PHOENIX SUNS

Kevin Durant unsure how Brooklyn Nets will receive him in return

Jan 30, 2024, 9:03 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Kevin Durant isn’t sure what to expect when he returns to Brooklyn.

Fans could cheer him, focusing on the excitement that Durant delivered as one of the best players ever to wear a Nets uniform.

Or perhaps there’s too much resentment over how quickly he wanted to wear another team’s.

It should be a wide range of emotions Wednesday when Durant plays in Brooklyn for the first time since being traded to the Phoenix Suns nearly a year ago.

“It just depends on how the people wake up,” Durant said. “A lot of people don’t know what to say or how to feel about me. It’s up in the air on what may happen.”

The fans were undeniably thrilled in July 2019, when Durant and Kyrie Irving decided together to sign with the Nets as free agents. Both players were gone just 3 1/2 years later, winners of a grand total of one playoff series while they were in Brooklyn.

Durant had more trade requests than that, asking out after the 2021-22 season, then again in the middle of last season after the Nets dealt Irving to Dallas. Durant seems to understand the complicated legacy he left, responding to a question on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, about whether he deserved a tribute video by saying he didn’t want one.

“The people that follow the Brooklyn Nets, they understood what we went through and those little moments that we had and shared as a team that the fans rallied around,” Durant said. “Hopefully, they can remember that stuff.”

Stuff like Durant’s franchise-record 29.9 points per game in 2021-22. Or his memorable postseason performances against the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals: 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists in a Game 5 victory, 48 points in a Game 7 overtime loss.

Things were only supposed to get better for Brooklyn after that. Irving and James Harden were hurt in most of that series, but having their Big Three back and healthy made the Nets a favorite to win their first NBA title in 2022.

Instead, things fell apart quickly. Irving refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and was ineligible to play in home games for most of the season. Durant injured his knee during the season. Harden got frustrated and was sent at the 2022 trade deadline to Philadelphia for Ben Simmons, who never played that season because of back problems.

Afterward, a disappointed Durant said he wanted to be traded. The Nets resisted and it appeared to be the right decision when they surged up the East standings last season after firing Steve Nash and replacing him with Jacque Vaughn in November. Durant played brilliantly and whatever bothered him in the summer seemed a thing of the past.

“I know people won’t believe it, but it was some fun, fun times,” Durant said. “We had some adversity, but getting to know other players who had to step up in those moments throughout that adversity was fun. They filled in for what we were missing and they did that at a phenomenal level and we all had fun in the process. Last season was some of the funnest basketball I ever played.”

But he injured his knee again in January and never played for the Nets again, sent to Phoenix in a deal that brought Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson to Brooklyn.

The Nets held on to make the playoffs last season but are struggling now, badly missing the scoring that Durant could provide when games are close. They don’t have the potential of the Durant era, nor do they have the drama.

Durant said he still talks to some people in the organization and loves New York.

On Wednesday, Nets fans can show whether they still love Durant.

“I never know how people are going to react,” Durant said. “I don’t expect anything from anyone. I just want them to do whatever they do that’s going to allow them to have some fun that night.”

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