ESPN Poll: Nets overwhelming favorite to be Kevin Durant’s team on Opening Night

ESPN Poll: Nets overwhelming favorite to be Kevin Durant's team on Opening Night

In its annual poll of NBA Insiders, ESPN reports that an overwhelming percentage of NBA experts polled — 83.3 percent — believe that Kevin Durant will still be a Brooklyn Net on Opening Night two months from this week.

And no surprise, the same poll puts the Nets atop the list of candidates for Team Turmoil and predicts the Nets will win only 40 games next season, four fewer than last year. And only one individual Net picks up votes for any major award: Ben Simmons got 5.6 percent of the votes for Defensive Player of the Year.

It’s all part of the network’s annual Summer Forecast. It’s also a far cry from last year at this time when the Nets dominated the poll with 78.9 percent of ESPN’s NBA staffers believing the team would win it all, with Durant and James Harden leading candidates for MVP.

Instead, this year, the Nets are seen as nothing more than play-in candidates after their disappointing 2021-22 season and their disastrous off-season with KD demanding a trade and reportedly giving owner Joe Tsai an ultimatum, trade me or fire the architects of last year’s team, Sean Marks and Steve Nash.

Here’s the analysis of where Durant will wind up:

Durant became the story of the offseason when he requested a trade from the Nets just one year after signing a five-year extension with the team.

The Nets acknowledged Durant’s request and have explored trade offers but have not found a partner that can meet their terms so far, so Brooklyn is still the favorite for Durant’s services to start the season.

1. Brooklyn Nets: 83.3% of total votes

2. Boston Celtics: 5.6%

3. Miami Heat: 5.6%

4. Toronto Raptors: 5.6%

While that’s encouraging, the question was not about whether Durant will last out the season.

As for Team Turmoil, the Nets were also hands-down winners, with more than 60 percent of the respondents picking Brooklyn to be the center of negative energy in 2022-23 as they have been since the end of June when not only did Durant ask for a trade but Kyrie Irving decided to opt in to the final year of his four-year deal rather than sign a less than maximum deal:

Our Team Turmoil prediction focuses on which teams are expected to be surrounded by the most drama this season.

The Nets earn the top spot as Durant’s trade request lingers and Irving, who intends to stay in Brooklyn, has brought plenty of his own drama to the Nets over the past three seasons.

Tea Lakers could be in for even more turmoil after a disappointing previous campaign as Russell Westbrook is set to return in a prominent role with the team after being an offensive liability last season.

1. Brooklyn Nets: 68 points (61.1% of first-place votes)

2. Los Angeles Lakers: 49 points (27.8%)

Sounds ugly. Otherwise, the Nets are a footnote to the Summer Forecast with only Simmons winding up with any chance of winning an individual honor. Simmons, who was the runner-up to Rudy Gobert in 2020-21 voting and was named to the All-Defensive team twice before sitting out last season, ranks ninth in the ESPN poll.

No Nets received votes for MVP, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player or Sixth Man of the Year. That hasn’t happened in years. The poll does carry a caveat:

Kevin Durant’s trade request could throw a wrench into the Brooklyn Nets’ season, but if he and Kyrie Irving stick it out in Brooklyn alongside a healthy Ben Simmons, they could make their deepest playoff run yet.

Still, ESPN picks the Celtics to win the East (42.1%) with the Bucks at 36.8% and the Sixers and Heat tied at only 10.5%. The panel also thinks there will be a return of 2022 in the Finals match-up, predicting the Warriors will win the West. Panelists give Golden State a 52.6% chance of winning the west, ahead of Team Turnaround, the Clippers, with 31.6%. No other Western Conference team gained 10% of the ESPN vote. The Warriors were also picked to win back-to-back NBA titles with 36.8 percent of the votes.

For the big individual awards, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks gathered the most votes, just ahead of Luka Doncic of the Mavs and Joel Embiid of the 76ers. Paolo Banchero of the Magic was the overwhelming choice for Rookie of the Year, Ime Udoka, the Nets former assistant who guided the Celtics to the Finals, beat out Tyronne Lue of the Clippers for Coach of the Year. Rudy Gobert, now with the Timberwolves, is favored to win Defensive Player of the Year for the fourth time and Monte Poole gathered more than 77% of the vote for Sixth Man. Most Improved Player? Anthony Edwards, also of Minnesota.

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