Kyrie Irving’s Absence Gives Nets’ All-Star Kevin Durant Better Shot At NBA MVP

Written By Mike Mazzeo on October 19, 2021 - Last Updated on October 18, 2021

In a recent tweet, Kevin Durant offered his thoughts on some of the preseason chatter.

It’s safe to assume Durant wasn’t referring to ESPN and Sports Illustrated ranking him as the best player in basketball heading into the 2021-22 season.

For years, KD has reportedly been tired of being second to LeBron James, and the Brooklyn Nets’ star forward has always fed off conflict. An MVP and a championship would go a long way toward cementing his No. 1 status going forward.

Kevin Durant MVP betting odds

Durant currently sits second on the MVP odds board behind favorite Luka Doncic at both FanDuel Sportsbook NY (+650) and DraftKings Sportsbook NY (+600). He’s third behind Doncic and reigning NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo at Caesars (+700) and PointsBet (+800).

Despite significant offseason turmoil surrounding Kyrie Irving and his vaccination status, the Nets remain the championship favorites across all New York sportsbooks, and their regular-season total remains at 56.5 wins.

Durant and company open the upcoming campaign in Milwaukee on Tuesday night.

Why Durant can win MVP

Durant quickly answered any questions about whether Achilles surgery would slow him down. His postseason performance in Games 5 (49-point triple-double) and 7 (48 points) against the Bucks was nothing short of spectacular. The 33-year-old was literally a shoe size away from carrying his team into the conference finals. Durant then carried Team USA to the gold medal over the summer.

Irving’s word-salad of a stance on the vaccine isn’t helping anyone. It’s selfish, dangerous, and makes him look like a bad teammate. But No. 11’s uncertain playing status–and whether he even deserves to ever wear a Nets’ uniform again if he does finally get the shot–could give KD better MVP odds. The “negative” of playing alongside two other stars would be gone from the equation.

The narrative surrounding Durant could also change if he wins another title next to James Harden and a bunch of ring-chasing veterans. Yes, it’s still a very talented team. But without Irving, there’s not a trio that approaches prime Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green in support of KD in Brooklyn.

Why KD won’t win MVP

Harden (+2500 at Caesars) might make a compelling case for MVP himself, especially if he averages nearly a triple-double per night with strong efficiency numbers. And there are plenty of other superstars around the league.

Durant also played just 35 games in 2020-21, missing time due to a hamstring injury, health and safety protocols, and rest. The Nets will presumably exercise caution with their 7-foot superstar, allowing him to get some down time in back-to-backs. Any significant time missed could cause his chances to diminish.

A potential doomsday scenario for Brooklyn would be Durant getting hurt, Harden having to single-handedly carrying the team all year, and then bolting in the offseason when No. 13 can become a free agent.

GM Sean Marks had expressed optimism that Harden and Irving would be “signed, sealed and delivered” regarding long-term contract extensions. But Irving didn’t take the shot, with owner Joe Tsai failing to convince him during the San Diego training camp. Everything changed.

Irving’s extension talks are on hold, if not potentially gone for good. Harden could certainly still stay, but the door is at least ajar in terms of his eventual departure.

Durant, Harden and coach Steve Nash don’t deserve to be in the middle of the latest Irving fiasco. But it’s become an annual occurrence, that uneasy combination of drama and dysfunction. Marks and Tsai finally put their foot down, though, officially moving on from the idea of Irving as a part-time player.

The season is a long journey that’s only just beginning, but No. 7 certainly has a better shot at winning MVP because Irving–at least for now–won’t take his.

Lead photo: Eric Gay | AP

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Mike Mazzeo

Mike Mazzeo has covered New York sports since 2010, previously working as a beat writer and columnist for ESPN (Nets), Yahoo Sports (NBA/MLB) and the New York Daily News (Yankees). His work has also been published in the New York Times, New York Post, Forbes and The Ringer.

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