Sunday, January 29 2023

It was sloppy. It was needlessly dramatic. But in the end, Kevin Durant returning to the Brooklyn Nets seemed inevitable.

Durant put his big boy cards on the table at every turn, but the Nets didn’t budge — a task made easier when the trade market for a player under contract for the next four years wasn’t as plentiful as it appeared on paper.

And he wasn’t willing to go nuclear, i.e. not showing up to training camp to put the biggest spade on the floor.

“Kevin isn’t cut out that way,” a general manager who’s familiar with Durant told Yahoo Sports. “He loves to play basketball above and beyond. I could see [the Nets] getting in front of this issue they created.”

Whether it was the timing of Durant’s trade demand, being so close to free agency, or the perceived volatility of Durant as a figure, the offers for a player who could very well still be the best individual in the game weren’t overwhelming.

“Not at all,” another general manager told Yahoo Sports when asked if he was surprised at the result. “The price was too high to trade.”

Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during the first half of the Eastern Conference 2022 Play-In Tournament against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Barclays Center on April 12, 2022 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during the first half of the Eastern Conference 2022 Play-In Tournament against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Barclays Center on April 12, 2022 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant rescinded his trade request as he and the front office “move forward with [their] partnership.” (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

The formula which had been followed in this recent era of the NBA was bucked, with the lone exception of LeBron James — the man who always keeps his options close to the calendar. But Durant, in signing a four-year extension before last season began, gave up his leverage for this moment.

Usually, players secure the long-term bag and then find their way out, but it worked against Durant this time. Of course the world was still in the throes of an economically crippling pandemic so getting what’s on the table was a practical move, and he couldn’t have expected everything to fail so miserably in the next 12 months.

But it wasn’t a surprise to see James Harden pull his act in yet another city, nor was it shocking for his on-again, off-again teammate Kyrie Irving to hijack “Mr. Unreliable” from Durant. Durant was the only one who didn’t see it coming, and he lacked the clairvoyance in evaluating every step thereafter.

It wasn’t some referendum on player empowerment, more so one on proper strategy and execution that will be Exhibit A on what not to do for other players in similar predicaments.

The statement released by the Brooklyn Nets, with a quote from general manager Sean Marks as opposed to team owner Joe Tsai, was telling. Reportedly, Durant wanted Marks and head coach Steve Nash gone when meeting with Tsai a couple weeks ago.

Marks, in saying, “Steve Nash and I, together with Joe Tsai and Clara Wu Tsai …” before announcing the Nets and Durant will move forward, resets the power structure, or at least the perception of it.

Make no mistake, it’s Tsai’s team and his money, and Barclays Center has to be full come October. But despite that subtlety, he’s letting everyone know Marks is steering the ship even if it’s in “partnership” with Durant.

Even with it, the questions are just beginning for Marks, Nash and Durant. The mess obscured so many issues the Nets face, and Durant’s methods clouded the validity of his possible valid concerns.

No one has seen Ben Simmons play in an actual basketball game in well over a year, and it’ll be trending toward 18 months by the time the season tips off, assuming he’s healthy enough in mind, body and soul to play.

Irving was spectacular as a part-time player last season, but when tasked with playing four games in eight days, his performances got progressively worse against the Boston Celtics in the first-round playoff sweep.

Durant, by the end, was exhausted.

No help on the floor.

No direction on the sideline.

No resistance from the front office, even if Durant was the one applying the pressure and opening the door to chaos.

Perhaps it was impossible for any coach to succeed or any executive to execute short- and long-term planning, given the circumstances.

It’s also understandable for Durant to question the future of the franchise he helped cultivate, and as crazy as it sounds, underestimate how difficult it was to develop and maintain culture when he knew nothing different in Oklahoma City and with Golden State.

But the Nets have yet to show they can assemble and coach a team with championship expectations and star power. The roster lacks athleticism and size and facilitating — outside of Simmons, if he’s right. But can he be relied upon to erase all the ails, and should he be?

Ben Simmons and Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets look on during their game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Barclays Center on March 31, 2022 in New York City.Ben Simmons and Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets look on during their game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Barclays Center on March 31, 2022 in New York City.

Ben Simmons and Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets look on from the bench during a game in March. Durant, Simmons and Kyrie Irving all have questions ahead for the 2022-23 season. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Nobody in the East likely fears this team. The contenders have gone about the business of inquiring for inquiring’s sake while also understanding franchise stability and structure usually wins out.

Miami, Boston and Milwaukee will all be heavily motivated to get back to the Finals, and Philadelphia always believes it has a shot.

Durant will be supremely motivated, yet again, to reclaim the top spot of the basketball mountain. The trade offers the Nets received tacitly showed him there are doubts to how long he can play at this level and more importantly, asked how durable he is.

Never mind he rebounded from the first career-killing injury, that Jones fracture in his foot he suffered before the start of the 2014-15 season with Oklahoma City. Or the second career-killer, the ruptured Achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals.

The MCL injury this January cost him valuable time, but he was arguably the MVP with the Nets atop the East, even with Irving being banished and Harden looking like a B-minus version of himself.

He was exhausted by the start of the playoffs because of the load he had to carry upon his return, and even though it seems he’ll be able to be the best version of himself, the rest of the roster will have to prove it.

Irving will be playing for his NBA future, after the Nets refused to extend his deal and he was unable to find a trade partner before his opt-in date.

And Simmons’ basketball reputation is on the line, for various reasons. Even before his mental struggles took him out of this past season, there were loud questions on his development and desire that he’ll have to answer on the floor.

So Durant returns, and so does the same cast of characters with the same doubts cast before he set the world afire more than seven weeks ago.

Durant will have to face the music, but everyone else will have to do some dancing, too.

Source: Yahoo Sports

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