THIS is the worst nightmare for any team in the NBA. A superstar you traded for suddenly gets injured in his debut home game.
A freakish slip during a shoot around by his lonesome in the company of Phoenix Suns ball boys, Kevin Durant suffered a “grade 2 ankle sprain” and will be re-evaluated in three weeks. The usual timeline for that would be similar to LeBron James who is sidelined for 4 to 6 weeks. Initially, KD was able to take jump shots after rolling his ankle, and the outlook was optimistic. Until further reports came out and the mood in Arizona started to go south.
Durant has been riddled with injuries this season. He was sidelined for eight weeks due to a knee sprain in January while still paying for the Brooklyn Nets.
It can be argued, however, that the shoot around injury may be a blessing in disguise, since Durant could have had a worse injury in the game. Was Durant not in mid-season condition? This is contrary to the reputation of the Phoenix Suns medical staff, known for preserving their players.
Suns fans were about to celebrate their trade deadline acquisition that catapulted them to be contenders or even favorites for the Western Conference, amid a season clouded in doubt. There was an atmosphere of anticipation all over the Footprint Center, as they believe this is as good a chance as any for the Suns to finally win their first NBA title. And it all rests on Kevin Durant shoulders, in this case, his ankle.
High price to pay
Mikal Bridges is one of the best two-way players in the game today, and Cameron Johnson is a key role player that fits right in the system of the Suns. The team was willing to give them away since a championship with Durant will justify everything.
Bridges in particular was a fan favorite in Phoenix and now he is making a name for himself in Brooklyn. His recent string of 30-point games compounded the injury to Durant. This is a team’s worst nightmare: going all in for the season, mortgaging your future for one superstar, then that superstar gets injured.
That is always a risk you have to take. All the teams that made the superstar gambit went through that. The Lakers with Anthony Davis, and now LeBron is out. The Clippers with Kawhi Leonard, the Brooklyn Nets with Durant and the Kyrie Irving drama.
Yet, teams keep taking risks. Once their young core finds success and their pieces become valuable enough to make a swing at a superstar, they jump at the chance. They risk the chemistry and culture that took years to build, for one or two shots at a title.
The model did work for some teams: The 2019 Toronto Raptors, the 2020 Lakers, and to an extent, the 2021 Milwaukee Bucks, although they traded for a third guy, starting point guard Jrue Holiday (but they also overpaid for him back then and now he is an All-Star). That’s three out of the last four titles, and all the other ones dating back to 2017 belong to the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors never overpaid in a trade as they acquired Durant through free agency. But the Warriors are the “holy grail” of team building.
Mavericks on the same boat
The Dallas Mavericks have become one of the most anticipated teams in League Pass. The tandem of Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic would definitely rate at the box office, but their tandem did not translate into the win column.
The extra risk for the Mavs is that Irving can enter free agency at the end of the season, and if the Mavs keep losing, there are other teams that could provide better chances to win. Irving is not just an injury risk, and he is a ticking time bomb for controversy. But when he is on the court, he is truly a maestro.
It seems improbable that the Brooklyn Nets massively failed their superteam experiment, but may still end up with a brighter future than the teams that traded for their superstar duo. Bridges, Cam Thomas, Nic Claxton, and Spencer Dinwiddie are not household names, but they have valuable skills adapted to today’s game.
The biggest hindrance to the Nets rise is getting tempted to trade some of these great pieces for a superstar. That would send them hurtling back to their worst nightmare.
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