Kevin Durant wants to play in the All-Star Game: ‘I want to play tomorrow if I can’

NEW YORK — Kevin Durant is no stranger to MCL sprains.

He suffered one in Golden State in 2017, another a year ago and the most recent one two weeks ago when Jimmy Butler fell on his leg in Miami late in the third quarter.

“I knew exactly what happened as soon as I did it,” Durant told reporters. “So I was just thinking about the recovery after that.”

Durant addressed reporters for the first time since the injury after the team released a medical update Tuesday that said the 6-foot-10 forward is making progress in his rehab and will be re-evaluated again in two weeks. That would put a possible return right up against the All-Star break. Durant hasn’t played in the All-Star Game since coming to Brooklyn, and The Athletic‘s Shams Charania reported there is optimism Durant will return before then and play in the game, set for Feb. 19 in Salt Lake City.

Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said he hasn’t discussed Durant possibly playing in the All-Star Game as he’s tried to compartmentalize life without his star player.

“I’m not going to speculate beyond the two weeks kind of,” Vaughn said. “Really been solid in — last time we spoke, it was gonna be two weeks, I kind of shut my mind off from there, got the report yesterday and we’ll do it again two weeks from now.”

But Durant was more direct in his desires.

“I want to play tomorrow if I can,” Durant said. “So, that’s what my sense of urgency is. Obviously, I don’t want to rush anything. I want to make sure I’m 100 percent. But yeah, I want to play.

“I want to be a part of all these events. I missed going back to Golden State, my previous home. So, it’s been three years since I did that. You see all this stuff pass you by, so I want to participate in everything. I know I got to take my time and make sure I do my rehab and get back on the floor.”

The Nets are 2-4 without Durant and head into Philadelphia on Wednesday riding a two-game winning streak behind the play of Kyrie Irving and Nic Claxton. A year ago, the Nets went 5-16 with Durant sidelined with an MCL sprain. That included an 11-game losing streak. Durant later said Brooklyn’s inability to compete without him gave him doubts about the organization going forward.

Durant said he’s been digesting the games at home without playing armchair quarterback. The doubts he had from last year’s absence don’t seem to have re-emerged. He called Sunday’s win in Golden State “a character win.”

“I’m not even looking at it like that,” Durant said of last year’s stretch. “It’s a different year, a different time. It looks like the same situation, but it’s a different time. It’s hard to compare anything. … It’s always tough when one of your main guys goes out the lineup and you’re trying to readjust on the fly like that. It’s going to take some time. It took us four games. Luckily we still were 12, 13 games over .500, so it was cool to take that little stretch and learn so we could get better moving forward. It was tough to go through, but it was much needed to take those lumps.”

Since signing with the Nets in 2019, Durant has been unable to play Golden State in front of fans because of his injuries and the restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. This current injury will also cost him a matchup against LeBron James, when the Lakers play the Nets on Jan. 30. James was out of the lineup when the Nets played in Los Angeles in mid-November. The two haven’t faced off since Christmas 2018, when James was still with the Cavaliers. Durant said he looks forward to matchups like that, especially as he’s aged, which is why the 34-year-old blamed himself, despite it being a freak collision, for not avoiding Butler’s fall.

Durant compared an MCL sprain to having a cut on his knee. All three of his sprains have come on collisions, the first with Zaza Pachulia in 2017, the second with Bruce Brown in 2021 and most recently, Butler. He said had he been more locked in and guarding his man than him, he could have avoided it.

“I stepped late,” Durant said. “I watched all those plays where I got injured like that. That play, I think Seth (Curry) had guarded Jimmy in the post, and I should have just doubled, instead of emptying out of the paint slowly. As I was emptying out, I was just standing there watching. I wasn’t even watching my man. I wasn’t even hitting nobody, so I should have ran and doubled and got Seth off of Jimmy there, and maybe that wouldn’t have happened.”

For now, Durant doesn’t plan to travel with the Nets. He wasn’t with them on their four-game road trip and won’t make the bus ride down to Philadelphia in order to stay at the team’s practice facility and use its resources.

Durant declined to speculate on a return date. Like Vaughn, he’s preparing for the next two weeks of rehab and will worry about the rest afterwards.

“Who knows?” Durant said. “I’m not sure. I rested the last couple of weeks. Hopefully Im on that same path. You never know. I just want to take it a day at a time and keep putting in the work, and hopefully I will feel better tomorrow and I’ll see you in two weeks and I’ll give you a better update then.”

(Photo of Kevin Durant: Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

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