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Bona fide contenders

Considering how the Nets have been rolling of late, it’s significant to point out that they began their 2022-23 campaign clouded in no small measure of uncertainty. In the offseason, top dog Kevin Durant asked for — or, to be more precise, insisted on — a change in address. And so adamant was he in leaving the toxic environment he found himself in that he demanded to be traded not once, but twice. It’s likewise relevant to underscore that the tumult seemed to get worse even as he stayed in the fold. Erstwhile head coach Steve Nash was shown the door, while supposed vital cogs Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons dealt with personal issues that affected their on-court performances — that is, if they were suited up in the first place.

That the Nets are now third in Eastern Conference standings is a testament to the speed with which fortunes change in the National Basketball Association. Their triumph over the Cavaliers yesterday is their ninth straight, and they appear to be primed to keep rising. And, needless to say, much of their rapid ascent is attributable to Durant’s outstanding play. In the aftermath of his decision to remain with the black and gray, he noted that all he aims to do is hoop. He doesn’t care about the noise, and about his supposed competition with the sport’s other marquee names. He simply wants to better himself, day in and day out.

To this end, it’s fair to argue that Durant has been succeeding. That he is an offensive force cannot be denied; his unique skill set makes him an unstoppable scorer. What’s remarkable is that, 15 years removed from being selected second overall in the rookie draft, he continues to improve his craft. Even as his efficiency in getting leather and nylon to meet is at an all-time high, he has emerged as a prime time defender, both on the ball and close to the basket. Assuming he remains dedicated to stopping opponents from scoring, he may yet be named to the All-Defensive Team for the first time in his storied career.

Yes, the tide can turn anew. The Nets can again wallow in mediocrity just as quickly as they joined the ranks of the elite. In the face of Durant’s commitment and the renewed focus of Irving and Simmons, however, an about-face is no longer deemed a likelihood. Instead, they’re looked upon as bona fide contenders — because their Most Valuable Player candidate has forged the right path for them to take, and because they’re taking it with purpose.

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.

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