attire. His first season with the Warriors, he averaged 25.1 points per game and 8.3 rebounds a game in the regular season.

He captured his first championship and was awarded Finals MVP, averaging 35.2 points per game, 8.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists in the Finals against Cleveland.

Critics said, “Of course he won. He joined a 73-9 team that had already proved dominant without him.”

The following year yielded more of the same results, as Golden State repeated as back-to-back champions, sweeping the Cavaliers 4-0 in the Finals. In addition to his second ring, KD added another Finals MVP trophy to the collection.

2019 NBA playoffs, first round.

The Warriors defeated the LA Clippers, with Durant dropping a 50 piece on 15-26 shooting in Game 6 to close out the first round. It was shaping up to look like what could be an historic year for KD and the Warriors, possibly finishing as the first team to three-peat since the Shaq and Kobe Lakers (2000-2002) dynasty.

We all know that’s not how things worked out, though. Averaging 36 points per game going into Game 5 of the second round against the Houston Rockets, Durant suffered a right calf strain in the third quarter. Durant would be inactive and wouldn’t see the floor again until Game 5 of the Finals against the Toronto Raptors.

What looked like a fairly healthy resurgence from Durant after scoring 11 points in a little under 12 minutes of play, ended with a devastating Achilles tendon injury on a drive to the basket. Game over. Season over. Career over?

Durant’s Achilles injury in Game 5 would mark the end of his Golden State tenure.

Welcome to Brooklyn.

Given the severity, stigma, and history of an Achilles injury being a possible career-ending issue, Durant played it safe and decided to forgo the 2019-20 season with the Nets to ensure a 100% recovery.

Durant didn’t miss a beat.

552 days after KD’s initial Achilles injury, he finally made his way back to the court for his Nets preseason debut (12/13/2020) against the Wizards. He collected a respectable 15 points on 5-12 shooting in 23 minutes. Not bad for being absent from the NBA stage for a year and some change.

As the old expression postulates, scoring for KD is like riding a bike. Second nature. Effortless.

This catches us up to present day, where the story comes full circle and manufactures credence. For the amount of work Durant has put in the NBA, the credibility of how much acclaim he deserves draws mixed reviews.

In spite of Durant helping the Oklahoma City Thunder become one of the most exciting and competitive teams during his incumbency, arbiters point to his lack of Finals success. Regardless of him being the main catalyst of two championships with the Golden State Warriors, pundits say, “He had to go to one of the best teams of all time to win.”

So where does that leave Durant’s legacy?

26 games into the 2020-21 season and the Nets are 14-12 (third in the East), and Durant is averaging 29.5 points per game, 7.4 rebounds and 5.2 assist.s The Nets have been fortunate enough to form one of the greatest scoring trios of all time with Durant, Harden, and Irving, combining for 81.1 points per game between the three stars.

Despite Brooklyn leading the league in points per game at 121.5 among other offensive statistical categories, it’s been a roller-coaster first quarter of the season. Whether it’s the absence of defensive effort, dearth of chemistry or lack of practice due to the shortened 72-game pandemic season, the Nets have been lukewarm at best.

How does this play into 2021 being KD’s most defining year thus far?

In Durant’s Hall of Fame career, we’ve seen him do everything. Score with the best of them. Use his length and albatross wingspan to block, deflect, alter shots and disrupt teams’ offensive flow.

Facilitate and get his team involved despite being one of the best players at creating his own shot and shooting over a defender or two. Lead his team in nearly ever major statistical category en route to championships.

What else is there left for KD to do?

Answer the call and show propensity to lead a team that may end up needing and valuing his leadership and experience, as much if not more than his scoring ability.

Born leader or not, when the circumstances call for you to lead, you must oblige.

When you play for a team like the Warriors and a coach like Steve Kerr (eight-time NBA Champion), that means you were able to soak up championship knowledge from the understudy of Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson and the G.O.A.T., Michael Jeffrey Jordan. Durant was front and center on an unselfish Warriors team that excelled on both sides of the ball while he thrived alongside two other stars.

Similar situation, different cast of stars. If Durant can elevate his leadership skills and stimulate an inconsistent Nets team to consistently winning, competing, and demonstrating 48 minutes of energy, it would show immense growth and maturity.

KD has the cache to change the culture of the Nets from an offensive prioritized mentality to a winning-by-all-means mentality. In OKC, Durant showed us he was an elite scorer. At Golden State, he showed us he brought a lot more to the table than just being a “walking bucket.” Now in Brooklyn, natural progression would suggest KD can influence and inspire a winning team culture that thrives on both sides of the ball.

This isn’t to put the weight of the Nets’ success solely on Durant’s shoulders. Kyrie, Harden, and Jeff Green bring a lot of valuable veteran experience and a high basketball IQ to Brooklyn. This is merely to suggest and foreshadow what seems like the axiomatic evolution of the legendary tale of Kevin Durant.

I think this year will be an anomaly for KD. One night, he may go for 40 and the next a (20, 10 and 10) triple-double with three blocks may be more suitable for what the Nets need to win. Durant has made it clear in the past that he analyzes the flow of the game and adjusts accordingly.

Being that this team is still fairly new, gaining familiarity and chemistry with each other, I’m sure roles are still being figured out. But given the passion, love of the game – and winning – aspect of Durant’s mentality, I could see Durant take a more vocal, floor general role than we’ve seen in the past.

Not to count the chickens before they hatch, but if Durant was to spawn a culture change and lead the Nets to their first championship since Julius “Dr. J” Erving’s ABA New York Nets, that would be an historical achievement. A feat of that magnitude redirects the conversation from first-ballot Hall of Famer to debates about being on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore.

I can hear Stephen A. now. “Max, zip it, your comments are asinine and blasphemous. Kevin Durant is absolutely in the Mount Rushmore conversation.”

This isn’t a challenge to Durant, but more so a bat signal and advocacy on behalf of the Nets fanbase. There’s a good chance his leadership has already taken shape behind the scenes.

All in all, it’s wonderful to see Durant back on the court and healthy. The game isn’t the same without Easy Money’s smooth, charismatic touch. Outside of the NBA’s safety protocols, there hasn’t been a sign of anything that can inhibit Durant’s ascension back to MVP level of play.

“….then they love me again.”

Early All-Star voting numbers (KD is first overall with 2,302,705 votes) would suggest that it’s been more than just the Nets organization and fanbase that missed KD’s game. You have to give Durant his props and flowers, as the game is better with him in it. But that shouldn’t surprise you.

Because he is Kevin Durant. You know who he is.