Chasing rings as a mercenary won't ease Kevin Durant's pain

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The Nets superteam looks to be finished after three disappointing seasons, with 12-time All-Star Kevin Durant reportedly requesting a trade out of Brooklyn.

The apparent change of heart is somewhat understandable given the state of the Nets.

After all, Durant turns 34 in September, and though he has already won two NBA titles -- and two Finals MVPs -- with the Warriors, there is more road in his rearview mirror than his windshield. If his objective is to add more rings before he hangs 'em up, the window could be closing, especially given his recent injury history, and there's no telling how things were going to shake out in Brooklyn given the instability.

But there is a persistent knock on Durant, fair or not, that he had to join an established winner in order to get his championships. This criticism seems to bother him, and according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Warriors winning another title sans Durant played a role in his desire to move on from Brooklyn. Apparently, he wants more titles to prove he can win without the Dubs.

But that logic falls apart when one considers that Durant's reported preferred trade destinations -- the Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat -- are already terrific teams in their own right. The Suns reached the Finals two years ago, while the Heat reached the conference finals last season.

Sure, maybe KD could get one of those teams over the hump and pick up another ring. But does anyone really think that would silence the haters, such as TNT analyst Charles Barkley, who dismiss Durant as a "bus rider" rather than a "bus driver?"

The Nets are Durant's team, whether he likes it or not, and in that sense, his first and perhaps only stab at doing it on his own terms can only be described as a massive failure.

Durant is a terrific player, an all-timer and a no-doubt Hall of Famer, but he's not a leader, or perhaps more accurately, he doesn't have a vision. Not a winning one, anyway.

His decision to co-star in Brooklyn alongside Kyrie Irving proved to be a colossal mistake. Maybe Irving duped him, or maybe Durant's just a poor judge of character, but whatever the case, there's no doubting KD hitched his wagon to the wrong guy.

Also botched was the firing of former head coach Kenny Atkinson in favor of the inexperienced and unqualified Steve Nash, and so too was the gutting of the roster in order to bring in former Thunder teammate James Harden. These moves probably weren't back-breakers, but they did little to endear the new guys to fans who'd come to appreciate the efforts of the players behind the Nets' turnaround such as Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, and Jarrett Allen, who is now an All-Star.

If Durant didn't want the pressure and scrutiny that comes with having a hand in major organizational decisions, as some have suggested, then he chose the wrong team to sign with during free agency in 2019.

The Nets have largely been a rudderless franchise, and though general manager Sean Marks deserves credit for recruiting top-tier players to a previously moribund organization, dropping a couple of superstars into that situation is no substitute for leadership and culture.

Durant may now get his wish to be "just" a star player again. There's no shame in that; few if any players are cut out to be both standouts on the court and savvy executives off of it.

But joining forces with an established winner or even a contender won't change what Durant's critics have to say, so perhaps it's time for him to ignore them and consider what he really wants for himself. One would hope there's more to a career as a professional athlete than silencing nitwits like Barkley.

Durant has previously complained about reductive debates comparing players by their rings and MVPs, yet his actions seem to suggest it weighs on him that he's "only" won two and one, respectively. And in putting up the white flag and seeking his exit from Brooklyn, he has unfortunately given his critics the ammunition they crave, with each title won in Miami, Phoenix, or somewhere else further fueling their fire.

With two titles, two Finals MVPs, a regular-season MVP, 12 All-Star nods, and an Olympic gold medal as the undisputed best player for Team USA in 2021, Durant has nothing left to prove. But if his shiny resume has any blemish, it's bailing on the team that he helped build.

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