With the Brooklyn Nets’ win at Miami on Sunday, they have won a
franchise record 18 of their last 20 games, which represents the
best 20-game stretch at any point in a season in the organization's
Kyrie Irving is leading the Eastern Conference guards in
All-Star voting, and Kevin Durant is having an MVP-level season,
averaging 29.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game.
But unfortunately, last night, Durant had to exit the game in
the third quarter after Jimmy Butler fell into Durant. On Monday
morning, the Nets announced that he was diagnosed with an isolated
MCL sprain of the right knee and that he'll be out for at least the
next two weeks before being reevaluated. It's devastating news for
Nets fans, as the team has been taking the league by storm for the
past 20 games.
To discuss Durant's injury, Irving's strong play and more, I sat
down with Nets great and Basketball News contributor Kenyon Martin
to discuss his former team.
Etan Thomas: The Nets are on a great run.
They’ve been proving a lot of people who had completely written
them off wrong. How do you think they’re playing overall right
Kenyon Martin: "I think they’ve been playing
great. Once you get your two stars on the same page in KD and Kyrie
— and they’re playing off each other and going to each other when
the other one is hot and they’re healthy — they are a tough team to
beat. I saw KD went down last night and I’m hearing he may be out
for a few weeks, which definitely hurts, but he’ll bounce back.
They’ll just have to hold down the fort until he gets back, and
when he returns, they’ll take off again just like they did when
"And Kyrie is playing as free as I’ve seen him since he was with
Cleveland in the Finals. It's like he’s playing with no pressure
and nothing holding him back from being one of the top guards in
the league. And the team is benefiting from that relief."
Etan: Let me ask you this, because I think
Jacque Vaughn has done an excellent job since he’s taken over, and
I don’t think it’s being talked about as much as it should be. No
knock on Steve Nash because I don’t know the ins and outs of why it
wasn’t working with him, but there is definitely a visible
difference. Would you agree?
Kenyon: "Let’s be honest, E — Steve Nash is a
hell of a basketball player and had great athletes around him. I’ve
never thought of Steve Nash as a vocal guy, never thought of him as
that kind of a leader. I’ve never heard him get after anybody. I’ve
never heard him put anybody in their place or call anybody out or
chastise anyone who needed to be chastised. I just heard of him as
a nice guy who is a great pass-first point guard who guys really
enjoyed playing with. That’s not to say that he couldn’t have done
a good job coaching; I just think it was a little premature to put
him in that position.
"Jacque Vaughn, on the other hand, has proven that he could be a
head coach down in Orlando. He just got a bad deal. But he showed
that he could do all of the things that a head coach needs to do in
order to be successful in this league. He’s not afraid to be honest
with guys, to call guys out or to challenge guys, but still not
turn into the enemy. But (he'll) be like, 'We’re in this together,
but this is how we have to do things.' He wasn’t a two-time NBA
MVP, he wasn’t an All-Star year-in and year-out, but he commanded a
respect from the jump."
Etan: That’s very true. One person who has
really stood out this season is Nic
Claxton. He won’t get the praise that KD and Kyrie get of
course, but he has been doing a tremendous job and is really vital
to this team.
Kenyon: "I’ve been a big fan of his since he
got to the Nets. I love the energy he plays with, his effort, his
motor, his athleticism, his defense, (he's a) rim protector. And
when you have a guy who is surrounded by superstars, understands
and embraces his role, and plays it to the best of his ability, the
team is going to be successful, and that’s what he does night-in
Etan: I always admit I do have big-man bias,
and I know the game has transitioned into a more of a guards game —
more people play small ball — but I’m surprised players like Dwight
Howard and (DeMarcus) Boogie Cousins aren’t in the league right
now. But specifically with the Nets, couldn’t they use them?
Especially in the playoffs when they have to face Milwaukee or
Boston, or Philly with Joel Embiid and Montrezl Harrell off the
Kenyon: "I’m a big fan of both of those guys
and their entire body of work. The way Boogie has adjusted his game
and what people have thought of him over the years, he’s channeled
the energy that people were saying was negative into his game and
on-court passion, tenacity and physicality that every team
"And what Dwight brings to the table is similar to what we were
talking about before with Nic Claxton. He knows his role and does
it to the best of his ability. Shot-blocker, rebounder, physical
play, athletic, rim-protector, and we all know he’s strong as hell.
Why wouldn’t you want someone like that on your team? (Think about)
what the Lakers got out of the combination of him and JaVale
(McGee) a couple of years ago."
Etan: Uh huh, when they won the
Kenyon: "Yup, I just think more teams should
follow that. If you don’t have a dominant Joel Embiid or a dominant
(Nikola) Jokic, you need to play by committee at that position. And
I think what a lot of teams are missing is exactly that. I think
either one of them could be that missing piece for a lot of teams.
But yes, specifically for the Nets this season."
Etan: I even wrote about it. I was surprised,
going back to JaVale and Dwight, that the Lakers didn’t keep them.
I’m not a GM, but If it ain’t broke and just won you a
championship, don’t fix it, right?
Kenyon: "Who’d they get, Marc Gasol?"
Etan: Yeah, that’s who they got.
Kenyon: "Yeah I just have a problem with the
league as a whole when you have guys that have proven what they can
bring to the table, talking about Dwight and Boogie Cousins. It
makes no sense for them not to be on an NBA roster right now."
Etan: Another player I’ve really been impressed
with is Royce O'Neale. I don’t know if people were expecting him to
play as well as he’s been playing this season. Was he a pleasant
surprise for you or did you foresee that?
Kenyon: "Honestly, I thought it was a little
weird of a trade at first because of the position that he plays.
But you can never have enough guys that you can count on. I think
Royce is a solid pro. He’s proven that he can be successful in this
league and you can count on him. And here’s the thing — when
players are surrounded by greatness and a role is asked of you, it
should be easy for you to fill that role. You know what I mean? It
shouldn’t be a hard thing for professionals to do. People can
really find success on good teams by simply doing what’s asked of
Etan: (Laughing) Doesn’t seem like a hard
Kenyon: (Laughing) "Shouldn’t be hard at
Etan: It’s interesting with Kyrie, because
really just a few weeks ago — after the entire fiasco when he
shared the documentary "From Hebrews To Negroes," got suspended,
had backlash, was assigned six steps to return and everything that
transpired after that — there was this loud uproar among the media
and fans on social media proclaiming definitively that the Nets
would be better off without Kyrie Irving, and even that he may be
out the league soon.
Kenyon: (Laughing) "How crazy is that?"
Etan: It’s crazy, but that was the overall
sentiment, especially from a lot of the media for a while. So he
comes back and they are playing great. They go on a 5-0 winning run
and Kyrie is averaging 30, then a 10-0 run, then a 14-1 run. Now,
they’ve won 18 of 20 games, setting a franchise record. Kyrie’s
hitting game-winners and shining, and you've seen all of those
people just get quiet. None of those people have offered any
retraction to their previously loud statements. They just act like
they weren’t just saying the Nets were better off without him. And
I’m just like, keep that same energy you had to demonize someone to
also praise them when they are doing well.
Kenyon: "But the key word in what you just said
is the media. Who cares what the media says? I took all that
criticism and uproar and outrage the media had as all performative.
They were just putting on a show and jumping on a bandwagon, which
many of them get paid to do. I didn’t buy into any of that. It’s
not like he wrote the book or made the doc. He said he didn’t agree
with all of it and was sharing it for the information. But if those
media people who were saying the Nets were better off without Kyrie
don’t know how special of a player he is — aside from the
documentary and whatever else — then they don’t need to be writing
or commenting on anything.
"It’s like a fumble in football. Everybody in the media, fans
(and) social media started jumping on top of the dog pile, and
Kyrie emerged from the bottom of the pile carrying the football and
holding it high in the air for everyone to see. The backlash didn’t
break him. The team still needs Kyrie Irving. They wouldn’t be
where they are without him. And if anybody thought the Nets didn’t
need him, they just don’t know the game."
Etan: I hear you, but the piling on just
bothered me. I was like... y’all are making him out to be Hitler
himself. He specifically said, like you
mentioned earlier, "I don’t agree with everything in this
documentary, I’m sharing it for the information, I don’t hate
anyone, I respect all religions." And they wanted to make him
Public Enemy No. 1. and the face of antisemitism.
Kenyon: "Yeah, that’s exactly what they tried
to do, but it didn’t work because that’s not who he is and (he) has
never been that. You can’t make someone be something they’re not,
and that’s not who he is."
Etan: But what was really bothering me is that
I was seeing a lot of media people who look like me and you
literally running to jump on that bandwagon and bashing him the
most. That really bothered me.
Kenyon: "One-thousand percent. That bothered me
as well seeing that because that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
And we’re talking about Black media who are in high positions."
Etan: Yes, the ones you see if you turn on ESPN
or FOX Sports or HBO Sports or the main Black sports journalists.
And I don’t have to single anyone out in particular because they
all were doing that. It was really disappointing to see.
Kenyon: "For them to do that... I know you
don’t want to call names and I’ll respect your platform, but some
of them are some high paid."
Etan: Don’t even say it.
Kenyon: (Laughing) "I won’t say it but you know
what I’m thinking." (laughing)
Etan: (Laughing) Yes I do.
Kenyon: "And the guy you expected to join the
piling on actually took up for Kyrie — talking about Jason
Etan: Him and Candace Owens did. How crazy is
that? It was like we were in the Twilight Zone.
Kenyon: "They usually can’t wait to say
something negative about a Black athlete, or a Black person or the
entire Black community."
Etan: They made an entire career out of it.
Kenyon: "Absolutely, and they are where they
are because of that."
Etan: One-hundred percent.
Kenyon: "So yeah, I’m with you, it was
definitely disappointing to see the piling on from Black media
people in particular on the platforms they have and not one guy
said something even remotely in this man’s corner. They were
calling for his career."
Etan: And very loudly too. Jay Williams did say
something, so shout out to him.
Kenyon: "Yeah that’s right he did, but he was
the only one, at least that I saw. But let me say
this — you’ve done a great job in providing perspective on this
whole topic. I’ve been following everything you posted. The
interview with your guy from your show (Dave Zirin), you sat down with a Rabbi, you had
the convo with Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and
Craig Hodges. Even how you wrote about Nike after they dropped
"That’s why what you do is important, for that very reason of
what we saw all the other media do with the piling on and one-sided
bashing. You actually had discussions about it."
Etan: Thanks. Well, shout out to Basketball
News for giving me the flexibility to cover different aspects of
this topic in different ways. Most platforms wouldn’t have allowed
that. They would’ve shut all that down.
Kenyon: "Censorship is crazy. Not even to have
Etan: Sometimes, media platforms want you to
follow a script and you have to stick to the talking points. And
with this, the script was: Bash Kyrie, label him
antisemitic, denounce, condemn and bash some more.
Kenyon: "That’s just wrong, but I’m happy that
Kyrie can put all of that behind him and the team’s playing well,
and he’s rolling and being the Kyrie we all know him to be on the
court. And you have to give a shout out to his teammates, who also
didn’t buy into all of the bashing and the talk of them being
better without Kyrie. Because if you saw, they were trying to get
them to co-sign that, but none of them did. They didn’t say a bad
word about Kyrie, and that’s also a reason why they are playing so
well right now. Because that kind of stuff can ruin the entire
chemistry of a team if you let the outside noise seep into the
Etan: That’s a great point. Last question: The
Nets are playing really well, clicking on all cylinders and they
have a rhythm with each other. They also have so many weapons we
didn’t even talk about like Seth Curry, Joe Harris, Ben Simmons,
Yuta Watanabe and TJ Warren. How well can the Nets do this
Kenyon: "I would like to see them go out and
get another big because you might have to play Philly. I love Nic
Claxton, but dealing with Embiid by yourself for a whole playoff
series is a lot to ask. But other than that, they have enough
shooting, enough playmakers — they have a solid shot, they are
definitely a contender. (It's about) learning how to win now, and
win consistently like they have been doing — close games, ugly
games, games where your main people are off because everything
isn’t going to be clicking every game. But still finding ways to
win consistently, they are really preparing themselves for a very
good playoff season."