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Kevin Durant’s eventual return will bring Nets rotation conundrum

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Put to rest any conspiracy theories that LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin joined the Nets as insurance because Kevin Durant’s prognosis is bleak.

At least for now. They won’t be completely extinguished until Durant steps back on the floor, which isn’t happening this week.

Whenever Durant returns from a left hamstring strain and works his way back to his normal 36 minutes per game, the Nets will have a front-court logjam that simply doesn’t leave enough minutes divided up at the power forward and center positions to appease former All-Stars Griffin, Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan, plus veteran starter Jeff Green, without some major ego checks.

“That’s something that I can’t predict,” coach Steve Nash said of his rotations. “We’ll see how it all fits together and it’ll present itself. But right now I can’t predict how that’s going to be without it being any more than a prediction. But we have lots of depth, lots of options, and we’re excited about it.”

Durant played four-on-four with his teammates at Sunday’s practice, but the games-missed counter is expected to rise from 18 to at least 21, beginning Monday against the Timberwolves.

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Kevin Durant
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“He looks good and is progressing,” Nash said, “but still needs to be monitored and still need to get a certain amount of markers under his belt before we could put him in the frame again. Will definitely be back with us. It’s just, I don’t think this week is likely.”

Aldridge, whose contract was bought out by the Spurs, reportedly picked the Nets over the Heat. It echoes what happened three weeks ago when Griffin was bought out by the Pistons and joined the Nets.

It also signals that players around the league who never won a championship view the Nets as their best chance to win one, like when Gary Payton and Karl Malone hopped on board the Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal-led Lakers in 2003-04. That’s a lot of pressure to embrace.

“Our goal is to win a championship,” forward Bruce Brown said. “We strive for that every day. We prepare for that every day, and that’s the ultimate goal. We think we can do that this year.”

Brown could be buried at the back of the bench when Nets are at full strength, but Nic Claxon — who is in the middle of the best stretch of his two-year career — probably is most vulnerable.

“Honestly, the more the merrier,” Claxton said. “The more players we get, the deeper we are, the better we will be. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Coaches have a lot of different tools and different guys they can put in, and different decisions to make. I’m a younger guy on the team, so I can learn from these guys, for sure.”

The possibility of having too many good players and not enough minutes is a rich problem for Nash. One solution could be to use Durant at small forward in a big lineup, when Joe Harris isn’t on the floor.

“First of all, something comes up every week this season,” Nash said. “Your options always seem to be outstanding, and then very quickly they’re limited. We’ll adjust and adapt as we go and do the best we can to put the team in the best position to win and to grow. What does that mean? I don’t know. But it’ll declare itself as we proceed and as we deal with all the different things that will be thrown at us the rest of the way.”

The Nets are 16-3 in their past 19 games despite a greater-than-expected reliance on the likes of Claxton, Brown, Landry Shamet and Tyler Johnson. Just this week, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s playing time spiked and Alize Johnson played 33 minutes fresh out of the G-League.

Griffin was supposed to be a role player but was needed for 17 points and three rebounds in Friday’s win against the Pistons. Durant initially was expected back within one or two weeks. He hasn’t played since Feb. 13.

“I might play 30 one night, I might play five one night,” Brown said. “When Kev comes back … there’s going to be minutes taken from somebody, but we’re all going to be happy for everybody who is out there on the floor playing well. We don’t care.”

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