Kevin Durant is gone to Phoenix and Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson are in Brooklyn.
“It’s KD,’’ Bridges said of his thoughts on the trade before the Nets’ 101-98 loss to the 76ers on Saturday night at the Barclays Center. “I get it. I’d rather say I’m happy to be traded for KD than probably somebody that wasn’t good. I’m just being realistic. … I get it. You’re getting Kevin Durant. Maybe I’d make that trade, too.”
Bridges and Johnson, who both made their Nets’ debuts on Saturday night, are part of the new-look Nets, who went from being in contention as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference with Durant and Kyrie Irving, to a team that’s still hoping to make the playoffs as they rebuild on the fly.
“It’s the beginning chapter of a new era, really,’’ head coach Jacque Vaughn said. “This group gets to tell their own story, really. That’s what we’re gonna allow them to do.”
The Nets (33-23) are in fifth place in the East, now with a team that somewhat resembles the group they had before they went all-in on Durant and Irving.
“We’ll come together, figure things out and find a way to get this thing done,’’ Vaughn said. “The expectations remain the same. … I don’t know what the last chapter at the end looks like. But I know along the way, our story is gonna be a team that’s gonna be defined as playing extremely hard and is competitive every night.”
Bridges and Johnson will play a key part in that, as will Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith, who were acquired from Dallas in exchange for Irving prior to the trade deadline Thursday.
Even though the move sending Durant to the Suns just happened, both Bridges and Johnson had prepared for the possibility of it as far back as June.
“We kind of knew over the summer KD wanted to come [to Phoenix],’’ said Bridges, who led the Nets with 23 points in the loss. “We knew the pieces who might be [involved]. The ones who were gonna go would be us two.”
“Looking back, there was new ownership [in Phoenix],” Johnson said. “There was a lot of excitement that put fuel to the fire. Anything is fair game at the trade deadline.”
The pair refers to themselves as “twins” because they were so close in Phoenix and they expect to have success in Brooklyn, with a lineup that Johnson said reminds him of what the Raptors have in Toronto.
Both Thomas and Vaughn noted the length of the lineup now.
“It gives us a lot of versatility on both ends of the floor,’’ Vaughn said. “The picture is gonna be painted a little differently. It’s up to me to put it in the right frame.”
That includes a different style of play, with the Nets having lost significant shot-creation opportunities after trading Irving and Durant.
“Without a doubt,’’ Vaughn said. “It’s something we’ll address with the group. … Guys will cover for each other. Guys are gonna wear the other team down til the end. It might not look ordinary. We might trap [on defense], we might press, [or go to a] zone. We’re gonna find a way to get it done.”
The Nets have some time to figure it out as they try to maintain their spot in the playoff race. That pursuit began in earnest on Saturday.
“When we saw the news [of the trade, it was] ‘Whoa,’ ’’ Johnson said. “But then it’s back to normal. We’ve got work to do. It’s a great opportunity.”