Kevin Durant “excited” about Kyrie Irving, mix of Nets players (and maybe hints at early return)

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The very vocal Kevin Durant has kept a relatively low profile since going down with a torn Achilles during the NBA Finals, other than social media posts of his rehab, an interview where he said not to blame the Warriors for everything and that he was always eyeing the Nets. Plus he showed up at a Dodger game.

What he had not done a lot of was talk Nets, but he did in a talk with Chris Henderson on YouTube. Here are a couple of highlights of what KD said:

“I’m excited about this group. Obviously, with me not starting off the season and obviously being injured, you’re going to see a lot of guys step up and do some things and go to another level as a player.”

“Caris [LeVert], Joe Harris, Taurean Prince. Even the older guys like Garrett Temple, Kyrie [Irving], DeAndre [Jordan]. I feel like everybody in this environment is going to step up, especially due to circumstances with me not being available. I think everybody’s going to step up and take it to the next level, we got great coaching, great front office, great fanbase that’s excited for something new. This is a fresh start for everybody I feel.”

Let’s get the eye-catching comment out of the way first: Durant saying he is “not starting off the season,” on the court — which would imply he could be back for the end of it.

Considering the timeline for Achilles returns now (10-11 months), a return for the playoffs next season is not off the table. Although in his case maybe it should be. After his Finals experience last year, is Durant going to push hard after an injury to get back on the court for postseason minutes? The Nets certainly are not going to encourage him to race back, but Durant is a competitor and it’s against his nature to sit out an entire season. He will push and want to be back. Where the Nets are in the hierarchy of the East late next season may play into this decision, but it shouldn’t. For Durant, for basketball fans, it’s best if we don’t see him on an NBA court until Oct. 2020, when he is fully healthy, built up muscle in his legs through recovery, and is back close to being his old self.

As for his Nets comments, it’s no accident he put Caris LeVert first — Brooklyn needs him to step up and be their No. 3 if this team is going to seriously contend in a couple of years. Durant and Irving liked Brooklyn in part because of their supporting cast, which is good and deep, but LeVert is the one most capable of being a third offensive option and they need him to be (or the Nets need to go out and get one).

How Kyrie Irving the leader meshes with this young roster, how Kenny Atkinson divides minutes between DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen (notice KD didn’t mention Allen), and how all these pieces fit together when the Nets are not under the radar is going to be interesting to watch this season. The Nets may be a year away from contending, once Durant is back healthy, but they have a lot of foundation building to do this season to set that up.