DETROIT — There’s only silence around the Brooklyn Nets after they’re eliminated from the playoffs, or if the New York Knicks are a bigger mess — or the time before a trade demand.
These past few weeks, they’ve been creeping and now they’re on the come-up, making themselves relevant in the Eastern Conference. But Kevin Durant notices the lack of attention his team has received.
“I get that other people don’t look at our roster as a championship roster, but when we get wins the way we get wins, you gotta pay attention to that,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “When Kai [Kyrie Irving] and Ben [Simmons] didn’t play, we beat teams by [nearly] 40 points. Any other team, it’s, ‘Hold on, what they doing over there?’
“They take us for granted, me and Kai especially. We gotta jump through a Hula-Hoop of fire to be impressed.”
Durant says the New York culture is generally negative, so he expects it in a way.
“Is ‘embellish’ the right word? Y’all do that because it’s New York City,” Durant said. “Just the media in general in New York City feed the fans and the fans like negative s***. They’re used to teams not playing well over the years so they just accept the drama.
“So when drama comes around it’s a normal feeling. That’s New York culture over the last 50 years in sports. I feel like [NBA] culture is starting to turn that way now, but it’s always been that way in New York.”
It is a little heavier in New York, which Durant knew before picking the Nets in the summer of 2019. Irving has always been a lightning rod for criticism because he seems to invite and incite it, at times.
But Irving has been efficient since returning from his suspension following the promotion of an antisemitic film and subsequent comments, and Durant has been playing at an MVP-level all season.
Over his last 10 games, he’s been in a groove that rivals some of his best work, averaging 32.7 points on 63% shooting, 44% from 3-point range and adding 6.5 rebounds and five assists per game.
The Nets have rebounded from the ashes of a coaching change and an Irving-fueled controversy to climb to fourth in the East, winning 10 of 11 with only a Dec. 4 loss to the Celtics to prevent them from having the NBA’s longest winning streak.
Perhaps the coaching change from Steve Nash to Jacque Vaughn has simplified things. Perhaps it’s a function of the schedule, too, as a large portion has been home games and against less-than-stellar competition.
“We understand what we’re doing on both ends. It’s that simple,” Durant said when asked what’s working. “We know what kind of defense we want to play, what kind of offense we want to run. And that just makes everybody more comfortable.
“I look at it simple: We get up every day, we’re healthy for the most part. And we grind. So whatever comes from that, we accept. We’re putting the right foot forward to go out there and be a team. We’re not where [we] want to be, but I like the direction we’re in.”
On Sunday, Durant scored 26 in the third quarter — including a furious run of 20 points in a three-minute span to pull the Nets from down 17 to striking distance. On a given night, he still rivals Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry and anyone else as the best player in the game.
The Nets’ recent history of drama and underachieving means the bar is higher, which he understands in a way — but notices the treatment for everyone else.
“I don’t see that standard for other teams,” Durant said. “I don’t see the standard for guys who actually didn’t have the circumstances we had: injuries, $50 million in salary that wasn’t playing last year.
“We don’t get that grace. But we got to play through everything. With other teams, they get some of that grace, but I understand we haven’t earned it yet. We gotta work for that.”
Boston’s had drama with Ime Udoka, the champion Warriors have had to endure a championship malaise along with Draymond Green’s altercation with Jordan Poole. It feels like that received proper scrutiny in context.
The Irving drama, the Simmons saga and the situation surrounding Nash seemed to linger on through the summer and into the early portions of the season. The feeling that this team was an unlikable bunch seemed to be validated.
“People don’t like us,” Durant said. “No, they don’t [like me]. They don’t like us as a group.”
Durant understands where it comes from. He’s not whining or complaining, just pointing out things as he sees it, as someone who’s been through this NBA ecosystem for the better part of 15 years.
He knows being with Irving adds its own layer of complications, even saying, “Obviously, I wasn’t fond of him not being in the lineup last year,” referencing Irving being ineligible to play home games in New York because he wasn’t vaccinated.
But Durant said Irving is “locked in” and reiterated that he trusts him. It seemed like a far cry from the summer when Durant issued a trade demand that he later rescinded.
“On the floor, it’s remarkable, God-like Hall-of-Fame level. You see how he scores, how he makes plays,” Durant said. “Just the fact his options, and his personal life, how he feels about s***, that’s what people have a [problem] with. But now that he’s playing and he’s here consistently, that hasn’t been a conversation surrounding anything.”
For Durant, the game has been his obsession and his refuge. Much of his gripes with the media has been about basketball being minimized in favor of other controversies.
Unfortunately, that’s not how this all works, especially in the Twitter world and the other world in which basketball players are paid more than handsomely because the line goes beyond the floor and into their personal brands.
It’s bound to cross lines; it’s bound to cause friction.
“When we step on the floor, all of the narratives and noise around us, we can’t control,” Durant said. “When we walk into the facility, I don’t feel like it’s a burden on us. I didn’t feel the [Irving] s*** after a while because we’re locked in, trying to get better.”
Perhaps he’s used to dysfunction, a notion he coolly denied, it should be said. Sometimes Durant is viewed as a victim of Irving’s antics, an innocent bystander. But you get the feeling he doesn’t like that label either.
“I understand [attention], it’s part of the job,” Durant said. “In terms of how I felt, it didn’t put a burden on me. S*** happens. Everybody [has] been through some s*** in the league.”
He still feels like he’s building something in New York, in Brooklyn. And when asked if he felt the Nets needed more on the roster to compete with Boston and Milwaukee, he didn’t flinch.
“I feel like we’ve got a good roster. I feel like we are putting forth the effort to play playoff-style basketball,” Durant said. “I think you got guys who can play different ways. So yeah, we can win basketball games, simply put. If we do that every day and start building up, we’ll see what happens in the playoffs.”