In one of the most bizarre scenes in recent NBA history, Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant was pulled from the starting lineup before Friday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors because of COVID contact-tracing protocols, and was then allowed to return and play for three quarters before eventually being yanked again in the third quarter.
Durant did not travel with his teammates for their game in Philadelphia against the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers on Saturday—for which they are an underdog, with NBA odds of +120 (888sport)—and is in danger of missing multiple games, sources told ESPN’s Malika Andrews and Adrian Wojnarowski.
This would be the second time in the last month that Brooklyn will be without its best player for a multi-game stretch after the Durantula was forced to miss three games in early January for similar health and safety protocol issues.
The Nets superstar had registered three negative tests in the 24 hours before the game (he also contracted the virus last March, meaning he has the antibodies in his system), but the afternoon of the game he had come into contact with an acquaintance that had returned an inconclusive test.
The ordeal made for quite a scene in the third quarter, as Durant was approached on the bench by a team official while on live TV and apparently told Durant that he had to isolate himself as referees reviewed what would’ve been his fifth foul. The 32-year-old, visibly frustrated, then headed to the locker room from where he tweeted, “Free me,” shortly thereafter.
Brooklyn had informed the league of Durant’s acquaintance’s inconclusive test on Friday afternoon, the league then took several hours to eventually decide to remove Durant from the team during pregame warmups only to allow him back on the bench shortly after the game had gotten underway.
“Durant was initially held out of the game while that result was being reviewed,” read a statement from the league. “Under the league’s health and safety protocols, we do not require a player to be quarantined until a close contact has a confirmed positive test.”
Durant then played 19 minutes, picking up eight points, six rebounds, and five dimes before he was yanked again in the third quarter of a tight game that the Nets went on to lose 123-117 to the Raptors.
The 13-year veteran was none too pleased with the way the NBA handled the matter, and continued to voice his displeasure on Twitter on Friday night. The criticism comes at a time when the league is already taking it from all directions with regards to the All-Star Game.
Over 20 games have been postponed, players are regularly contracting COVID or having to quarantine because others have, and teams have often been playing with just eight or nine available players, yet the league and the NBPA still thought it a smart idea to hold a meaningless All-Star Game. This is doubtless a way that they thought they could recoup some of the losses they’ve incurred due to COVID.
Superstars have been vocally opposed to the idea. Up-and-coming star De’Aaron Fox was the first to speak out, calling the attempt to play the game during a pandemic ‘stupid,’ the arguable GOAT LeBron James called it a ‘slap in the face’ and said that he would have ‘zero excitement and zero energy’ for the game, and two-time NBA champ and Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard said this decision showed that the league was ‘putting money over health.’
Reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo echoed LeBron’s sentiments while adding that he could not worry about the ASG right now and that he wanted to be with his family. Durant’s Brooklyn teammate, three-time scoring champion James Harden, was unimpressed as well.
“I feel the same way as some of the other players… we’re trying to calm a virus down, and we’re putting on a game,” Harden said after the loss to Toronto. “I know what the reasoning is for it, but I feel like, especially with a condensed schedule, it feels like everything was forced upon the players. It’s already draining. We’re playing a lot of games in a week and I feel like that was a week for us to relax, be with our families, and take a step back away from basketball.”
The man they call the Beard also questioned the league’s protocols in reference to this latest snafu with Durant.
“Especially with [Durant] already having it and we get tested every single day. He’s been negative. So, I don’t understand what the problem is. The game should’ve been postponed, I feel like. If we’re talking about contact tracing. He was around all of us. So I don’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to play, then allowed to play, then taken back off the court. If that was the case, we should’ve postponed the game.”
Brooklyn will have to find a way without Durant against Philly on Saturday night, and that may well be the case at the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday and back at home against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday.