- Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.
CLEVELAND — As the Brooklyn Nets prepare for life without Kevin Durant for at least the next month, coach Steve Nash wants them to do so with as positive an outlook as possible.
Durant sprained the MCL in his left knee during Saturday’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans. While Nash said Monday that the Nets don’t have an exact timeline for when Durant will return, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Sunday that the franchise expects a four- to six-week rehabilitation.
No matter how long Durant is out, Nash is hopeful his team can stay afloat until the star forward returns. The Nets’ big three of Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving have played just two games together this season because of a combination of injuries, COVID-19 protocols, and the fact that Irving is not vaccinated and is not allowed to play in home games due to the New York City vaccination mandate.
“If they get a bunch of games together, great,” Nash said before Monday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. “If they don’t, they don’t. And we’ll be playing the cards we’re dealt so it’s a little bit out of our hands. We just have to do the best we can. We can’t cry about it. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We got to keep building, see what we can learn, how we can grow during this period of Kevin being out and Joe [Harris] being out and how we can continue to move this thing forward so when they do come back, we’re in a better place — and he can rejoin us in a place where we can feel better about where we are in that part of the season.”
Nash said he’s confident his group will take the opportunity to play hard and learn without being able to rely on the former MVP.
“Obviously we lose a scorer of the highest caliber,” Nash said. “But we also lose size and defense. … He’s such a well-rounded player, does so many things at a high level, plus he gives us small-team size on the perimeter — there’s so many ways that his absence will be felt. Having said that, it’s a great opportunity for guys, and it’s an opportunity for our team to grow. We can’t rely on him in ways that we could and we have to find ways and solutions to be competitive without him.”
Nash said he’s exchanged messages with Durant and that the 33-year-old is “disappointed.” Nash takes some solace in the fact that Durant dealt with a similar injury in February 2017 when then-Golden State Warriors teammate Zaza Pachulia inadvertently fell into his left knee and he was forced to miss over a month. Nash believes Durant has shown the ability to come back stronger after any injury setback that has come his way throughout the years.
“He’s obviously disappointed,” Nash said. “The guy loves to play. It’s tough any time you’re injured but this is just the reality and try to stay positive and look forward to the opportunity to play and that it’s not worse.”
Nash said Durant will be re-evaluated in “a few weeks.” For the time being, the Nets are going to have to rely even more on Irving, who has played in just three games since returning to the team on Jan. 5, after the Nets reversed course on having a part-time player following a COVID-19 outbreak last month.
“It’s helpful for sure that we have a lot of road games,” Nash said. “Helpful the All-Star break’s in this stretch, too. I think it’s nice to have a positive spin on things.”
Despite Durant’s absence, Nash doesn’t want to put too much pressure on Irving given he has played in only a handful of games. The Nets play 11 of their next 14 games on the road.
“I want Kyrie to have the space to regain his rhythm and not overburden him with, ‘Now that Kevin’s out, you have to take over and lead the league in scoring.’ I want him to find his legs without feeling an extra burden,” Nash said.
“He hasn’t played for six-plus months, and coming back into the NBA game with little cadence and difficult practice opportunities, I think we have to give him that space to also find his rhythm without feeling overburdened or feeling too much pressure to do things too quickly. He already has shown his game’s right there. And in no time I think we’ll see the Kyrie we all expect, but I don’t want him to feel like he has to be that all at once.”
Nash didn’t have an answer when asked whether Durant’s injury might make Irving re-think getting the vaccine.
“I don’t know,” Nash said. “I don’t know what he thinks about the shot really.”
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