If we break down a big trade with winners and losers, can we do the same with a trade that never happened?
Some might argue Kevin Durant is a loser in all this. He did demand a trade, didn’t have the leverage to get to where he wanted to go, issued a “GM and the coach or me” ultimatum to try and push things along, and weeks later had to retract his demand and return to Brooklyn. Still, calling a guy about to start a $194 million contract to play for a title contender in the nation’s largest media market a “loser” stretches the definition of the word.
Were the Nets really winners? They got what they wanted in keeping Durant, but with the bad blood around the Kyrie Irving extension talks and the Durant trade demand, are the Nets better now than they were before this all started? Does anyone think the drama around this team is over for the long term? The scars from this will not heal quickly and very well may be re-opened.
Were the Heat, Suns, and Celtics winners? Are they better off for their involvement in the Durant trade talks? Boston has some relationship mending to do with one of their core players, Jaylen Brown, after his name came up in trade rumors. (Team president Brad Stevens said he has been transparent and spoken to Brown through the process, but that is likely just a start.)
There were no winners, no losers. Durant’s reconciliation with the Nets had started to look like the only wise path, but that doesn’t mean everyone will come into camp without wounds from the summer’s drama.
The key is Durant will come into the Nets’ training camp. The only other real path open to him — a holdout — was not the smart play. First, at age 34, Durant only has so many seasons left to chase another ring and only so many seasons where he will get paid nearly $43 million to play basketball. Beyond that was the potential damage to his image — holding out for a trade would have flown in the face of the “basketball is first” image of Durant. As Corey Robinson of NBC Sports noted, Durant is a guy who wants to be challenged, to push himself, wants to get better. What would holding out say about that?
Kyrie Irving and Durant pushed back against Nets ownership and management this summer, only to find they lacked leverage. The players thought they had a partnership, or to use Irving’s words, “When I say I’m here with Kev, I think that it really entails us managing this franchise together alongside Joe [Tsai, the owner] and Sean [Marks, the GM].”
But after a couple of tumultuous seasons, Marks and Tsai did not see that partnership the same way. As Marks said after the season, they wanted more commitment, particularly from Irving, “We need people here that want to be here, that are selfless that want to be part of something bigger than themselves, and there’s an objective and there’s a goal at stake here. And in order to do that, we’re gonna need availability from everybody.”
The Nets wouldn’t give Irving the long-term extension he wanted. What Irving found when he tried to find a sign-and-trade is the teams that he wanted to go to had the same commitment concerns as Brooklyn and wouldn’t go all-in on getting him (except for the Lakers, who lacked the trade pieces to make an offer the Nets would want). Irving had to reconcile. He didn’t have the leverage to get the deal he wanted (but could next summer, after a committed season playing at the level everyone knows he is capable of).
Durant — possibly because he was unhappy with how the Nets treated his good friend Irving — then tried to use his leverage to force a trade. But teams around the league were not putting their best — or, often, their second-best — player in the mix, let alone meeting the sky-high demands from Brooklyn. With four years on KD’s contract, the Nets could wait out the market, but Durant could not wait that long.
Maybe the Nets and Durant will ultimately be winners out of all this — this roster, on paper, has the talent to win the East. There are a lot of “ifs” that need to go right for that to happen — including Irving being fully committed for the season and Durant staying healthy — but this team has the talent to hang with and beat the Bucks, Celtics, 76ers, and Heat.
The team has the potential to be winners in the end, but it feels like there will be a lot more drama between now and then.