Kevin Durant did not appear in the best of moods based off both his body language and his stoic tone. The reasons? There might be a few.
One, the Brooklyn Nets’ star missed the past three games because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols involving contact tracing. Though USA TODAY Sports and other outlets reported Durant tested negative for the coronavirus three consecutive times, the NBA determined Durant was exposed to a team staffer that tested positive for COVID-19. Therefore, Durant was removed from last week’s game against the Toronto Raptors after playing only 19 minutes. Durant then had to spend seven days in quarantine before returning to practice on Friday.
“It was an unfortunate situation. I was looking forward to that game,” Durant said. “Being told right before tipoff that I had to wait a second before a test, it threw off my rhythm a bit because I wanted to go out there and play. I’m back out there now. It is what it is. I was a little upset during and after the game. But I’m ready to play.”
Kevin Durant is making his return on Saturday after missing the past week because of the NBA's health and safety protocols. (Photo: The Associated Press)
Two, Durant will play in Saturday’s game against the Golden State Warriors amid circumstances neither the team nor Durant had hoped for his return to the Bay Area for the first time since leaving them as a free agent in the 2018 offseason. The Warriors plan to honor Durant with a video tribute for winning two NBA championships and two Finals MVPs out of three Finals appearances. But the pre-game ceremony at Chase Center will take place before both teams and a virtual fan section.
“I had some great years in Golden State,” Durant said. “I look forward to being back in the Bay Area. But it’s a shame the fans won’t be there.”
Because of that reality, the Warriors also plan on honoring Durant with another video tribute and pre-game speeches for whenever the Warriors and Nets play each other next at Chase Center with fans. Warriors majority owner Joe Lacob has also said that no Warriors player will ever wear Durant’s No. 35 again, something that the Oklahoma City Thunder failed to do when Durant left for the Warriors as a free agent in 2016.
“I don’t know how special it will be because it’s not at Oracle and there are no fans,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “It’s kind of weird with that whole vibe. I know we got a tribute video, which he obviously deserves and there will be a moment that he will appreciate. But outside of that, it’s kind of weird in terms of all the things that changed since '18-19. I’m sure you’ll ask him and he’ll say it’s another game and that’s how it’ll end up being once the ball drops on Saturday.”
Durant admitted thinking that way partly because the Warriors and the Nets already played each other in their respective season openers in Brooklyn. Then, Durant warmly embraced a former teammate that willingly shared the spotlight (Curry) and another former teammate that once had a heated argument during their final season together (Draymond Green).
““I had some great years in Golden State. I look forward toward being back in the Bay Area. But it’s a shame the fans won’t be there.””
Durant’s final season in Golden State became shrouded with attention on his pending free agency, his social media behavior, his argument with Green and his Achilles injury in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals that sidelined him for an entire season. Still, the Warriors remained appreciative of Durant’s on-court play. He blended his post-up game well with Curry and Klay Thompson’s outside shooting, while complementing Green's and Andre Iguodala’s defensive versatility with his length.
“I wish our fans could be in the building for that game so we could give Kevin a proper welcome and a proper celebration for his three years,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I know we’re all looking forward to seeing him. It’s too bad there won’t be any fans in the stands. I imagine next season when – knock on wood – we have fans back in the stands, we will commemorate his return when that comes.”
Until then, the Nets and Durant are focused on his return after missing games and practices for the past week. Durant has averaged 29.5 points on 52.9% shooting, 7.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists before his absence, but it is not clear if the Nets will ease his workload.
“If I wanted to limit him, I don’t think he’d allow me to,” Nets coach Steve Nash joked. “So I think he’s a full go.”
Durant stressed he has had collaborative discussions with Nash and the Nets’ training staff and that “we’re thinking about the long haul.”
The Warriors and Nets met earlier this season, so Saturday's game in San Francisco won't be the first time that Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry have played against each since Durant left for Brooklyn. (Photo: The Associated Press)
Otherwise, Durant sounded measured with his current circumstances.
Though Durant tweeted critical comments the NBA’s safety protocols after his absence, he did not join the growing chorus of the league’s star players that questioned why the NBA plans to host an All-Star game sometime next month in Atlanta during a pandemic.
“It is what it is,” Durant said. “We have no control over it. I didn’t care either way.”
Durant could not say the same thing about his three-game absence or returning to Golden State without its fans. Yet, he still kept perspective.
“It’s not that bad,” Durant said. “We’re making millions of dollars to hoop and do something we love every day. We’ll figure the rest out.”
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