Kevin Durant’s ultimatum and the cost of business

Three years ago, the Brooklyn Nets caused a stir in free agency when they reached coordinated deals for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, deals based on the idea that in Brooklyn the two could be more than just superstars. . Every great player wields some level of (often earned) influence, but much of the reporting around the Nets in recent seasons has characterized Durant and Irving as driving decisions across the organization. The coaches were fired and replaced. The roster has been reworked to the liking of Durant and Irving, with prop center DeAndre Jordan joining the team on a $40 million deal with the Nets dump their young core to trade for a third star at James Harden.

Each of these decisions can be explained by a mixture of injuries, opportunities and circumstances. Yet, ultimately, those choices were made for the same basic reason Durant over the weekend allegedly followed through on his trade request with an ultimatum to move him or fire the head coach and general manager of the team.

This is what the Nets negotiated.

Attraction has always been part of the appeal. Brooklyn has entered into a lucid partnership with Durant and, by extension, Irving as central figures in its future. Yet even in 2019 there was already a distinction between the two stars and what they meant for the organization as a whole. Sources said ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz that the Nets bringing Irving — and the baggage caravan following him — were “the cost of business” to land Durant. Irving was an allowance from the start. He became an essential part of the franchise by the fact that an all-time great wanted to play with his friend. It may be unpleasant for one of the game’s most advanced shot-makers in Irving, but the difference in position between the two superstar teammates has only become more apparent.

At Irving’s last official press conference of the 2021-22 season, he assured the assembled media that he planned to return with the Nets despite a tumultuous year and its disheartening end. He talked about not just being part of the franchise, but “managing” it alongside Durant, team governor Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks, all of whom were appointed specifically by Irving. (Notably not mentioned: head coach Steve Nash.) It was a rejection of reality — or at the very least, a misunderstanding by Kyrie of just how much his reality had changed.

Irving spoke that day as if he had stepped straight out of a 2019 time machine, completely unaware of everything he had done (or would do, to the future of time travel?) to derail the Brooklyn season. The odd quality of Irving’s comments came from the fact that he still seemed to believe his basic agreement with the team was intact. That he always had the same degree of contribution. That he was still a franchise steward, even after make oneself voluntarily unavailable for much of the season. Brooklyn made excuses and exceptions for Kyrie for months, but his relationship with the franchise changed when he decided it wasn’t in his best interest to be a part of it.

Durant, for his part, continued to show off whenever his body allowed – to the point of worrying the public that he was doing too to keep his compromised super-team afloat. KD was still one of the best players in the world last season, and still the voice the Nets recruited him to be. Even increasing his demands on the organization now, Durant is still doing more or less what he was brought to Brooklyn to do: declare his intentions and describe exactly what he wants. Sometimes it looks like leadership. Sometimes it looks like this.

The real question is whether Durant’s trade demand broke that momentum — like Irving broke his — or just complicated it. For one thing, the very fact that Durant’s future with the franchise is all about meeting and negotiating speaks volumes. There are extremely practical reasons the Nets want one of the best basketball players in the world on their roster for as long as humanly possible – 7-foot reasons with unthinkable touch, skills and instincts. And then there are the realities of this player demanding in broad daylight that his coach and general manager be fired, creating such a stir that the team governor felt compelled to respond on Twitter.

“Our front office and coaching staff have my support,” Tsai tweeted In Monday. “We will make decisions in the best interests of the Brooklyn Nets.”

As for the statements, it’s a bit vague. It is also substantially non-binding. “Support” is far from a guarantee in the modern NBA, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see how keeping Kevin Freaking Durant on a coach and executive could always be in the franchise’s best interest. Overall, this tweet sounds like the team owner’s insistence that times have changed, even as he meets Durant to discuss how he could convince him to stay.

The whole situation is a mess, but the kind of mess that Brooklyn could happily sweep under a rug and ignore, if only that were possible. It is impossible to replace Kevin Durant. Hell, it’s hard enough to pin down a fair return for Durant in a trade, let alone a suitor can realistically meet. Every request seems ridiculous because Durant is a truly ridiculous player. That may be the only reason he’s still on the net about six weeks after asking for a trade – and maybe the real reason KD is stirring the pot with this ultimatum in the first place. Does he really want Marks and Nash gone? Or is he just looking to send a shock through the Nets system? You can always create leverage with one foot out, especially when three years of subtle encouragement has already shown you exactly where to push.

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