Can Durant and Irving Lead Brooklyn to a Championship? Or Will They Combust Along The Way?

Perhaps the most anticipated season in the 53-year history of the Brooklyn Nets began Tuesday with the start of training camp. By the end of this week, Irving and Durant can finally take the floor together when full-team workouts start, some 17 months since Brooklyn’s magical, mega-haul from free agency in July 2019.

What we knew to be true about Irving and Durant when they first chose to play together in Brooklyn remains so today. They are champions.

Irving sealed his ring with a shot for the ages at the end of Game 7 in 2016; Durant twice registering as Finals MVP for both of his rings.

They are brilliant scorers and shot creators who thrive with the ball in their hands. They have serious injury histories that are reason to question their durability. And they have strange personalities for superstars and a knack for saying things that have shaken locker rooms and stirred controversies on franchises otherwise built to win titles.

Just days into training camp and the good and the bad of Brooklyn’s two superstars is on full display. People who have seen them work out or play pick-up have raved bout how good Durant and Irving look post injury. The chemistry off the court has been there for years, on the court will take time. The meshing of the two stars will be even harder considering the Nets have already discussed approaching the season with caution in terms of managing the two players’ health.

On Oct. 1, Irving was a guest on Durant’s podcast. About 52 minutes into the show, they began discussing Nash. The line that made headlines from Irving was “I don’t really see us as having a head coach.”

“KD could be a head coach,” Irving said. “I could be a head coach.” And Durant, in agreeing with Irving, said “(current Brooklyn assistant) Jacque Vaughn could do it one day. It’s a collaborative effort, I think, on our part.”

Those were the headlines, but Irving went in-depth with his thoughts, whether it helped or not.

“When you get to know him as a person, you understand why he can co-exist with us because we don’t need somebody to come in and put their coaching philosophy on everything that we’re doing and change up the wheel,” Irving said. “It’s no disrespect to Kenny or any coaches that I played with, it’s just Steve coming in at this moment is great and I have a relationship that’s going to build with him over time. … I saw him at the Hall of Fame two years ago, gave him a big hug. And now he’s the head coach. And I think it’s also going to change the way we see coaches.”

When Irving speaks defenders of his like to say his comments were misconstrued, or the media is running with a 30 second clip. I’ll be the first to admit the media often runs with a narrative, but let’s call a spade a spade, Irving creates much of his controversies.

Those who have attempted to interpret Irving when he forced his way out of Cleveland and away from LeBron James, took on Brad Stevens and Jaylen Brown in Boston, declared he would remain with the Celtics and then reversed course, apologized to LeBron for his behavior when they were together on the Cavaliers, and stated, repeatedly, that the Earth was flat, are once again backed into a corner trying to make sense of Irving’s comments.

Tuesday marked the first time Nash responded to the quote, and after making a joke about not being familiar with Irving’s thoughts.

“I didn’t listen but I’d read what he’d said. I think it was one phrase at the end of a bunch of things he said about being excited about having me in this position and coaching, and maybe he took it to another level that would seem to grab all the headlines, which is fine,” Nash said. “I am in a fortunate position where I get to coach Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, so, what we’ve built here in a short period of time, with how we’re going to practice and play is I think exciting.”

But Irving is only one half of the potentially combustable duo in Brooklyn. Durant, whether fair or not has been connected to another growing controversy, or should I say rumor.

The 800 pound gorilla in the room is the James Harden rumors. For the moment the Nets trading for Harden is simply that, just a rumor. But rumors could put a head coach, or a general manager, or a teammate (several teammates, if you count how many guys Sean Marks would have to trade to bring Harden to Brooklyn) in a difficult spot when trying to build chemistry and a title contender.

Durant and Harden are friends and former teammates on the Oklahoma City Thunder. They were working out together last month in Los Angeles, and, according to ESPN: “Sources said the players (Durant and Harden) talked openly about whether the combination could work and how a trade facilitating it could work.” Durant has denied those rumors, but of course he did, he has too due to the likely scenario the rumors fall flat.

“I don’t know where that came from,” he said. “James is a friend of mine but I let the front office handle all of that stuff. I was just so focused on working out. I heard all the noise and I heard that James potentially wanted to come to the Nets but anybody can make up stories. Anybody can write a story and it gets some traction, so nothing’s ever set in stone until it’s set in stone.”

Dealing for Harden would, by its nature, rip the Nets’ locker room limb from limb, because of the plethora of players Brooklyn would need to move to make the math work.

Durant was asked about this Tuesday, if he’d talked about it with current teammates in the aftermath of his reported conversations with Harden, and he said: “We’re all professionals. Just go about our days, come in and go to work and go back home. Whatever happens, guys will be prepared for anything.”

That response by Durant, like the one Irving gave about Nash, is one that we should not be shocked at. Durant and Irving are being who they are. Durant has always been direct, whether it be on Twitter responding to trolls, or post game with reporters.

Durant does not create headlines during the season they way Irving does. All the noise outside the line of the court means nothing to Durant. He just wants to hoop and hold up the Larry O’Brien Trophy at years end.

The circumstances surrounding Irving’s and Durant’s union in Brooklyn are different than either has encountered in any of their previous stops. They chose this, to team up in a new city, with friends (Irving and Durant are close, which couldn’t be said for Irving and LeBron when they first got together in Cleveland, or Irving and anyone on the Celtics, or Durant and the Warriors), and are not playing for a coach who was already established in the organization.

So long as they are healthy, they have the chance to play off one another with their All-NBA, former MVP, maybe future MVP skillsets, and a deep, complementary roster with the likes of shot blockers (like Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan), shooters (Joe Harris and Landry Shamet), and ancillary playmakers (Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert), they have a real chance of bringing a title to Brooklyn.

It very well could work, so long as all involved can find a way to maneuver around the roadblocks that will undoubtedly arise just because Durant and Irving are there, in the flesh. That goes for the two superstars as well.

“We’re gonna see,” Durant said. “We both respect each other’s games and we know each other’s games, inside and out. We know what good basketball, what championship-level basketball looks like. It’s all about crafting every single day with the group and coming together and seeing what’s the best way to play.

“It’s going to take some time for us to figure out the best way for us to approach this thing.”

Only time will tell if the Nets are title contenders or just an entertaining train wreck on the back of every New York tabloid. Either way Nets basketball will be the most entertaining storyline of the NBA season.

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