SUNSET PARK — After acquiring two of the NBA’s coveted free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving this past summer, the Brooklyn Nets finally formally introduced the stars during the team’s media day on Friday, Sept. 27 at the HSS Training Center in Industry City.
During the event, the two stars spoke to the media about how they became Nets and why Brooklyn felt like the best place for the two to team up.
“I’m very grateful to be here,” said Irving, the six-time all-star who had been long-rumored to join the Nets while still playing for the Boston Celtics this past season.
Durant was the top free agent before he ruptured his Achilles tendon during game five of the NBA Finals for the Golden State Warriors, and was still highly coveted by several teams in spite of the severity of the injury.
“It has been amazing,” said the two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP. “There’s been a lot of support, especially going through rehab. That’s all I really wanted as this point. There’s been that and much more.”
Throughout the season, there were rumors aplenty that Durant and Irving wanted to pair up, though it was unclear whether they wanted to make Barclays Center or Madison Square Garden their home. Irving gave a glimpse into how the process went, beginning with a discussion that he, Durant and free agent center DeAndre Jordan had right when the free agency season began in July.
“It was 4:16 in the morning and it was us just talking about our futures and how this opportunity ahead of us is something that we haven’t had in our careers,” he explained. When it came to the Nets, “The incredible people they have in the organization made it that much easier, made us feel like all-stars.”
Durant’s explanation was less telling.
“We just asked, ‘Are we ready to do it?’ Everybody was like, ‘Yeah,’” he said before laughing. “I try to think of something deeper but it really was that simple.”
He also discussed his respect for Head Coach Kenny Atkinson.
“I was doing a lot of YouTube research on Kenny Atkinson, watching interviews and seeing how he talked after games and I really liked his approach to his craft as a coach,” Durant explained. “I didn’t do too much research on other coaches so I guess he always had the leg up. I started to get comfortable with how he approaches his craft. It made me feel at ease even though I never had a conversation. I could see through clips he was genuine about the game.”
He also stressed the importance of playing closer to his hometown of Washington, D.C.
“Being on the East Coast again was something I was excited about,” Durant said. “Playing most of my basketball career either Midwest or West Coast, I was excited about being at least a few hours from home, but basketball was probably the main factor.”
Both players left teams that hoped they would have made long term commitments with them. For Irving, it seemed all but certain he would stay a Celtic long-term.
“It felt incredible in terms of the energy that we were building, especially for the future, in Boston,” he said. “I don’t think I was acknowledging the things that was harming my life as well.”
Irving recalled that during an open practice prior to the 2018-19 campaign, he told thousands of Celtics fans that he would re-sign with Boston long term if they would have him and how his personal life had affected the entire season.
“Two weeks later, things just got really rocky for me,” he explained. “After [my grandfather] passed [on Oct. 23], basketball was the last thing on my mind. So a lot of basketball joy I had was sucked away from me and there was a facial expression that I carried with me throughout the year. I didn’t allow anyone to get close to me and it really bothered me.”
Irving admitted that he, “Responded in ways that are uncharacteristic and I have to acknowledge that to the organization first. Throughout the year, it just became rocky. A lot of the battles I had and the team environment, I just wasn’t ready for, and I failed those guys in a sense that I didn’t give them everything I could have during the season, especially with the pieces we had.”
Durant won two titles with the Warriors, and quite possible would have won a third had he not gotten injured. The decision for him to play in game five stirred controversy, raising the question of whether the team had prioritized his best interests or the team’s chances of winning by having him return too early.
“When I went down, it felt like everyone wanted to wrap their arms in protection around me, from people I didn’t know to best friends, Kyrie,” he said. “I felt like everybody was real protective of me around this time and I feel like they’ll continue to be like that about my health, but I make my own decisions.”
Nets General Manager Sean Marks told reporters that the team doesn’t expect Durant to return for the 2019-20 season, but the decision when to come back is ultimately up to him.
Irving expects Durant to be both cautious and patient with his return.
“There isn’t going to be any pressure from any of us at any time and I will make sure of that because I’ve been in that same position of being the guy injured and everyone asking are you going to come back anytime soon,” he said.
He also discussed the Warriors’ decision to clear Durant to play in game five of the finals.
“I think naturally you have to go inside the mind of a competitor and realize that a lot of people have responsibilities for why that ended up happening the way it did on a national scale,” he said. “We all know K wasn’t ready to play in that environment, whether people want to admit it or not. He was out 31 days and we put him out on the national stage of the finals to end up selling a product that came before the person, and now I’m here to protect that. I’m going to be a protector of that throughout the year.”
The two join a young, promising roster that improved its record from 28 wins in 2017-18 to 42 wins the following year.