NEW YORK — Kevin Durant was plain… sort of.
Kyrie Irving was charming… kind.
Ben Simmons was inspiring… kind.
Once basketball resumes, the Brooklyn Nets will be the biggest story in the NBA — temporarily relinquishing that position due to issues in Boston and Phoenix, taking more oxygen in that ecosystem.
The Nets need to get their own house in order before they go on to stake a claim in a conference that hasn’t had this top-to-bottom rivalry in perhaps two decades.
There was very little discussion about championship prospects or avenging an embarrassing first-round sweep at the hands of the Celtics — if at all — because so much of the focus was on how the Nets got here.
And not where they’re going.
When recruiting a player of Durant’s talent, championship talk should be at a minimum. But the Nets are surrounded by so many other things, they wonder if they’ll be able to ingratiate themselves over the next eight or nine months.
June is a long way off, a long and winding road now and then. Durant told the Nets of his concerns, listing the issues that led to his trade request, and then backing off after it became clear the Nets had no incentive to move him.
Oh, and along the way he wanted the Nets to fire general manager Sean Marks and head coach Steve Nash as a condition of keeping him. It was a weak power play, which resulted in everyone kissing and mingling – or pretending it wasn’t as harmful as it appeared.
Durant called it a “standoff,” explaining why the Nets are in no rush to trade the big man with four years left on his contract.
On the one hand, he boldly says he wants no part of the responsibility.
“First of all, I’m not going to walk into any GM’s office, coach’s office and ask for anything. Tell them to sign anybody or run a play,” Durant said. “I’m going to go in and do my job as a player.” Many people think that everything is controlled here by the Nets.
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“I’m not the link between Kyrie and the organization, I always tell them. I said to Sean and Kiri, ‘You all need to make a connection.’ Everyone is different.”
Durant can honestly believe that, and this place isn’t here to ask him. But there is another side. How the organization handles the trade will affect how Durant sees his future — and the Nets’ approach will have to consider what’s best for Durant, whether or not the trade speaks to him.
He said the games he missed due to an MCL injury brought out the Nets’ issues, some of which may have been overshadowed by his personal greatness. The once-fired Irving returned in overtime, James Harden took action once Irving refused to vaccinate, headed to Philadelphia for the trade, and all hell broke loose afterward.
“We saw Steph Curry come into the game injured with the Warriors. That team still fought and won games,” Durant said. “Luke [Doncic], was injured, the team still won games. That’s what raised the doubt in my mind, can we push through adversity?”
Discount Durant’s titles with the Warriors if you like, but he wasn’t wrong about everything or anything. Investigating what’s involved is where it’s at – knowing the reasons behind it is where one can make a difference.
Just as Durant doesn’t want the responsibility of reading Irving’s mind, the Nets may be confused about what Durant wants and needs as he enters a crucial time in his career.
Imagine Durant pretending to be honorable by “sacrificing” a $100 million extension he didn’t get last summer because of a vaccine to explain Irving’s feelings, or saying Irving doesn’t understand where I’m thinking, I don’t want to play every night when there’s ample evidence to show he’s fulfilling his contractual obligations.
It’s a burden Durant knows he’s ill-equipped to handle, especially if he has every right to be confused by Irving as the average basketball viewer, regardless of his friendship.
“It’s unfortunate, very confusing,” Irving said of Durant’s trade request, “after he opted out in the final year of his contract.”
The word of the day was “culture.” Everyone pointed to it, talked about it, but could only give vague descriptions of what it meant to each person. Mark points to the Spurs’ culture and the Heat’s culture, but the Nets want their own – which one?
One can only assume Durant had some level of discussion with Irving when he mentioned the word a lot.
Did Irving feel the responsibility applied to him or everyone else?
“Student has been through a lot, so I sit and listen. I respected his art,” Irving said. “He’s seen the championship run, he’s part of it. Some won, some lost. I wanted to hold a position … where he felt comfortable at that level, he should be responsible. Just meet where we are.”
To be fair, neither answer is satisfying given the Nets’ massive status quo. In the year In 2021, with a heroic second-round loss to Milwaukee, it all seemed to be even, and the Nets were starting from scratch.
“When we look in the mirror a year, we [messed] Durant spoke as a team. “You better. We’ve got competitive people in this building.”
There’s only one bankable commodity in this motley crew, and that’s Durant’s excellence on the floor. Irving is singularly productive as a presence when he’s healthy, but he serves as a supporting player rather than a body that everything revolves around. Simmons is talented and dynamic — perhaps even more impactful in winning than Irving, potentially — but he’s armed with plenty of questions off the floor.
Can anyone really assess how good Nash is as a coach, or at least how much of a leader he is? And Mark has shown he can put together a team full of effort, but charting a championship course is yet to be determined.
The culture has interfered with the practicality – is the roster championship ready, free of the three big pieces? Did Mark do enough to answer the questions about the defects on the floor?
Is Markieff Morris the answer? What about Royce O’Neal or TJ Warren?
There are things to like about Nets that aren’t a total disaster on paper. But they won’t be given the benefit of the doubt, not for a while.
“Just get to work,” Nash said. “There’s no easy way, I can’t just sit down and make a diagram. We work, we communicate, we set goals and limits. Like Sen, culture is evolving. How is our culture when you ask us? Ask me tomorrow.
And tomorrow after that and tomorrow after that.