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On the Nets’ first day of full team practice at camp, the single biggest key is health: Both staying free from injuries, and staying clear of COVID-19.
“First and foremost, it’s just good to have everybody healthy,” Joe Harris said via Zoom. “So much of last season, guys were banged up and — knock on wood — it’s just good that everybody’s healthy, able to be out competing. … It was fun to get up and down with your teammates, and everybody healthy and able to compete.”
Kevin Durant hasn’t played since an Achilles rupture in June 2019. Kyrie Irving was limited to 20 games last season due to shoulder surgery. With Caris LeVert’s injury history, and Nic Claxton (knee tendinopathy) just ruled out for the rest of camp, avoiding injuries will be vital. As will avoiding coronavirus.
“It’s been a challenge for everybody this offseason because it’s been so unique, so different,” new coach Steve Nash said. “We have players that played in the bubble and have been off for three months. We have players that didn’t play in the bubble and haven’t played since early March or prior. Then we have Kevin who hasn’t played for 18 months.”
Nash not only worked with Durant in Golden State, but also overlapped with DeMarcus Cousins in his return from Achilles surgery. The edge Durant has over Cousins is that he has had ample recovery time rather than being rushed.
“It’s given him a little bit of extra time, 18 months here, so he hasn’t had to rush in the way that DeMarcus did to get back during the season to be there for the playoffs,” Nash said. “But you always want to be careful, and err on the side of caution when you’re talking about an incredible talent and force that Kevin is within the game and within our team.
“We’ve got to protect him and be very thoughtful and strategic in the way we build his preparation and his adaptation to the demands, and give him the best chance to be around for forevermore and not just in the short term and create a path of longevity for him. Obviously our team’s success is going to hinge on his availability, and we need to make sure he’s available when it counts.”
Staying healthy also applies to COVID-19. The Nets have suffered through more cases than anybody in the NBA, with Durant, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince and Landry Shamet having all tested positive either after the March shutdown or before the restart. Three others tested positive in March, and ex-Net Garrett Temple tested positive this week.
“You’re going to have 10 guys draped all over each other at some point of your practice for 30, 45 minutes of practice,” Nash admitted. “To be prepared to play the sport at this level, let alone any level, you’ve got to play, bump up against each other. It’s a leap of faith in that we’re going to rely on our protocols, our medical staff, our day-to-day structure to protect ourselves the best we possibly can.
“But there’s an evergreen risk with this virus, not just contracting it but all the unknowns. We’ll do the best we can; but at some point we have to play the game, and you can’t not train the way you play … a contact with a group of players on the court, five, six, seven, eight guys in the paint. So that’s just a hazard of playing sports in this pandemic, and we’re just doing the best we can.”
Dinwiddie admitted he worries, but understands the NBA show must go on.
“Yeah, everybody worries about their health to a certain extent,” Dinwiddie said. “But at the same time, with the way this virus works, it’s a crapshoot right? You could order food and the delivery guy gives it to you. You never know. God forbid, knock on wood, you just have to roll with it.”