Nets take cautious approach with Kevin Durant, give 2019-20 keys to Kyrie Irving

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Kevin Durant, still nursing an Achilles injury, took in a Dodgers game this summer. (Getty Images)
Kevin Durant, still nursing an Achilles injury, took in a Dodgers game this summer. (Getty Images)

NEW YORK — The Brooklyn Nets have invested $164 million in Kevin Durant — and their goal is to get him back to MVP form.

So they’ve got to be careful. They’ve got to be cautious. They’ve got to be smart.

They can’t afford to have KD come back too soon. They can’t afford another injury fiasco.

On Tuesday, the Nets took the right course of action in announcing their expectation that Durant will miss the entire season while rehabbing his ruptured Achilles.

It doesn’t mean he can’t return in 2019-20. And it doesn’t mean the questions and speculation will go away. (Could it be February? March? Before the playoffs?)

But at least the team provided some much-needed clarity on what was a murkier situation.

Nets team physician Dr. Martin O’Malley performed Durant’s surgery. He has Brooklyn’s performance team behind him. And the ball is now firmly in his court.

“We’re not going to plan on him playing,” Nets GM Sean Marks said. “Ultimately, Kevin will have a large say in when he comes back and how he’s feeling. But the expectation is he’ll be out for the year. … It’s obvious he wants to play, but I think there’s more at stake here. This is a long-term approach.”

Marks said he and Durant haven’t discussed what happened with the Warriors last season, when Durant came back too soon and suffered the injury in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, which led to a lot of speculation and criticism as to who was to blame for the devastating situation.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think he wanted to talk about it,” Marks said.

For the record, Durant didn’t blame the Warriors, telling Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports in August: “Hell, no. I heard the Warriors pressured me into getting back. Nobody never said a word to me during rehab coming back. … It just happened. It’s basketball. S--- happens. Nobody was responsible for it. It was just a game. We need to move on from that s--- because I’m going to be back playing.”

Regardless, when he does come back, the Nets want Durant to look like Dominique Wilkins did when Wilkins came back from his own Achilles rupture.

Everything rides on his return — even if his four-year deal is more like a three-year deal.

In the meantime, Marks stated the obvious, saying the team’s success in 2019-20 would ride on which players it had available.

“Guys aren’t coming here for mediocrity,” Marks said.

So it’s going to be on Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie to lead the charge as Brooklyn awaits No. 7’s debut.

Irving, who signed a four-year, $141 million deal to unite with his close friend KD, got inadvertently struck with an elbow during a pickup game Tuesday, and Nets coach Kenny Atkinson accompanied him to see the doctor. The team hopes it’s nothing serious.

But following an eventful offseason, the Nets are in a different place now — very relevant and with a chance to do something special.

They’ve got superstars. They’ve got a new owner (Joe Tsai). They’re dealing with both a suspension (Wilson Chandler) and an arrest (Rodions Kurucs). And it may take time for them to build chemistry as a unit.

Still, in front of a much larger media continent that figures to be the new normal in Brooklyn, Marks wanted no part of a question about trying to take over The Big Apple from the Knicks.

“We’ve never been focused on winning over New York or being the team in New York,” Marks said. “I think if you go out and build something that’s sustainable, you put an entertaining group on the floor that’s passionate and competes every night, people will automatically gravitate toward that.”

Kevin Durant is key to all of that. And the Nets want to make sure he heals properly before he returns — even if that means missing all of 2019-20.

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