As Kevin Durant and the Nets enter the next stage of their stalemate, there’s one important detail to keep in mind.
As much as both sides would hate to admit it, they need each other and would be worse off in the aftermath of a messy divorce.
If Durant gets his wish and is traded, that means a team gave Brooklyn a package beyond its wildest dreams, a package that far supersedes the grift the Utah Jazz pulled off in the Rudy Gobert deal. As a reminder, Gobert is a premier defensive player with a limited offensive skill set, and the Jazz got four draft picks, a pick swap, four role players and 2022 first-round pick Walker Kessler in the deal.
If that’s what the Jazz got for Gobert, a one-dimensional player, you can understand why the Nets want the kitchen sink, the stove, the island, the fully-stocked refrigerator and the dining room table in a deal for Durant.
But every contender – and potential Durant suitor – knows that meeting Brooklyn’s asking price means effectively gutting their roster, and gutting the roster means surrendering the requisite depth history has proven is necessary to contend for a championship. Few teams can surrender an All-Star, two role players and significant draft compensation and still have a roster that can bang with the league’s heavies. The Boston Celtics are one such team, but they would have to give up both Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart in a Durant deal, and Durant reportedly only wants to be traded to the Celtics if Smart is on the roster. The New Orleans Pelicans are another team and the Daily News reported their interest in a Durant deal, but it remains unclear if they are willing to trade star forward Brandon Ingram.
And if the Nets are able to pull off a deal, that means they’ll have traded one of the best players on the planet for a player several tiers below him, plus role players. It means after years of selling their fan base on championships, they will have willingly pulled an about face in the name of “taking back control” of their franchise.
It would be unforgivable, and it would firmly remove the Nets from championship contention, because it was Durant’s greatness – not Steve Nash’s coaching nor Sean Marks’ managerial skills – that forced the eventual 2021 NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks to Game 7 without Kyrie Irving and with a one-legged James Harden.
It is Durant’s greatness – not Nash’s coaching skills nor Marks’ managerial prowess – that gives the Nets a chance to win every game when he’s on the floor. Case in point: The Nets tanked from first to 10th in the Eastern Conference when Durant missed a month and a half of action with a sprained MCL last season. Irving was available for the road games during that stretch, and Harden, though disgruntled, still played in many of those games.
Not only would moving on from Durant remove the Nets from championship contention, but moving him for one of the subpar packages available would set the Nets back another four to five years minimum, a decade at worst. It would mean they traded D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen for a team built around Ben Simmons – fresh off back surgery – and another player of his caliber. It would mean they so desperately want autonomous control of their organization that control has supplanted winning as Nets owner Joe Tsai’s only religion.
The Nets would no longer dominate headlines and airwaves. That tide is already shifting with the Knicks’ acquisition of Jalen Brunson and pursuit of star guard Donovan Mitchell. In fact, the Knicks look functional these days compared to the Nets, who would certainly no longer be perennial championship contenders.
That ship sails the minute Durant leaves town.
Yet the Nets don’t want to bend the knee, and Durant is tired of the status quo. Durant told Nets owner Joe Tsai he has to fire both Marks and Nash if he’s not going to trade him. Once reports broke, Tsai tweeted support for both the front office and coaching staff and said he will do “what is in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.”
Good business is in the Nets’ best interest, and business hasn’t boomed more since Durant arrived in Brooklyn. A happy Durant, a motivated Irving, and a healthy Ben Simmons would be better business than the Nets have seen since the Nets pounded the Chicago Bulls last season in one of the only games Irving, Durant and Harden played as a trio.
Despite Durant’s gripe, Marks has proven more than capable as a general manager and will go down as an all-time snub for Executive of the Year – even if some of his decisions are responsible for Durant’s current dissatisfaction with the franchise. If feelings can be mended, Durant will return to a legitimate 3-and-D wing in Royce O’Neale, who Marks acquired for a first-round pick. Durant will also return to additional scoring help: Marks signed noted bucket-getter TJ Warren on a minimum deal, though a nagging stress fracture in his left foot has kept him off the floor for the past two seasons.
But Marks also hired Nash, who had no prior coaching experience whatsoever before assuming control of a team that made its championship expectations public. And for those wondering why Durant gave Nash a vow of support during his exit interview after Ime Udoka outclassed him in Boston’s first-round sweep of Brooklyn last season, Durant also told the media he had nothing to do with Harden getting traded to the Nets.
Nash also told the media Harden wouldn’t be getting traded hours before the trade to the Sixers broke. Players and coaches aren’t always transparent when discussing touchy basketball subjects.
In fact, this is the most transparent it’s been: Durant telling Tsai he wants both Marks and Nash gone if he’s going to be happy staying in Brooklyn. And if the Nets try to force Durant to report to camp without doing something to appease him, they risk this already messy situation becoming completely untenable.
When Jimmy Butler’s trade request from Minnesota went unfulfilled, he started cursing out teammates, coaches and staffers in practice. When the Rockets failed to move James Harden in a timely manner, he showed up to training camp out of shape, and the first chance he got with a microphone, he told anyone who would listen that he didn’t want to be in Houston. Durant has already proven he’s willing to escalate this situation further to get what he wants.
That’s not typically the way franchises handle their stars. It didn’t take long for the 76ers to begin doing Harden’s bidding. They created a comfortable environment for him before he ever arrived by hiring his former Rockets GM Daryl Morey. And this offseason alone, the Sixers signed his two friends PJ Tucker and Danuel House to contracts. Philly might put his stylist on retainer next.
And yet the Nets fired Durant’s shooting coach Adam Harrington and played hardball with Irving, the only reason Durant is in Brooklyn, during contract negotiations.
It’s no wonder he requested a trade, which speaks volumes given his best chance at winning big still remains in Brooklyn.