NEW YORK — A-year-and-a-half after suffering a torn Achilles, signing with a new team and then enduring a long rehabilitation, Kevin Durant is finally able to suit up for the Brooklyn Nets. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, his first “training camp workout” on Tuesday didn’t look like any other one he had been a part of in his 14-year career — after all, it was solo work — but that didn’t matter.
“I feel good playing,” Durant said. “I am just taking it a day at a time.”
The journey from tearing his Achilles in June 2019 to being prepared to play in the 72-game 2020-21 season was a long one. On Tuesday, Durant said that while he has had aches, bruises, fractures and strains during his time in the NBA, he had never endured a rehabilitation process like this one.
“I have been through surgeries and injuries before,” he said in a virtual interview Tuesday, “but the longest recovery was three months. The first phase of the Achilles [recovery] was three months. You can’t walk around, you have to use a scooter.”
He said there were few, if any, activities he could get through without assistance early on, and even though Achilles injuries have become more common, the rigors of relearning how to walk, run, jump and do basic cutting exercises on a basketball court shouldn’t be “underestimated.”
Durant and Kyrie Irving — who had season-ending arthroscopic shoulder surgery in March — did not join their Nets teammates in the NBA bubble in July, instead focusing on their respective rehabs. Durant said that he and Irving worked out together at times, mostly in Los Angeles. There were stretches where the duo would do on-court work together four or five days a week, he said.
Durant also spent part of his offseason working out with Washington Wizards guard John Wall, who he said looks “amazing.” Wall initially injured his left heel during the 2018-19 season and underwent surgery, then tore his Achilles during his recovery, an injury that kept him out for the entirety of 2019-20.
Now that he is back on the court in Brooklyn — even though the league is not allowing group workouts at team facilities — Durant said he isn’t holding back.
“I’ve worked as hard as I could,” Durant said. “I’ve been in the league 14 years; even if I didn’t have an Achilles, I wouldn’t be at 100 percent. It’s just wear and tear over time. [But] I feel solid.”
He added that he can’t play timid in the hopes of protecting the leg he injured over a year ago.
“I just try to play and not worry about it,” he said. “Sometimes you tend to focus too much on not getting injured and you probably go out there and get injured. So, I try to go as hard as I can and live with the results.”
First-year coach Steve Nash said that he doesn’t have explicit load management plans yet for Irving and Durant, but admitted it is unlikely they play in all 72 games.
“It’s been such a layoff for both of them and in particular Kevin, with coming off one of the toughest injuries to deal with as a basketball player,” Nash said. “We have to be very careful with him and his adaptation process back into the game. Kevin has done everything you could ever have asked to put himself in this position. Perhaps we have to protect him from himself in a way because he brings so much joy and passion to the sport.”
Achilles tears are notoriously difficult for players to return from. Durant is trying to manage expectations, stopping short of promising that he will be the MVP-caliber talent he was before the injury.
“Who knows,” he said, of how close he could be to that pre-injury version of himself. “I just got to see how I feel in a real NBA game.”
In just 12 days, he will get to feel it out. On Dec. 13, the preseason begins for Durant and the Nets.