The Brooklyn Nets are the best team in the Eastern Conference, holding down the top spot in the standings with a 15-6 record. This was expected. What was not expected, and what might be an item of concern, is that Kevin Durant is averaging 35 minutes per game, and has logged two games with over 40 minutes played along with six games of at least 37 minutes on the court.
This is not particularly out of the norm for a superstar player, but it's exactly what the Nets were trying to avoid by teaming Durant up with Kyrie Irving and James Harden. Irving, obviously, is unavailable due to reasons that could never have been foreseen. But they still have Harden, albeit a lesser version right now as the former MVP tries to navigate the new foul call rules. They have a few injuries they're dealing with, most notably to Joe Harris, but Durant came to Brooklyn to win championships, not beat the New York Knicks in a November midweek matchup while sitting for only eight minutes throughout.
Steve Nash was asked about this after last night's win, and basically shrugged his shoulders.
Well, Steve, it's kind of your job to figure out those options!
I'm not going to sit here and say it's easy, but the Nets have 14 other players besides Durant. One is Harden, who is still a productive and winning player even if we haven't seen the same guy show up this year. Patty Mills, Blake Griffin, and LaMarcus Aldridge are steady if unspectacular veterans. There is some young talent to play with. These Nets are not like this year's Denver Nuggets, forced to play their superstar as much as possible because injuries have stripped the roster bare.
When the games really matter? Hell yeah, play Durant as much as possible. But it's November. The Nets don't need the top seed to have a shot at knocking off anybody in the Eastern playoff bracket. If the choice is as Nash says, then maybe he should choose to lose some more games. Durant is a hooper and said to reporters yesterday that he would play 48 minutes if he could, but it's the coach's job to curb those desires. The players step onto the court with the singular goal of winning the game in front of them. The coach thinks in the long-term. It's in the job description.
The Irving situation has given Nash a bad hand to play. The combined contracts of the Nets' three superstars supersede the salary cap on their own. The roster around them wouldn't win anything without Durant, Harden, or Irving there. It's a tough balance to strike. But that is literally Nash's job. Durant is 33 years-old and tore his Achilles only two and a half years ago. There's no reason to play him for 40 minutes in a regular-season game. Even if it means a loss. Because having a healthy Durant come playoff time is the biggest win the Nets could imagine.