One former NBA star had little concern on how the Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will co-exist in their first season together.
“I know they’re both going to average close to 30 points per game,” Reggie Miller said.
Another former NBA star also expressed optimism on how far the Nets can advance in the playoffs.
“I would not be surprised if they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals,” Chris Webber said.
Miller and Webber, both TNT NBA analysts, shared their outlooks on the Nets in a recent conference call to promote the network's coverage of opening night on Dec. 22 (Warriors-Nets; Lakers-Clippers). But the two still had nuanced takes on new head coach Steve Nash, the Nets’ supporting cast and a competitive Eastern Conference they consider “wide open.”
Below is a portion of a round-table discussion Miller and Webber had with a small group of reporters. It has been edited for clarity and length.
Nets head coach Steve Nash (Photo: Wendell Cruz, USA TODAY Sports)
Will Durant and Irving be best duo?
Miller: "On paper, they should be. You always hear people say there’s only one basketball. They have to share the basketball. To me, that’s not going to be the problem because they always wanted to play with one another. They’ve only wanted each other to succeed. The question is going to be the [Caris] LeVerts, [Spencer] Dinwiddies, can they get those guys involved? I’m not so much worried about Kyrie and Durant and how that union will be. How can they get Joe Harris involved? If they want to be successful and want to win the East and want to potentially win a championship, you’re going to need those others to play at a high level.”
Webber: "The other guys are the most important because we know what Durant is going to bring. He’s one of the best scorers I’ve ever seen. With Kyrie, you know what he’s able to do. If you allow guys to have an identity and be counted upon every night, they’ll have a better chance than just these two guys and the rest. They can be a total team. I do think that Nash has the toughest coaching job. Even though he has the most talent, I think people will put expectations.”
Can Nash be championship coach this year?
Webber: “Of course. He’s been a coach his whole life. He knows as many plays as many coaches. He’s had to make decisions on the fly. Not to be taking anything away from great coaches, but the difference is he has to make decisions on the fly. He had to remember 30 plays that happen during the game. So in the fourth quarter, he can go back and exploit those plays again. He knows how to hide from his weaknesses. He’ll be great having a coach like [Mike] D’Antoni beside him. You put smart people around you. I do think he’s ready … I also think people will falsely think that if he doesn’t win a championship then he hasn’t done a great job and that pressure applies. That’s what I mean that he has the toughest job.”
Miller: “He’s had relationships with both of the two superstars on that team. Obviously being in Golden State as a consultant when Durant was there and winning championships, he has a relationship with KD. You heard what Kyrie has said about Steve Nash and the respect level there. So he already has the two superstars’ attention. To me, and we saw this with Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan. Phil was never afraid to coach and get on Michael Jordan. The rest of the guys saw that, and it trickles down. So you can’t tiptoe around those guys. But you don’t want to alienate them as well. It’s a fine balance that Steve is going to have to walk. That’s what point guards are: coaches.”
What about the Heat?
Webber: “There’s no team I trust more than the Heat. You look at the roster the Celtics had last year. I liked them, but I didn’t necessarily trust them on offense and thought guys were starting to go for their own shot. Or if it was Philly, I didn’t trust them necessarily because they didn’t bring that effort on the road … I think the Heat are the front runners. It’s only because they did it last year and because of their work ethic and attention to detail. But not necessarily because they have as much talent as other groups. Isn’t that what Jimmy Butler is built on? Not being one of the most talented guys, but being the best at putting it out there."
How do Lakers weigh cost-benefit of playing/resting LBJ, others?
Miller: “Every time we do these conference calls, [the media] always start off by saying ‘LeBron James and his age.’ Yet, he keeps proving all of us wrong. He is Mr. Benjamin Button himself. The Lakers will, at the end of the 72-game regular season, be the team to beat. But I think they will start slow because they are integrating a lot of new pieces. Great pickups by Rob Pelinka – Dennis Schröder, Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell – I love the pieces that they picked up. But I think it’s going to take time because if I’m LeBron and I’m Anthony Davis, I’m not focusing in on the first 20 games.
"Do they want to compete and play well? Yes. But they want to find a rhythm the last 20-25 ballgames. If they are hovering around .500 or a few games above it, I’m not going to think the earth is shattering. Come 40 games in and they are hovering around .500, that’s something else. But I think the Lakers want to be playing well going into the playoffs as opposed to coming out of the gate saying ‘We’re the bubble champs.’ Health is going to be of the utmost importance, more so for LeBron.”
Webber: “I agree with Reggie that everybody always starts the question about LeBron’s age. But I disagree with Reggie on the Lakers. I think they’re going to come out of the gate. I think they’re not going to look back. It’s harder for a team to work together like they did last year because everybody was new. Where now LeBron has set an identity for this team. He can play 15-25 minutes a game, and also put the onus on the other guys and tell them, ‘You know what to do. I’ll be here to take off. But go ahead, get in a rhythm and go and shine until I come back [to full form].' It may be on AD. Maybe they play them and rest them on different games.”
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