Thu. Feb 9th, 2023

Suffice it to say, things have not gone as Kevin Durant planned in Brooklyn. Three years, seven playoff wins and one series victory. The only team to be swept out of the 2022 playoffs. James Harden was injured and out of shape and generally a shell of his former self before forcing a trade. Kyrie Irving appears to be on the cusp of a relocation. Durant, who is basically backed into a corner now, is reportedly mulling his own future with the Nets. 

Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors, the dynasty Durant left to try to prove his independent championship merits, just won another title, their fourth in the last eight years, proving Draymond Green’s contentious point that they never really needed Durant to compete for, and win, championships. 

The Warriors, of course, were much better with Durant, who’s arguably the greatest pure scorer of all time and took his game to even greater heights with Golden State. But they won before him, and now they’ve won after him. 

On paper, the Nets had what it took to fulfill Durant’s post-Warriors vision for vindication. They had James Harden and Kyrie Irving and solid peripheral parts. Harden just wasn’t good enough, or wasn’t in good enough shape, or wasn’t healthy enough, or some combination of all that, and when it got hard he bailed. 

But Harden was gravy. He came later. Irving is the co-star on which Durant originally bet, and as has become increasingly clear over the last half-decade, Irving is a long-shot bet. He’s obviously an enticing bet. He has the talent to pay off big. But do the accounting, and you’ll see that he’s paid off exactly once in his career, in 2015-16, on which his sole shred of credibility continues to rest. 

Every other stop along Irving’s personal path of dysfunction has gone bust. He told Boston he wanted to stay there, then left, and they were better without him than they were with him anyway. Of Brooklyn, he said as recently as April that he didn’t “plan on going anywhere,” laying out a vision of such invested involvement that he and Durant would assume the role of “managing this franchise together.”

And now here he is, about to blow out of town again. 

Irving wants a max contract. The Nets aren’t going to give it to him, which they shouldn’t. He played 29 games last season because he wouldn’t take a vaccine shot. He’s been with them three seasons and they’ve won one playoff series. Durant keeps his friendship with Irving separate, which is great, but he has come face to face with the reality that he, or anyone else for that matter, just flat out can’t count on Irving the teammate. 

So what’s next? Unlike Irving, who has concluded his contractual obligation to the Nets (he has a $36.5 million player option for the 2022-23 season), Durant is entering the first year of a four-year, $198 million contract with Brooklyn that he signed last summer. He surely didn’t think his circumstances were going to change this drastically when he signed that dal. Harden’s gone. Irving is packing his bags. Who knows what the deal is with Ben Simmons. 

Durant is said to be “monitoring the situation and considering options with his future,” according to Shams Charania, which is pretty thinly veiled code for being on the brink of his own trade demand. It’s unfortunate. Durant deserves better. He has never given anything less than 100 percent of his basketball self to his teammates. With Golden State, his co-stars were equally invested. 

“The grass isn’t always greener” jabs are writing themselves after Durant left the Warriors for this Nets mess, but hindsight is 20-20. His reasons for leaving were valid. Wanting to pursue a championship outside the Stephen Curry shadow is an understandable and reasonable motivation for a player of his caliber, particularly one who took the heat he took for joining the Warriors in the first place. Sometimes, oftentimes, in fact, things just don’t work out. 

When Durant teamed up with Irving in Brooklyn in the summer of 2019, and certainly after Harden joined the party, it would’ve been unthinkable that the Nets would win one playoff series over the next three seasons. They had to play their way into the postseason field this past season, and they were the only team to get swept. This is a mess. No other way around it. But none of it is Durant’s fault. The only thing he did wrong was trusting the wrong teammate. 

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