Things can still go wrong, Brooklyn.
There could be injuries. Kevin Durant is just 18 months removed from an Achilles tear, what used to be the closest thing to a basketball death sentence. Kyrie Irving has struggled to stay healthy. Losing either one would drop the Nets out of contention.
There could be chemistry issues. Sure Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen are fine with reduced roles. For now. But so were the ’18–19 Celtics, at least at first. A lack of touches were one of several reasons that team unraveled.
Coaching could be a problem. Steve Nash was a great player and is said to be a strong communicator, but he’s new to the coaching ranks. A few tough stretches and there will inevitably be speculation about whether Jacque Vaughn or Mike D’Antoni would be a better fit.
Brooklyn could falter.
But right now the Nets look good.
Three days after walloping Golden State on opening night, the Nets traveled to Boston and slapped around the Celtics. Brooklyn erased a three-point halftime deficit by blitzing Boston for 35 points in the third quarter, backstopped by (who else?) Durant and Irving. The stars played all 33 of their minutes together, finishing the game a whopping plus-28. Brad Stevens waved the white flag midway through the fourth quarter, allowing the Nets to cruise to a 123–95 win.
It was once fair to wonder how Durant would bounce back from the Achilles tear. Kobe Bryant, Chauncey Billups, Wesley Matthews and others all lost something after that injury. Durant hasn’t. The former MVP has looked like one, following up a tidy 22-point performance in 25 minutes against the Warriors with 29 in 33 minutes against the Celtics, making 56% of his shots along the way. An excellent defensive player before the injury, Durant appears to have regained that part of his game, too, holding Jayson Tatum to 20 points—and needing 22 shots to get them.
“It's still impressive to watch after all these years,” Nash said. “For mere mortals of this game, it's impossible to think of sometimes.”
There’s been a toxicity attached to Irving in recent years, from his decision to force his way out of Cleveland to his role in the demise of the ’18–19 Celtics. But Irving can flat out play. He arguably remains the NBA’s best ball handler with a diverse offensive arsenal. He took 10 threes against Boston, making seven of them, finishing with 37 points. His relationship with Durant, one of his closest friends, is rock solid, with Durant the first star Irving has chosen to play with.
And I get it—it’s early. But if the Nets aren’t derailed by something unforeseen, that’s the team to beat in the East, folks. How many teams in the conference can go into the postseason with two proven playoff performers? Durant is a two-time Finals MVP. Irving made the biggest shot in Cleveland basketball history, and has a championship on his résumé. Even the supporting cast, fresh off back-to-back playoff appearances without Durant or Irving, is battle tested.
Said Stevens, “I think it’s the deepest team in the NBA.”
Brooklyn will be connected to James Harden until the Rockets star gets moved, but Nets GM Sean Marks should think hard about shaking this group up. Harden could thrive alongside Durant, his ex-teammate, and Irving, but adding a high-usage rate player to a team with two high-usage rate players is a risk. Brooklyn’s rotation goes nine-deep with starting-level players, and early on they appear to work well together.
“I think it’s just the right time, right situation, right environment,” Irving said this week. “To explain that, as a young player, you think that scoring a bunch of points, doing a bunch of things, getting a bunch of accolades are great. I definitely was going after those things, and now, I really don’t care for any of those individual accolades or goals.”
Inside the Nets' locker room after its season-opening win, Irving presented Nash with a game ball. “This is the start of something new,” Irving said. Indeed. And by the looks of it, the start of something great.