Ho ho! Ho ho ho ho! A summer that has already sucked quite a lot for the Brooklyn Nets just got so much worse: Kevin Durant, the best and most reliable and only truly indispensable star of the three the Nets had in place at the start of last season, formally requested Thursday that the team trade him before the start of next season. Durant, who was “monitoring the situation” as the latest round of Kyrie Irving drama gripped the organization, has evidently seen enough, and reportedly informed Nets owner Joe Tsai directly that he would prefer to play out the remaining four years of his contract, and whatever is left of his athletic prime, someplace else.
When Irving opted into the final year of his contract earlier this week, probably the safe assumption was that he and Durant had conferenced and decided together to ride out at least one more season in Brooklyn, to see if the relaxing of COVID-19 mandates and the addition of Ben Simmons—ho ho ho ho ho—would stabilize the team’s core for another title hunt. It’s very tempting to infer from today’s report—I can hardly resist it, veins are popping out on my forehead as I type this—that what Durant was hoping for with all that “monitoring” was that Nets general manager Sean Marks would exile Irving to Sacramento, or Orlando, or some other basketball wilderness, and that when Irving instead recommitted to Brooklyn, Durant made up his mind to get the hell out of town. Obviously we do not have any concrete reason to assert otherwise, but it seems equally likely that Durant, who will be 34 years old next season, knows that Irving will not sign his next contract in Brooklyn and that Brooklyn will not have the resources to replace Irving with anywhere near as dynamic a playmaker, and has decided now might be a good time to try to find a more stable situation. Lingering bad feelings over how his strange friend’s vaccine status was handled by the Nets last season may not be helping matters.
Here I must pause to shriek with laughter at the unfortunate timing of this tweet featuring Ben Simmons, who has yet to play a single minute with either of his high-profile Nets teammates, but who evidently was engaged in the summer grind approximately 34 minutes before Wojnarowski’s big scoop:
Chris Haynes reported Thursday that Durant has a list of preferred destinations, but that may not matter at all in the end: Because Durant has four guaranteed years left on his current contract, and because that contract takes him through what anyone would reasonably expect to remain of his best playing years, any team that wants him should feel comfortable making an offer. If Durant’s trade request isn’t a convincing indicator of the level of unhappiness and dysfunction in Brooklyn, that the team is apparently willing to acquiesce should do the trick. Marks now has the unenviable and maybe even impossible job of finding a suitable return in a trade for one of the two or three best basketball players on the planet. It will almost certainly mean a complete roster overhaul—once you have agreed to trade maybe the best pure scorer in this history of the sport, it would be lunacy to consider anything or anyone else off limits.
The Nets had Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, and then they had Irving, Durant, and James Harden—possibly the most impressively credentialed Big Three of the Big Three era, and the culmination of nearly a decade of painstaking, meticulous work rebuilding the basketball operation from the messy conclusion of the Billy King era—and now they’ve got one lousy playoff series win to show for it, are burdened with some of the worst vibes in American professional sports, and are embarking on a complete roster overhaul. Amazing.