Kevin Durant and the Nets Will ‘Move Forward’ Together. For Now.
Nets General Manager Sean Marks said Tuesday that the team and the star forward Kevin Durant had “agreed to move forward with our partnership” nearly two months after Durant made a surprising trade request that had captivated league observers.
A Nets spokesman declined to comment when asked if the statement meant that Durant had rescinded his request and that the team was no longer trying to trade him.
“We are focusing on basketball, with one collective goal in mind: build a lasting franchise to bring a championship to Brooklyn,” Marks said in a statement that included logos from the Nets and Boardroom, Durant’s media company.
The statement also said Durant and Rich Kleiman, Durant’s business manager, had met with Joe Tsai, the team’s owner; Clara Wu Tsai, Tsai’s wife and the team co-owner; Coach Steve Nash; and Marks in Los Angeles on Monday.
The plight of Durant, a 12-time N.B.A. All-Star and the 2014 Most Valuable Player Award-winner, roiled the sport for much of the summer. He made the request in June, after the Nets were swept in embarrassing fashion by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Durant, 33, asked to be moved despite having agreed to a four-year contract extension with the franchise just last summer.
Losing Durant would leave the Nets with proverbial egg on their faces, given the lack of postseason success since his signing in the summer of 2019 and the rarity of being able to acquire a generational talent of Durant’s caliber. But Durant’s trade value was uncertain, and remains so, because of his age, injury history and the length of his contract. Even so, trade rumors linked him to several teams, including the Celtics and Miami Heat. For the Celtics, the trade discussions most likely would have meant that at least one of their young stars, such as the fan favorite Jaylen Brown, would have been sent to Brooklyn in order to make the deal worthwhile for the Nets. Responding to Marks’s statement on Tuesday, Mayor Michelle Wu of Boston said on Twitter, “Good.” (Brown, for his part, cryptically posted in late July, “Smh,” an abbreviation for “shaking my head,” as trade rumors swirled.)
The tensions between Durant and the franchise seemed to ratchet up earlier this month, when Durant met with Joe Tsai and said Tsai had to “choose” between having him or having Nash and Marks, according to a report by The Athletic. After The Athletic reported the meeting, Tsai, who is usually publicly silent on basketball matters, released a statement on Twitter that said the team’s front office staff and coaches had his support.
“We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets,” Tsai’s post on Twitter said.
If the Nets enter training camp with Durant and Kyrie Irving committed, they will still be a formidable team on paper. This is especially the case if Ben Simmons, the three-time All-Star the Nets acquired last season from Philadelphia for James Harden, is healthy after having back surgery in the spring. The team also added the veterans T.J. Warren and Royce O’Neale in the off-season and is expected to have the sharpshooter Joe Harris return from injury. In addition, the Nets have multiple empty roster spots they can use to add free-agent talent.
But if there has been a constant in Durant’s tenure with the Nets, it is that very little has gone according to plan. The Nets’ signing of Durant in 2019, along with his friends Irving and the veteran center DeAndre Jordan, injected a rush of optimism into a franchise that had struggled for years to build a fan base to rival that of the crosstown Knicks. Since then, however, Durant has played only 90 regular season games of a possible 226 because of various injuries.
Entering last season, the Nets were considered to be a favorite to make the finals. They had an elite star core with Durant, Irving and Harden, whom they acquired in January 2021. However, when local pandemic-related rules prohibited Irving, who is unvaccinated against the coronavirus, from playing home games, the season was thrown into disarray. Eventually, Harden, for whom the Nets had traded several of their young players and draft picks, asked out.
Losing Harden, Irving’s inconsistent availability and a combination of injuries derailed the Nets season. (Early in the season, Harden told reporters, “I don’t plan on leaving this organization and the situation that we have.”)
If Durant’s reconciliation with the Nets is lasting, it will buck the trend of the last decade in which some star players successfully maneuvered their way to other teams in the middle of their contracts.