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What does Durant, Irving staying in Brooklyn mean for top of East?

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Dan Patrick reacts to news that Kevin Durant will be staying with the Brooklyn Nets after the team released a statement.

The NBA schedule makers had no idea what to do with the Brooklyn Nets. On paper, a team from the nation’s largest media market with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving should be pushing the Warriors for most nationally televised games (30) — and they should be title contenders. But with Durant’s trade request hanging out there while the schedule was put together, the Nets got 13 national games and just one on ABC. They do not play on Christmas.

The schedule makers would like a mulligan.

And the rest of the Eastern Conference should be worried.

Durant and the Nets have put aside their differences (for now), the trade demands are off the table, and both Durant and Irving will join Ben Simmons in Nets training camp in five weeks.

The Nets instantly move into the top tier in the East with the Celtics and Bucks, plus both the 76ers and Heat can make a strong case they should be in that conversation (although Philadelphia and Miami have a few more questions to answer to prove they belong in the top tier).

The Nets have questions, too, but this roster is unquestionably stacked with championship talent. Four-fifths of the starting and closing lineups are locked in: Irving will start at the point, Joe Harris will provide spacing on the wing, Durant will be option No.1, and Ben Simmons will be a point-forward and secondary attack option. The fifth player in that mix could depend on the matchup — Seth Curry for more shooting, Nic Claxton for defense, maybe Royce O’Neal for wing defense or Patty Mills for more ball handling. If T.J. Warren is healthy and playing like his bubble-self, he could be the fifth Beatle in the closing lineups. Coach Steve Nash will have options.

Make no mistake, the Nets have critical questions to answer:
• After all the summer drama, is everyone fully committed to each other and will the chemistry be there?
• Will Irving be focused and committed for an entire season?
• Will Simmons accept a smaller, different, Draymond Green-like role on offense?
• Can Simmons and his back stay healthy?
• Is Steve Nash up to the task as coach?
• Can 34-year-old Durant stay healthy?

This roster can potentially bring a title to Brooklyn, but the competition at the top of the East will be fierce.

The Celtics made it to the Finals last season and, along the way, discovered their identity. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the top two options, but with Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III this is also potentially the best defense in the NBA. The need for more ball handling and playmaking was answered with the addition of Malcolm Brogdon, and Danilo Gallinari will help address depth concerns. Boston is young, confident, playing with a chip on their shoulders, and poised to grab the top seed and return to the Finals.

We might be talking about the back-to-back champion Bucks if Khris Middleton had stayed healthy through the postseason. We’ll never know, but the Bucks are always in the mix because they have the best player on the planet in Giannis Antetokounmpo. They have surrounded the Greek Freak with high-level players — Middleton, Jrue Holiday — and have continuity of roster and system. Milwaukee won it all two years ago and is a threat to do it again.

Either of those teams could beat the Nets — but the Nets could also beat either of them. How all three of these teams grow and evolve over the course of a long season will be the difference. And they are not alone.

Philadelphia has a championship roster. Joel Embiid is the two-time MVP runner-up and the anchor for all they do. GM Daryl Morey addressed questions of championship-level depth this offseason by adding P.J. Tucker (poached from Miami), plus Danuel House and DeAnthony Melton. The 76ers also have James Harden — and he is their championship question. Everything is set up for Philly, but Harden has previously struggled on the league’s biggest playoff stages. If he can handle the moment, if he can combine elite-level playmaking and scoring in the postseason, the 76ers can absolutely win the East. But it’s on Harden (and Embiid) now.

Miami had the best record in the East last season and bring back their two cornerstones in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo (who should be in the mix to win Defensive Player of the Year this season). Tucker will be missed, but if Kyle Lowry is healthy and Tyler Herro takes a step forward, this team cannot be counted out — they pushed Boston to seven games last season and came within a Butler three of returning to the Finals. Miami will play hard every night; they are lunchpail guys and a threat.

How deep is the East? At least one of Boston, Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Miami will go home after the first round. And Toronto is good enough to maybe make that two teams gone fishing.

The East is a pushover no more, and the top of the conferences is as deep or deeper than the West.

Adding a fully loaded Brooklyn team to the mix makes it much wilder at the top.