Global pandemic aside, it can be argued that the delay to the NBA season was beneficial for several teams. For example, the Clippers were able to rest Kawhi Leonard and Paul George but still hang on to the second seed in the Western Conference.
Yet once rumors began to surface regarding the potential availability of one particular NBA star, there was no team set to benefit more than the Brooklyn Nets.
The most recent NBA offseason was one of the most active and interesting in memory. While stars flocked to Los Angeles, it was Brooklyn who many considered the long-term winner by landing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
The only downside was the fact that Durant was set to miss the entire 2019-20 campaign after suffering an Achilles injury in the NBA Finals the previous year.
Then Irving had injury struggles of his own, leading to just 20 games played out of 64. Irving underwent season-ending shoulder surgery on March 3, leaving the Nets’ title hopes on hold until next season.
Yet a lengthy delay to the season in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic gave Brooklyn hope that their two superstars could return for a title run.
Nets to Be Without Durant, Irving
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Durant was considering a return to the USA basketball team for the 2020 Olympics. That would have put Durant in camp with the national team right around the same time as the upcoming NBA return.
With those timetables matching up, and the fact that Irving also had a shot at returning, momentum was building toward the idea of a dark horse Nets team becoming a legitimate threat to contend for the NBA title.
Yet that potential won’t be coming to fruition.
“It’s just best for me to wait,” Durant said. “I don’t think I’m ready to play that type of intensity right now in the next month. It gives me more time to get ready for next season and the rest of my career. My season is over.”
In addition to the 10-time All-Star, the Nets are also expected to be without Irving for the rest of the season, according to reports.
So, when the Nets return to action on July 31, they’ll be led by the likes of Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris rather than Durant and Irving.
Durant tested positive for COVID-19 in March but says he’s fully recovered from the virus and is now rehabbing in Los Angeles with his focus set on next season.
Can Brooklyn Make a Run In the East?
With little help from Irving, the Nets managed to put themselves in the Eastern Conference’s seventh seed with a record of 30-34. That earned Brooklyn one of 22 spots in the NBA’s return-to-play plan.
However, the Nets haven’t quite booked their ticket to the playoffs. Because Brooklyn is only slightly ahead of the 30-35 Magic and the 24-40 Wizards, they’ll need to survive the eight regular-season games and potential play-in round to make the 16-team postseason.
Many expect Brooklyn to be a part of the playoffs after performing relatively well without Durant and a highly-limited Irving, but nobody considers them a contender without either star.
With odds of +20000 to win the NBA Finals, the Nets are ahead of only six teams set to be a part of the NBA’s return in Orlando, Fla., beginning in July.
Brooklyn is a far cry from the trio of teams leading the standings and the list of contenders, which is spearheaded by +240 Milwaukee. The +260 Lakers are nearly co-favorites, and the +340 Clippers round out the group of frontrunners.
If the Nets can hold on to a playoff position, they’ll likely face the Bucks or Raptors in the first round of the postseason.