What will Kevin Durant look like in his return? Even Kevin Durant doesn’t know.

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NEW YORK — Kevin Durant used to worry about how he would play.

There hasn’t been reason for concern for years. He became an NBA MVP and a two-time champion, an explosive scorer who could get 25 points on a bad night and 45 on a good one.

But that was before having one of the most serious injuries a basketball player could face. Now, 18 months after rupturing his Achilles tendon and finally set to play for the Brooklyn Nets, Durant once again has reason to wonder if he will be one of the league’s greatest players.

“Who knows?” he said Tuesday. “I’ve just got to see how I feel in a real NBA game again.”

He hasn’t played in one since Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, when he went down early in the second quarter of his last appearance for Golden State. Surgery followed and then shortly after he decided to join the Nets along with friend and fellow superstar Kyrie Irving.

With that duo plus a deep and talented roster, the Nets have a chance to be one of the NBA’s top teams. But that may depend on how quickly – or if – Durant regains his form.

Few players have bettered it. The 6-foot-10 forward is a four-time scoring champion who has averaged 27 points, easing whatever fears he had earlier in his career.

“I definitely used to have crazy anxiety wondering how I was going to play the next day or the next series and it used to drive me crazy,” Durant said.

He got over that by relying on his work ethic and he believes that will help him overcome the uncertainty he faces now. Nets officials have praised the way he attacked his rehab and it seems clear that if Durant does struggle, it won’t be because he wasn’t prepared.

Instead, it will be because he’s a 32-year-old coming off an injury from which some players much younger have never fully recovered.

“I’ve been through surgeries and injuries before, but the longest recovery I had was three months,” Durant said. “But the first phase of the Achilles, I couldn’t walk or run. You had to use a scooter.

“So I think those milestones of reaching, like learning how to walk, learning how to run, jump again and getting used to certain movements again, I think that’s underestimated.”

Irving thought Durant was perhaps rushed back from his last injury, when he missed nine games during the 2019 postseason and then suffered the Achilles injury the night he returned. This time Durant has had more time than expected because of the coronavirus-interrupted NBA schedule, but the Nets still want to make sure he isn’t overdoing it.

“Kevin’s done everything you could have ever asked to put himself in this position,” new coach Steve Nash said. “He is truly a gift for all of us with not only his talent but his love for the game and the joy he brings in the building every day. Perhaps we have to protect him from himself in a way because he brings so much joy and passion to the sport. He’s so eager and hungry after such a long layoff in his prime.”

Durant said he’s been doing every individual drill as hard as he can. Soon will come team workouts and eventually two preseason games to get himself ready for a season that opens in three weeks.

Only then will he start to get some answers.

“We’re going to see how I feel going forward, but I’m excited about the first day and putting on my practice jersey again,” he said. “It was a cool feeling today. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow.”

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.

 

Vintage Kobe: Redeem Team recalls him running over Pau Gasol

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If the goal of a trailer is to get you to want to see the movie, then well done Netflix. I’m in.

Netflix released a trailer for its upcoming Redeem Team documentary on the 2008 Olympics, featuring some vintage Kobe Bryant. Just as a quick refresher, in 2008 the USA’s toughest opponent would be a deep Spanish team led by peak Pau Gasol but also with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Juan Carlos Navarro and more. This was a legitimately dangerous team and one the USA would face first in group play.

Kobe wanted to set a tone — and did by running through his friend Gasol. (Warning: There is NSFW language in the video clip below.)

“‘First play of the game I’m running through Pau Gasol.’ And we was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘First play of the game, I know what they’re gonna run.’ And he knew Pau was gonna be the last screen and he said ‘I’m running through him,'” Dwayne Wade said

Spoiler alert: The USA thrashed Spain in group stage play. However, come the Gold Medal game it was a lot tougher for the Americans to beat the Spaniards, with Kobe having to have a big fourth quarter and — what often goes unremembered — a master class from Chris Paul in game management to control the tempo and flow.

I’m all in for the documentary, which drops on Oct. 7 on Netflix.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.

Cavaliers reportedly extend Dean Wade for three years, $18.5 million

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This could be a steal for the Cavaliers — Dean Wade could be the starting three for the Cavaliers by the end of this season and he’s got a genuine upside.

The Cavaliers have extended Wade for three years, $18.5 million, a story where multiple sources were on top of it, including Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Wade’s counting stats aren’t eye-popping — 5.3 points a game and shooting 35.7% from 3 — but he is a quality wing defender who has improved as a floor spacer (sometimes setting picks and popping out). He’s a two-way player who has put in the work and could pass Isaac Okoro on the depth chart this season.

The Cavaliers have four All-Stars who will undoubtedly be starting for them — Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell in the backcourt, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley up front — and the looming question is at the three. Wade has a chance this season to step into that role.

Which makes extending him at a little over $6 million a season a potential steal for the Cavaliers.