The new-look Brooklyn Nets are getting set to take the floor against the scuffling Phoenix Suns on the heels of back-to-back 40-point showings from second-year guard Cam Thomas, one coming in the wake of Kyrie Irving being traded away. As promising as that may seem for the Nets’ future, the elephant in the room remains Kevin Durant who has been sidelined since January 8 with a sprained MCL.
What will he want to do now that Irving is no longer in the equation? Durant demanded a trade last offseason amid Irving’s contract standoff with management but has since spoken optimistically of the team’s ability to shake off those distractions amid their turnaround.
Now, Durant is also said to be unhappy with teammate Ben Simmons who is paid like a star but has not performed like one.
Head coach Jacque Vaughn isn’t trying to play any guessing games.
“My thing, I won’t complicate it,” Vaughn said via YES Network’s Twitter account. “Like I said, I’m going to coach the group in front of me – the group that’s in the locker room. That won’t change. I’m not going to speculate and get in Kevin’s mind at all. Not going to even try to do that. I’m going to coach this group, look forward to coaching them, and look forward to winning.”
Durant was in attendance for the 124-116 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers and commended the team for its fight under the circumstances. He and Vaughn did not discuss what comes next for the current face of the franchise.
“That wouldn’t even come up in our conversation,” Vaughn said of discussing Durant’s future. “We talked about the game and that was really about it.”
As it stands, nothing is expected to take place before the February 9 trade deadline.
A deal of that magnitude is better suited for the summer and there are already potential suitors letting their interest be known in advance of a Durant trade demand or official word that general manager Sean Marks is trying to go in a different direction.
The messaging has been the opposite to this point – they want to build out the roster to encourage Durant to stay and are even in the hunt for another star to fill the void left by Irving’s departure which “surprised” his injured teammate and friend. It was Irving that helped convince Durant to choose the Nets over the rival New York Knicks in 2019.
Jacque Vaughn Pumps Up Cam Thomas
Thomas became the youngest player in franchise history with back-to-back 40-point games but, more than that, he is the youngest player in NBA history to do so behind only Lakers superstar LeBron James.
Third on that list? Durant.
The reserved Thomas was taken aback by that stat but has never lacked confidence even as his role was nonexistent at times.
“I think it just reinforces our belief in him and overall his belief in his own game to be able to showcase it and answer when we needed him most,” Vaughn said. “We needed his scoring his ability to play-make and he’s provided for us definitely these last two games.
“I have some new school and old school in me. And I think, hopefully, I’m able to use it at the right time. I think for young guys to go through something so they can get to the other side, there’s something to that. There’s something to not playing, and putting in the work, and doing it when you don’t get your results at your timing…He joked the other day that he’s the all-time leading scorer in our ‘Stay Ready’ group. He put in a lot of work and he’s getting rewarded for it. And maybe it wasn’t at the timing of others, maybe it wasn’t even at his timing. But he’s taking advantage of it and sometimes that’s just the way it works out.”
What is The Nets Future?
With Irving gone, Thomas could prove to be the biggest winner of the trade.
He is still rough around the edges – he had three assists but four turnovers and took 29 shots on the night. That’s more attempts than any other Net in any game this season other than Durant (three times) and Irving (five times).
Perhaps this was enough to showcase his ability to at least fill that aspect of his former teammate’s role for a squad still looking to contend.