Kyrie Irving hugging James Harden on court
Entering play Thursday, Kevin Durant ranks ninth in the NBA in minutes per game.
He’s on pace to play more total minutes than he has in any season since 2015-16.
Durant, of course, is one of the best players in the world. But given his age (33) and surgically-repaired right Achilles, the Nets would prefer to play him fewer minutes.
“It’s not ideal to have him have such a burden, but I don’t know what options we have other than to play him less and lose more,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said Tuesday. “He’s a great player, and we’re down a great player (Kyrie Irving) and a really good player (Joe Harris) and a few others (Nic Claxton — ill). So I don’t know if we have the luxury right now. Hopefully, the season gives us opportunities.”
To date, Durant and the Nets have made the best of their opportunities.
They’ve won 11 of their last 14 games amid injuries and Irving’s absence.
Sure, Brooklyn hasn’t been great against some of the league’s top teams.
But it’s still early in the season; James Harden appears to be finding his rhythm and the Nets can still tinker with their roster.
To that end, it’s worth noting that, as of late last month, Brooklyn remained open to talking trades involving Irving, per SNY sources. ESPN reported in late October that the Nets were taking calls on potential Irving trades, but not making them. In the weeks following that report, several teams said Brooklyn has continued to take that approach with the All-Star guard.
The Nets decided earlier in the season that Irving would not be with the team until he gets the COVID-19 vaccine.
Irving is currently unvaccinated, which violates a New York City mayoral mandate and prevents him from playing in home games at Barclays Center.
Irving is allowed to practice at the Nets facility and play in road games. Brooklyn owner Joe Tsai and GM Sean Marks decided earlier in the season that they didn’t want Irving to be a part-time player and have stated that Irving would be welcome back if he is cleared to play under New York City’s local mandate.
It’s unclear if Irving has considered getting the COVID-19 vaccine. The Nets have said publicly that they would welcome Irving back with open arms if he is eligible to return.
Though, as you’d imagine, there is a measurable amount of frustration with Irving among people in the organization. So I don’t think Irving’s return would be as seamless and stress-free as it’s been presented.
If the Nets trade Irving, they don’t have to worry about the ramifications of his return to the team.
The trade market for Irving, who can opt out of his contract after this season, is unknown. But the Nets wouldn’t be dealing from a position of strength in any Irving transaction.
A bigger-picture question for the Nets: what is Harden’s future with the team?
The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that the 76ers have Harden on their wish list of players they’re targeting in a Ben Simmons trade.
Even before those reports, Nets people who would need to be aware of Harden’s future were well aware that Philadelphia loomed as a potential suitor for the guard, SNY sources say.
The Sixers and team president Daryl Morey attempted to trade for Harden last season before the Nets landed him. Philadelphia was willing to include Simmons in the trade, which is one of the many factors in Simmons’ falling out with the organization.
It seems unlikely that the Nets would entertain trading Harden in-season. Harden has said publicly that he loves Brooklyn. He declined to sign an extension prior to the season but it was seen as a decision driven by finances. Harden could make significantly more money if he re-signed with the Nets as a free agent this summer.
But if things go sideways in Brooklyn and Harden decides to test the market, Morey and the Sixers will almost certainly have interest.
At that point, a Simmons-for-Harden sign-and-trade wouldn’t seem so far-fetched.
But these off-court issues seem remote at the moment. Right now, the Nets are trying to win games, build chemistry, and prepare for a long playoff run.
And Durant has no problem shouldering heavy minutes to get them there.
“I’m a basketball player. I enjoy to play. I wanna play for 48 minutes. That’s just what it is,” he said after Tuesday’s win over the Knicks. “…. I like to play, and if I can convince coach to play me the whole second half sometimes and put me in earlier in quarters, I’m gonna do it.
“It don’t matter. My basketball life is not that long, so I’m gonna get the most out of it.”