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Kevin Durant Is Staying, but the Foundation Is Fractured in Brooklyn

The Nets slow-played their way into keeping KD, but it’s hard to imagine things working out after this summer’s drama

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Brooklyn Nets weren’t so much trying to trade Kevin Durant as they were waiting for him to change his mind—or at least realize there’s no path to a realistic trade. More than 50 days after Durant made his trade request in late June, the Nets finally got their wish on Tuesday when they announced that the franchise and the star have agreed to move forward in their partnership.

“We are focusing on basketball, with one collective goal in mind: build a lasting franchise to bring a championship to Brooklyn,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said in a statement that notably featured both the Nets logo and the logo for the Boardroom, the company created by Durant and his business partner, Rich Kleiman.

But KD and Kleiman ultimately didn’t get what they wanted after Marks and Nets owner Joe Tsai held firm despite Durant’s trade request, slow-playing negotiations to buy themselves time. Along the way, trades were leaked involving names of players from other teams to stir the pot, and Durant himself reportedly asked for Marks and head coach Steve Nash to be fired. Now he’s back … and this is awkward.

No matter how ugly it is, though, pairing Durant with Kyrie Irving, who missed more than half of last season, and Ben Simmons, who missed all of last season, is by far the Nets’ best pathway to winning a title this season. Brooklyn wanted a historic trade return for Durant, and no one could get anywhere close.

Consider how the summer played out. The Heat were a preferred destination for Durant, but there was no way to compile a strong trade without involving Bam Adebayo. The Suns were also on KD’s preferred list of teams, except the Nets wanted much more than what they could offer. When Deandre Ayton returned to the Suns, they were effectively removed from the sweepstakes. Brooklyn wanted Devin Booker. The Suns said no. Just like Boston did with Jayson Tatum, and Minnesota did with Anthony Edwards, and New Orleans did with Brandon Ingram, and so on. The Nets wanted an All-NBA player or two young All-Stars and draft picks, and no one was able to come up with that type of offer. Rudy Gobert going to Minnesota for four future first-round picks set an impossible bar for Durant’s value this summer. In the end, the Nets wanted a historic return, and no one was willing to muster it for a soon-to-be 34-year-old.

Make no mistake, the foundation is fractured in Brooklyn. Tsai had to go as far as to tweet his support of Marks and Nash after word leaked that KD wanted them gone. Everyone in the organization knows how he felt. Durant, Irving, and Simmons have all played through their own controversies before. But just showing up for work doesn’t mean your team can build the type of chemistry and camaraderie necessary to be a contender.

Marks came to Brooklyn from San Antonio, where he played, coached, and served for a savvy front office, and hoped to instill some of those same qualities within the Nets. And for a while, he did with a young, up-and-coming team. Now he’s learning that not all superstars are as easy to manage as Tim Duncan. Sustaining success is difficult. Durant demanded a trade before his max even kicked in. Irving missed most of last season for a variety of reasons. Ben Simmons couldn’t handle it when his coach questioned whether he could be the point guard of a championship team. Where is the leadership going to come in Brooklyn? Can this team even stay healthy? Brooklyn is defined by uncertainty. Even if his own choices helped get them to this point, it’s no wonder KD had a wandering eye.

The Nets reportedly haven’t had any serious trade talks about Durant since mid-July. There have been texts and calls, names tossed around, but otherwise a whole lot of nothing, since no one was close to meeting Brooklyn’s demands for Durant. So the Nets have to hope that this all will feel like a long-ago nightmare a few months from now after they win a lot of games with a roster tailor-made for the exact star who wanted out.

The biggest X factor is Simmons, who has never played with perimeter shot creators like Durant and Irving. We could see a new side of him in Brooklyn, resembling what Draymond Green has long done for the Warriors, serving as the team’s defensive anchor and a secondary playmaker in different half-court actions. The supporting cast around Brooklyn’s new Big Three is also improved. The Nets added T.J. Warren, a spark-plug scorer in the frontcourt, and Royce O’Neale, who provides better shooting than Bruce Brown in addition to being a solid defender on the wing. Patty Mills is back. Joe Harris should finally be healthy. And Kessler Edwards and Nic Claxton will be another year older. The Nets need another center since Claxton hasn’t proved to be durable and lacks the bulk for a matchup like Joel Embiid. Or maybe second-year big man Day’Ron Sharpe will take a leap. It’d also be a bonus if they found one more wing, so they can play more combinations around Simmons-Durant frontcourts. If they can acquire those pieces before the trade deadline or during the buyout period, they’ll be able to deploy the type of versatile lineups around stars that all the modern contenders have.

Durant requested a trade with four years remaining on his contract, and there’s nothing stopping him from doing it again in one or two summers, or even a few months from now. The Nets need to win this season or else they’ll find themselves back in the same situation and Durant’s plan to build a superteam will flame out in ways that LeBron James never experienced in Miami, Cleveland, or Los Angeles.

Right or wrong, Durant’s two titles in Golden State are remembered by a large segment of the population as his riding the coattails of a Warriors team led by Steph Curry. Staying with the Nets is Durant’s chance to do things his way with the organization he chose.

The past two months of rumors and reports may prove to be meaningless, but perhaps the stability of some of those other franchises mentioned—namely, the Celtics and Jaylen Brown—could be disturbed. And the KD holding pattern held up the Jazz’s efforts to move Donovan Mitchell. Now that the KD saga is over, teams including the Lakers and Pacers, which could get involved as third or fourth teams in a potential Jazz-Knicks deal, now have one less variable to complicate negotiations. More still has to be settled before opening night. But the Nets and Durant know they’ll be together. For now.