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NBA - US Sports: Can Durant succeed with the Nets?

After shocking the league with a trade request in June, Kevin Durant's U-turn was much more muted.

In the end, the Brooklyn Nets star had no avenue out of the franchise, despite most of the league chasing his signature.

At one point this summer it looked like the Nets would trade Durant and Kyrie Irving and head into a full-scale rebuild. They had been written off as contenders at that point, but the decision to keep the pair puts them in a good position to challenge this term.

Are the Nets capable of making a real challenge, or will things turn sour for them again?

Trade drama leaves lasting effects

The statement put out by the Nets was signed off by ownership, General Manager Sean Marks, coach Steve Nash and Durant, but that doesn't mean all is well in Brooklyn.

After all, as part of his attempts to leave Durant reportedly requested that the Nets fire both Marks and Nash if they wanted him to stay.

It's hard to imagine that not having any lingering impact on team morale this season. Meanwhile, the Nets also have to have the fact that they refused to give Kyrie the contract extension he requested, with the former Boston Celtics star now widely expected to land at the Lakers next summer.

What would success look like for the Nets?

When Durant looked to get out of Brooklyn it was reported that the Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns were his two preferred destinations. It's no accident that he picked the two top seeds in each Conference. He is clearly out to win another title after seeing his former Golden State Warriors teammates win one this summer.

The Nets head into the season priced at 8/1 to win the championship, making them fifth-favourites for the title. Last season they finished some distance behind a consensus top-four in the East.

The Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and the Celtics are all shaping up as contenders once again.

Since KD and Kyrie arrived in Brooklyn in 2019 the furthest the Nets have progressed is the Conference semi-finals. However, this season seems like a final roll of the dice for this team, which arguably makes it championship or bust.

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Marks has built around Durant

While Durant wanted Marks out the door this summer, he probably should thank the GM for continuing to build around a core who wanted out. The Nets traded away a pick to add Royce O'Neale from the Utah Jazz on the same day that Durant announced his desire to leave.

A week later they added T.J. Warren in free agency, adding extra depth around their core stars. They ended last season overly reliant on KD and Kyrie, so getting extra role players should help their prospects this term.

Of course, the Durant sweepstakes took the limelight from the Ben Simmons drama which lingered over the team since February. The former Sixers star hasn't played since arriving at the trade deadline, while his last NBA game came in June 2021.

When on the court, Simmons is an elite defender and he's exactly what the Nets need. They finished last season neglecting defence and relying on their top two to outscore opponents. That's no way to win a championship.

With O'Neale on board and Simmons returning to the side, the Nets have a far more balanced roster than they did last season.

How will Durant perform?

Since agreeing to stay at the Nets, Durant has moved into the Most Valuable Player reckoning and he sits as 9/1 fourth favourite to scoop the award. Even as he approaches 34 there's no questioning that Durant is among the best in the NBA, but injuries could be a factor for him once again.

KD missed his full first season with the Nets due to injury, before sitting out 37 in 20/21 and 27 in 21/22. Last season he had a 36-19 record when he played, with the Nets losing as many times in the 27 matches he missed.

Clearly, Durant has a huge impact on this team, but his fitness can't be guaranteed. The roster around him looks strong enough to support a championship run, but the team needs minutes together on the court to make it work.

The Nets need more than just KD for a challenge, they have to get Kyrie and Simmons out there alongside him consistently.

Given their availability issues and the cracks that Durant's U-turn papered over, it's likely to be another tough season for the Nets.

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