How Kobe Bryant can help Kevin Durant, Nets figure this out

How Kobe Bryant can help Kevin Durant, Nets figure this out

A season before signing Kevin Durant and putting the franchise on a path to Tuesday morning’s attempt at reconciliation via public statementthe Nets went 42-40, finished in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and lost in five games in the first round of the playoffs.

Three years later, with Durant and Kyrie Irving in tow, the Nets went 44-38, finished seventh in the East and lost in four games in the first round in the playoffs. If you are reducing their accomplishments to a balance sheet, the main difference between those two seasons would be in the number of negative headlines: Last season’s mess lapped the up-and-coming group of 2018-19.

Everything the franchise has done for the past year — from Irving’s vaccination drama to James Harden being traded to Ben Simmons’ inactivity to Durant’s eventual ultimatum — has turned the Nets into an NBA sideshow rather than the serious title contender they want to be. It is a textbook case of when letting a superstar run the show goes wrong. But Tuesday’s statement gives the Nets a fork in the road.

There’s a template to which Durant could look — and make no mistake, the onus here is very much on Durant — if he views this as more than a face-saving exercise. Fifteen years ago, the Lakers came into the training camp with Kobe Bryant’s status a question mark. Bryant, after clashing with coach Phil Jackson, had spent the summer agitating for a trade to the Bulls.

In this June 7, 2009 file photo Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) points to a player behind him after making a basket in the closing seconds against the Orlando Magic in Game 2 of the NBA basketball finals in Los Angeles.
After requesting a trade from the Lakers in 2007 that did not happen, Kobe Bryant led the franchise to the NBA Finals the next three seasons and won two more titles.
PA

“I’m not Nostradamus,” he told reporters when asked if he would be in Los Angeles for the duration of the season. A deal appeared to be closed. And then it fell apart. The Bulls, making Luol Deng untouchable, were unable to meet the Lakers’ demands (Deng’s eventual $72 million albatross of a deal with the Lakers feels like some degree of karmic retribution, but we digress).

Bryant went on to win the MVP that season. The Lakers traded for Pau Gasol and made the Finals, where they lost to the Celtics, before going on to win titles in 2009 and 2010. Bryant retired in 2016 as one of the most adored figures in the city’s sports history, his two numbers hanging in the Staples Center rafters and that episode long forgotten.

Durant, 34, is five years older than Bryant was at that point in his career and with a complex legacy of his own. But like Bryant, he’s trying to prove that he can drive the bus we have a title-winning team without the help of another generational talent. Like Bryant, he’s failed to do that so far. And like Bryant, he thought his best chance was elsewhere.

From a distance, it seems as though Tuesday’s resolution came as a result of necessity rather than a real desire to run it back. No team was going to meet the Nets’ demands for Durant, and Nets owner Joe Tsai was not going to let him run roughshod over Steve Nash and Sean Marks. So here they are.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash speaks with Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets during the third quarter.
Mere weeks after reportedly asking the Nets to fire coach Steve Nash, Kevin Durant agreed to remain in Brooklyn with Nash still in place as the coach.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

It will not be easy for Durant to go back and play for a coach and GM whose firings he all but publicly demanded. Training camp will be uncomfortable.

And none of it will matter if Durant puts the Nets on the same path as the late-2000s Lakers.

That doesn’t necessarily mean title or bust — remember, the 2007-08 Lakers came up short, suffering one of the franchise’s worst-ever losses in the process when they blew a 24-point lead in Game 4 of the Finals. But it does mean getting out of the first round, mounting a serious title challenge and the focus staying on basketball for the duration.

That is, more or less, the path laid out by Marks in his three-sentence statement on Tuesday. The way things stand right now, it feels quite ambitious. Such is the state of the franchise.

The path carved by Bryant and the Lakers is, largely, the exception to the rule. What happened to the Nets last season is more like the norm. Bad situations don’t tend to get resolved when they have already soured and big egos are at play.

Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets speaks with Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets in the second half at Madison Square Garden.
In the three seasons Durant and Kyrie Irving have been with the Nets, the franchise has gotten past the first round of the playoffs only once.
JASON SZENES

But that is how the greats separate themselves from everybody else. Where would Bryant’s all-time ranking stand had he gone to the Bulls and led unremarkable teams for the remainder of his career? And where will Durant’s be if the 2022-23 Nets look like the 2021-22 Nets?

Surely, not as high as it could be.

Today’s back page

New York Post

What makes a successful Mets season?

New York Mets' Mark Canha, right, and Pete Alonso celebrate after Canha's three-run home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Sunday, Aug.  21, 2022, in Philadelphia.
Only time will tell if the Mets’ window of contention this season is a blip on their historical radar or the start of a more enduring era of success.
PA

We all know what the standard is for the Yankees because the standard is the same every year, no matter what: World Series or bust. Especially when the team displays the sort of potential it has this season, when it looked to be on a historic pace before falling hard back to Earth over the past seven weeks.

As for the Mets, who look to be on their way to a first playoff appearance since the Obama administration? That is a bit more complicated.

After Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Yankees, the Mets hold a two-game lead in the NL East over the Braves and the second-best record in the National League. There’s not much doubt that they are serious title contenders and could be good enough to win the franchise’s third championship. ThroughTuesday’s game, Fangraphs’ projection system placed them in a tie (with the Dodgers) for the best chance to win the World Series.

But that is a mere 16.9 percent chance at winning the trophy — or worse than the implied odds of Shohei Ohtani beating out Aaron Judge for AL MVP (+350). And the Mets are a team that has been historically starved of success with only four playoff appearances this century.

The goal, of course, is a parade down the Canyon of Heroes. But if the season ends with a division title and an NLCS loss, would that be seen as a success?

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom (48) pitches in the fifth inning when the New York Mets played the Philadelphia Phillies Saturday, Aug.  13, 2022, at Citi Field in Queens.
Getting Jacob deGrom signed to a new contract this winter would go a long way toward keeping the Mets among baseball’s elite teams.
Robert Sabo

More than likely, that answer wouldn’t come for some time. In the aftermath of 2015, you would have called that year a rousing success — that team managed to win a pennant after being three games back of the Nationals at the trade deadline. Ditto for 2006, when the Mets won 97 games and romped to the division title before losing to the Cardinals in a seven-game NLCS. In retrospect, both runs seem fleeting — the Mets failed to win another playoff game with those roster cores.

If a healthy Jacob deGrom returns, if Max Scherzer is still himself at age 38, if Edwin Diaz doesn’t suffer a reversion to his old self and if the 2023 Mets are still contending, maybe this year is looked at as a building block. But it takes a lot to keep contending, even once you’ve gotten there in the first place, and recent history has taught that to Mets fans all too well.

The next step in player empowerment?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws a pass during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Training Camp on July 30, 2022 at the AdventHealth Training Center at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Florida.
Tom Brady took a little longer than usual getting into training camp for his 23rd season in the NFL.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tom Brady and Yadier Molina were both away from their teams over the past week and the world kept spinning. If either worked in a conventional setting, they would have long earned the maximum allotment of PTO, so a few days — and in Brady’s casea few days before the regular season starts — seems completely fine.

Of course, they don’t, and they have entire offseasons to do what they want, but it’s not as if players such as Brady and Molina spend months (or even weeks) at a time detached from their sport.

But the two future Hall of Famers have earned enough trust to know what’s best for themselves far better than anyone else does. If that means being away from their teams for a bit, they have every right to do that. As long as they show up when it counts, the same should go for any player of their standing.

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