NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash said he’s concerned about the amount of minutes superstar forward Kevin Durant is playing this season, and that the team is going to have to monitor him closely as it navigates the next several games with a short-handed roster ravaged by COVID-19.
“It’s a really important topic,” Nash said before Brooklyn hosted the Philadelphia 76ers here at Barclays Center Thursday night. “I don’t know we can continue to lean on him the way we have. It doesn’t feel right.
“I know he’s enjoying it. I know he’s enjoying playing at the rate he’s playing at and trying to bring his teammates along with him and all the responsibility that he’s accepted and crushed, basically. It’s just been incredible. But, at the same time, it’s not safe or sustainable to lean on him like that. There’s gonna be a lot of consideration and we’ll have to figure out ways to give him breaks.”
Durant is averaging 36.9 minutes per game this season — fourth-most in the NBA, behind Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, his teammate OG Anunoby and Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James. That is the most minutes per game Durant has averaged in eight years, since he averaged 38.5 minutes per night during the 2013-14 season, when he scored 32 points per game and claimed his lone Most Valuable Player award.
The 33-year-old played a season-high 48 minutes in Tuesday night’s overtime victory against the Raptors here at Barclays Center, finishing with a 34-point triple-double in a 131-129 Brooklyn win — the fifth time in 26 games this season that he’s eclipsed the 40-minute mark. He did so after being listed as questionable to play in Tuesday’s game earlier in the day with right ankle soreness.
“I just try to do what’s required, man,” said Durant, when asked about his minutes load after Tuesday’s win. “I mean, I want to be out there. I want to play. I want to win. So, it starts there.
“Whatever I got to do to accomplish those three things, I’m going to do.”
For the Nets, though, the challenge is not just winning today — it’s winning several months from now, when Brooklyn hopes to be making a deep playoff run as it challenges for its first NBA championship.
That will require getting Durant through the season healthy in the wake of missing the entire 2019-20 season due to an Achilles tear suffered in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, and playing just 35 regular-season games last season because of recurring hamstring issues.
Durant has only missed two games so far this season. But with Brooklyn down seven players due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols for a minimum of another week — plus remaining without Joe Harris, who is recovering from ankle surgery, and Kyrie Irving, who has not played yet this season after failing to fulfill New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements, Nash said he needs to balance keeping the Nets afloat during the period they are short-handed without putting too much strain on Durant’s body.
While Nash said veteran guard Langston Galloway, whom the Nets signed with a hardship waiver Wednesday, was available for Thursday’s game — giving Brooklyn nine available players — Nash admitted that having just enough players available to keep playing is a double-edged sword.
“The question is we’re above the threshold, so to speak, which is positive,” Nash said, referring to the NBA’s minimum requirement of having eight healthy players available to play in a game. “At the same time, we’re barely above the threshold. So what toll does that take on our players?
“Is it better to be over the threshold and to not be playing until you have a healthy roster or is it better to have enough to play but to be short-handed and the burden and the toll that takes on these guys and knowing that you’re going to have guys coming back who haven’t been able to practice or play basketball? So it is definitely tricky to navigate.”
As for Brooklyn’s opponent Thursday, 76ers coach Doc Rivers said Georges Niang — who tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday — said no one else had tested positive yet. But after going through their own outbreak earlier this season, one that cost them both superstar center Joel Embiid and second-leading scorer Tobias Harris, Rivers said the team held a call Wednesday to try to tighten up their own protocols amid COVID-19 spikes across the country — let alone in professional sports.
“We got all the sports leagues putting their brains together at the same time, probably,” Rivers said, adding he’s received calls from other coaches in recent days asking him for advice on how to navigate losing players to COVID-19. “I know we had an individual call and talked with our own people on us making our own changes. We’re gonna make just some of our own changes. We want to be the team with the least. We lead still, I think, with COVID games off. That one stretch was brutal for us and now other teams are going through it. It’s no fun.”