NBA fans debate who is responsible for Nets mess

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By , Audacy Sports

Trade rumors around Kevin Durant have gone all but silent in recent weeks, after the 12-time All-Star reportedly asked to be dealt in late June.

But all that changed with a Monday report claiming that Durant had issued an ultimatum to Nets owner Joe Tsai.

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According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Durant recently reiterated to Tsai that he wants to be traded -- unless general manager Sean Marks and head coach Steve Nash are fired. Tsai responded with an apparent vote of confidence in Marks and Nash.

The reported ultimatum sent social media into a frenzy, much of the reaction centered on the talking point that Durant is seeking to escape from the team that he built, or at least had a major hand in shaping.

But many fans and journalists pushed back on that narrative. Some suggested that Durant played less of a role than is typically depicted in the media.

What is beyond dispute is that Durant and fellow superstar Kyrie Irving signed with the Nets in the summer of 2019. Marks was several years into his tenure as GM then, while Tsai was in the process of taking over full ownership of the franchise from Mikhail Prokhorov. Kenny Atkinson was still head coach. After these basics, there's a lot of room for interpretation.

Along with the signings of Durant and Irving, the Nets inked veteran center DeAndre Jordan to a four-year, $40 million deal that summer. Several media reports at the time indicated that Durant and Irving had taken less money in order to bring Jordan into the fold as the third pillar in Brooklyn's own version of a "big three." The trio were teammates on Team USA at the Rio Olympics in 2016, and by their own account forged a special bond there, vowing to to join forces someday in the NBA.

In retrospect, and frankly even at the time, the Jordan signing didn't make a ton of sense. He was clearly on the downslope of his career at that point, and the Nets already had a budding young center in Jarrett Allen. Further compounding the confusion was that Jordan was relegated to a backup role once the new-look Nets took the floor in the fall of 2019.

The seemingly curious Jordan signing would later become a topic of particular intrigue after Atkinson suddenly resigned in early March 2020, before Durant had even played a game in a Nets uniform. Atkinson stepping down was one of the first public indications of fissures between management and the new stars. Reports framed it as the coach being forced out by the new guard of players, a narrative that Jordan forcefully pushed back on.

Was Atkinson fired because of his handling of Jordan? It seems unlikely the Jordan situation alone could account for such a development, but maybe it was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Jordan lasted just two seasons in Brooklyn, before he was unceremoniously traded to the Pistons for castaways Sekou Doumbouya and Jahlil Okafor in the early days of the 2021-22 season. Roughly two years after the ill-fated Jordan signing, a report from Jake L. Fischer of Bleacher Report claimed that Nets brass never really wanted Jordan, and merely took him on at the behest of Durant and Irving.

Meanwhile Atkinson had been replaced on an interim basis by Jacque Vaughn. A permanent replacement was found in the ensuing months, when the Nets pulled a shocker by hiring former two-time MVP Steve Nash in the summer of 2020. It was a polarizing move to say the least, given that Nash had no coaching experience. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith infamously referred to it as a classic case of "white privilege."

Intrigue soared about what -- or more accurately, who -- drove the Nash hire. Many assumed it couldn't have gone down without Durant's and Irving's blessing. Nash had reportedly played a role in steering Durant to the Golden State Warriors during his first foray into free agency, in 2016. Others pointed to Nash's longstanding friendship with Marks, a relationship spanning back years to their playing days.

A report prior to Nash's hiring indicated that Irving preferred Tyronn Lue, now with the Clippers. Similarly, a report from recent weeks also claimed that Durant wanted Lue.

The Nets' two seasons under Nash have been a rollercoaster, to say the least. The first was marked by the midseason trade that brought James Harden -- Durant's former Thunder teammate -- to Brooklyn. The Nets reached the Eastern Conference Finals, falling to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in a heartbreaker. All of Durant, Irving and Harden were in and out of the lineup that year with injuries at various times.

However, the Nets appeared poised to run it back with their seemingly unstoppable big three last season, with the promise of a full season together bringing them to new heights. Durant committed to a long-term extension in the offseason, and Marks claimed it was a top priority reach similar accords with Harden and Irving.

But last season was a nightmare from the get-go, with Irving unavailable for home games owing to New York City vaccination requirements. Things soured further when Harden requested and was granted a midseason trade out of town, this time to Philadelphia in exchange for Ben Simmons. Irving logged just 29 regular-season games, and the finger pointing, long under way, only intensified after the team was bounced in the second round of the playoffs by the surging Celtics.

Who shoulders responsibility for this series of twists and turns?

Some say it's Durant's and Irving's show. Others argue that the owner and GM are ultimately responsible, even if they surrendered much of their authority when they reeled in a pair of title-winners in Durant and Irving.

Here are some highlights from the blame game on social media:

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