Of Yaron Weitzman and Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Writers
If there’s been one truth in the NBA’s so-called player empowerment era, it’s that stars always win in the end. Trade demands met, ultimatum met. They have an inordinate amount of power, which over the past decade or so has proven almost impossible to dismiss.
That’s what made the Brooklyn Nets’ announcement on Tuesday so, well, remarkable. After a three-month battle with Kevin Durant, which included a trade request followed by a demand from Durant that head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks be replaced if he were to stay, the Nets released a statement from Marks saying that all parties had ” approved to move forward with our partnership.”
“We’re focused on basketball,” Marks added, “with one collective goal in mind: building an enduring franchise to bring a championship to Brooklyn.”
That truce was reached after a Monday meeting in Los Angeles between all the power brokers involved: Durant, his business manager Rich Kleiman, Marks, Nets governor Joe Tsai, Tsai’s wife Clara Wu Tsai and Nash.
Convincing Durant to drop his trade demand marks a major win for Tsai, Marks and the Nets organization — one we rarely see. The Nets didn’t exactly go to war with Durant, but they held their ground and emerged victorious with new options.
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers in this apparent resolution to the Nets-Durant drama, starting with the man whose seat just got a whole lot cooler.
Winner: Sean Marks and the Nets organization
You have to give Tsai credit for backing Marks, but as a GM once told me, it’s a GM’s job to sell ownership of their plan, and it was clear that Marks was able to do just that.
The Nets, according to sources around the league, were willing to part ways with Durant, but only if they got a proper return, which in their view was never offered.
It was clear that there was a gap between what the Nets considered fair value for Durant and what other teams were willing to discuss. The Nets wanted a Godfather offer, and for good reason. A top-five player who instantly transforms any team he’s on into a championship contender, Durant is also signed for another four years thanks to the four-year, $198 million extension he signed earlier this summer, meaning he has little pressing agent. The Nets also believe his presence on their roster places them among the favorites to make it out of the East.
On the other hand, one could see why other teams might be hesitant to mortgage their future to Durant. He’s 33, has a ton of mileage on the odometer and has a history of major injuries that have limited his availability in recent seasons. Not to mention his history of wreaking havoc in an organization.
Marks had some appealing deals. The Celtics, as has been reported elsewhere, were willing to part ways with Jaylen Brown. Marks probably could have gotten some sort of decent package of players not named Scottie Barnes from the Raptors. And it’s hard to believe the Pelicans would have refused to part with Brandon Ingram if the Nets had made it clear a deal centered around him would work.
Any of these trades would have allowed the Nets to stay in the playoffs, and given them a resource base to work with in the future, but they all would have removed the Nets from being a championship contender this year. That’s something Marks wasn’t willing to accept. And so he not only refused to bow to Durant, but he bolstered the roster around him with the additions of veteran wings TJ Warren and Royce O’Neal. Add in the return of sharpshooters like Seth Curry and Joe Harris, both of whom should be healthy, a seemingly game-ready Ben Simmons, and vaccine-mandate-free Kyrie Irving, and you have one of the most loaded rosters in the league.
So Marks kept his job, reopened a window for his team to contend and bought time to potentially trade for better deals (more on that later).
The fact that Marks was able to do all of this, and somehow convince Durant to change his stance before any kind of training camp matchup, means the Nets may now be in a better position than they have been at any point since Durant and Irving came aboard.
Loser: Los Angeles Lakers
So much for a reunion between LeBron James and Irving. Durant’s decision to remain with the Nets apparently drove an effort through this opportunity, at least for now.
If Irving is off the table as well, it’s a hit for the Lakers, who have been looking for ways to offload Russell Westbrook and the $47.1 million he’s due next season. Westbrook, a native of Los Angeles, had an extremely lackluster debut season with the franchise in 2021-22, where he struggled to fit in offensively and was often a flat liability on defense.
While it never seemed like the Nets were excited about potentially acquiring Westbrook, if Durant jumped ship, there was a chance Irving could have landed with the Lakers, possibly through a multi-team deal.
Irving is a wild card, to say the least. He played just 29 games last season after refusing to get vaccinated, but there’s no doubt he’s one of the top players in the NBA when he’s available.
A reunion between James and Irving seemed unrealistic after Irving’s demand to be traded from Cleveland because he no longer wanted to play with James after they won a title together in 2016. But there was always something exciting about the possibility of them reuniting in Los Angeles. James is coming off an MVP-caliber season and Irving was nothing short of spectacular when he was on the court last season.
Alas, that is less likely to happen now. Irving has less incentive to go anywhere if Durant stays, especially since Durant publicly supported Irving through so much in recent seasons, including Irving needing time off after the Jan. 6 riot and Irving refusing to vaccinate himself about laws in New York. prevented him from playing home games.
So Durant and Irving look set to remain in Brooklyn, leaving the Lakers with a major dilemma heading into the season: What on earth are they going to do with Westbrook?
Winner: Adam Silver
In the wake of Durant demanding a trade in late June, the NBA commissioner stood in front of a roomful of reporters in Las Vegas in July and reiterated his stance on superstars trying to force their team’s hand.
“We don’t like to see players asking for trades,” Silver said.
Durant was just the latest superstar to do so, following several high-profile players who engaged in the practice, most recently including James Harden and Ben Simmons. Both Harden and Simmons eventually got their wishes after Brooklyn and Philadelphia traded them in a blockbuster deal in February.
But this time it didn’t work.
Durant remaining with the Nets is a victory for Silver, who has on several occasions spoken out against superstars trying to break and bend their contractual obligations.
“This has to be a two-way street,” Silver said in July. “The team provides enormous security and guarantees to the players and the expectation in return is that they will meet their end of the bargain.”
That Durant, one of the highest profile players in the league, decides to honor his contract makes a strong statement. Somewhere, in an office in New York, Silver is probably smiling.
Loser: Durant suitors
The Nets might not have received a ton of tempting offers, but you can bet there were teams interested in Durant betting on a long-term standoff that ultimately lowers the Nets’ asking price.
It’s fair to wonder if the Celtics are revisiting their reported refusal to include Marcus Smart in a deal. Was it because they really felt it would be too much to part with Smart and Brown, or did they end up drifting on the nights? Would the Heat have been more aggressive in making Bam Adebayo (who, due to some arcane league rules, had a contract that kept him from being on the same team as Ben Simmons) a flip package for Durant? Maybe the Suns would come to the table with a bigger offer.
Instead, the Nets sent a clear message to the rest of the league that they need a lot more to consider parting ways with Durant, should this situation potentially arise again.
After all, all of this could change again at some point. Just because Durant is (sort of) committing to the Nets today doesn’t mean he won’t change his mind (again) eventually. And in a few months, players who signed new contracts during the offseason will be eligible to be traded, opening the door to all kinds of new opportunities.
In the meantime, however, Durant appears to be off the table, meaning teams that banked on the addition of the superstar to propel them into contention will have to rethink what it might take to get him next — if in that will definitely be one next time.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter at @melissarohlin.
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and the author of Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Boldest Process in the History of Professional Sports. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
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