Kevin Durant Downer takes Nets to an unprecedented location


Forget the next few months: the next year has already arrived for the networks. Your big plan has officially started. The clock has already started to tick. And will only echo louder in the following days and weeks.

For Nets fans, this has been an unprecedented season in many ways, as they are waiting for Kevin Durant. Sure, other fans had to be patient before. Celtics fans spent most of 1979 getting to know Larry Bird when he was playing a brilliant senior season in Indiana State (while Boston was cratering between 29 and 53), knowing that they had Bird's up-and-coming design rights.

Spurs fans waited two long years for David Robinson to fulfill his military obligation while watching their team lose 112 out of 164 games. Injuries wiped out Blake Griffin and Ben Simmons' rookie seasons, forcing Clippers and Sixers fans to press the pause button for their respective processes.

None of these players was this player. None of them arrived as prefabricated Hall of Famers in their supposed heyday. Certainly there were times this year when Nets fans were put into the daydream and wondered what could happen if Durant suddenly announced at the end of March: "I'm back."

Surely this impulse was never stronger than on the night of January 31, when Kyrie Irving lost 54 points in a 133: 118 win against the Bulls in 32 minutes and shot 19: 23 from the field, 9: 10 after 3, so brilliant a performance as sport allows.

And why not? There is no law against dreaming. Irving's first season with the Nets was a study of frustration at many levels – who saw it coming, am I right? – but for 32 flawless minutes of basketball this Friday night, it would have taken superhuman effort NOT to think of this version of Kyrie and the pre-Achilles version of Durant and the expression of pure panic in the eyes of a no. 2 seeds like the Celtics or Raptors who have to figure out how to deal with them in the first round.

Kevin Durant Nets
Kevin DurantCorey Sipkin

It was a funny dream.

But just like the other one you have about winning Powerball. Or in front of the E Street Band. Or buy the Mets.

Eventually, reality returns. And the reality for the nets finally came through on Wednesday morning when Durant was asked in a video for Bleacher Report by Taylor Rooks if there was any chance that he would come back this year.

"No," he said with a smile, "I don't think so."

"Don't you think so? Or no?" Rooks asked. "Because they're two different things."

"No," he said. "The best thing for me is to continue rehabilitating, to get as strong as possible and to concentrate on the next season."

This news, coupled with Tuesday's news that Irving has made his shoulder worse, means that the Nets are officially the first NBA team to reset their watch for the 2020-21 season. The Nets are safe in the playoffs, about five games ahead of Washington (and two in eighth place in Orlando), and it's never bad for players who'll be on the squad next year to get more reps after the season ,

In truth, it's probably best that the networks focus shift to next year anyway, because if waiting for Kevin was a unique adventure, it expects you to do so from here. Because rarely has a team in any sport faced what the networks expect from next year: an all-or-nothing search for a championship.

The teams have had epic climbs for a year. I can think of Celtics 2008. But the 2007 team, which lost 58 games, had neither Kevin Garnett nor Ray Allen near the team. This team was created in a blur out of season. It won 66 games and a title before there was any hype.

That is different. This is just 7½ months after a crowning moment for Brooklyn or an epic failure for a franchise that is already papered with them. The networks have never been shy about what the shopping spree last summer meant. Back then it was championship or bankruptcy – with a one-year grace period. It's becoming more and more like that now.

The grace period has expired. The current incarnation of the nets – mostly scratchy and easy to find – will have some playoff moments in April, and it will be, and everyone else can turn their attention to the main event. For the networks, this started as early as Wednesday morning.

Durant does the right thing and keeps to his schedule. Irving would be wise to follow this example. And from now on the clock is ticking until we see whether the plan of the nets was a brilliant basketball blueprint …

Or something else.