Brooklyn’s standoff with Kevin Durant intensified this week, with the All-Star issuing an ultimatum, demanding a trade unless the Nets fire both Steve Nash and Sean Marks. Owner Joe Tsai appears more than ready to call Durant’s bluff, standing by his coach and GM while insisting he’ll only do what’s “in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.”
Durant doesn’t have much leverage—he signed a four-year, $196-million max extension with Brooklyn last offseason. However, honoring your contract in today’s NBA has become almost optional, with Durant and other disgruntled stars determined to push “player empowerment” to its logical extreme. Durant’s attempt at a hostile takeover is further complicated by convoluted rules pertaining to designated rookie extensions, preventing the Nets from acquiring Bam Adebayo or Andrew Wiggins without involving a third team. Utah’s ludicrous return for Rudy Gobert (five players, four first-rounders and a future pick swap), a useful player but not half as talented as Durant, is also to blame, setting an unrealistic expectation that no team, at least to this point, has been able to meet.
Durant has recently been linked to the Celtics, who, ironically enough, ended his season this past spring, eliminating Brooklyn in a first-round sweep. The 33-year-old considered the Celtics when he was a free agent in 2016 and has long admired Ime Udoka, who coached him in Brooklyn and again last summer on the US Olympic team. According to Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe, the Nets’ initial offer was an ambitious one, seeking both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in exchange for Durant. After being laughed out of the room, the Nets countered by offering Durant for Brown, Marcus Smart and what Himmelsbach described as a “massive haul of first-round picks.” Again, the Celtics weren’t interested.
Reading between the lines, the Nets don’t seem all that eager to move Durant, submitting an outrageous proposal no team, especially one as shrewd and calculating as Boston, would ever accept. But even if they were, not many teams are equipped to pull off a trade of that magnitude, lacking the resources to acquire a perennial MVP candidate (albeit one with lingering durability concerns) without gutting their entire roster.
Brooklyn is asking for the moon, and understandably so—Durant, when healthy, remains a walking bucket, a dominant scorer with few equals in the sport. But it’s also not getting them anywhere, suggesting the Nets will wait as long as they have to, refusing to trade their best player for pennies on the dollar, regardless of the distraction it causes.