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Breaking Down the Nets’ Kevin Durant–Kyrie Irving Debacle

Where did it all go wrong in Brooklyn? Our experts look at why the superstar tandem didn’t pan out and where things are headed next.
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The NBA’s offseason started off with a bang with Kevin Durant requesting a trade from the Nets with four years still remaining on his deal. What happens next for KD? Where did it go wrong in Brooklyn? And will anyone trade for Kyrie Irving? Our writers weigh in.

What was your immediate reaction upon hearing Kevin Durant had requested a trade?

Howard Beck: That it makes zero sense. Yes, we know Durant is friends with Kyrie Irving. Yes, we know Kyrie was irked over his failed extension talks with the Nets—and the Nets’ insistence on him being more committed to the team. But it’s absolutely bizarre to me that Durant would sever his relationship with the Nets over the Kyrie situation, which was created entirely by Kyrie. Maybe there are other factors. But that’s the only one we know as of now.

Chris Herring: “Wow, that escalated quickly!” But in reality, it probably didn’t. This had been building for a while, with the Nets saying repeatedly that they wanted full buy-in. Kyrie wasn’t even on all of the season-ticket material, signaling that the team wasn’t sure what sort of commitment it wanted to make to him for the long haul. Plenty of us naturally assumed Kyrie opting in more or less meant the status quo would hold in Brooklyn. But obviously Durant felt otherwise. And it’s sending shockwaves throughout the league.

Robin Lundberg: That this is an epically embarrassing situation for the Nets. It seemed things had settled after the Kyrie opt-in so it was kind of shocking to see KD’s trade request. It also makes it appear that his loyalty to Irving played a role here.

Chris Mannix: Admittedly, few things in the NBA surprise me anymore. But for Durant, days after Kyrie announced his return and before KD earned a nickel on the four-year contract he signed last fall, to ask for a trade startled me. But my immediate reaction? The Durant-Kyrie–James Harden trio has surpassed the Kobe Bryant–Steve Nash–Dwight Howard coupling as the biggest failure in modern NBA history.

Rohan Nadkarni: Genuine shock. I wasn’t expecting the Nets’ drama to end anytime soon. But I was more prepared for the next round of Kyrie rumors than to hear Durant was requesting a trade. Especially after the posturing about Irving wanting to fulfill his four-year commitment or whatever, I thought KD would be satisfied enough to play out this season. Also, requesting a trade with four years left on your deal is incredibly bold. Couldn’t the Nets have simply said no?

Michael Pina: I simultaneously didn’t believe he’d actually go through with it and immediately understood why he felt the need to ask out. Durant will be 34 years old in September, about to enter his 16th season (or 15th, if you don’t count the one he missed with a torn Achilles). The back half of his prime—let alone his career—won’t last forever. And wasting it beside talented players like Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons, who can’t be relied upon for much of anything, isn’t worth it.

Nets players Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in a game in Brooklyn.

Where did it go wrong in Brooklyn?

Beck: Maybe the moment the Nets signed DeAndre Jordan to a $40 million deal, at the insistence of Durant and Irving back in 2019. Or the moment they fired Kenny Atkinson, because Atkinson wanted to start Jarrett Allen over Jordan, which soured his relationship with Durant and Irving. Or the moment they traded all of their best role players for James Harden, on the (ill-fated) bet that this trio of stars would mesh. Or the moment that Irving declined the COVID-19 vaccine, making him ineligible for home games. Or the moment Harden soured on the team because of Irving’s lack of availability. Or the moment they traded Harden for Ben Simmons, who never played a minute last season. The truth is, the Nets ceded authority to their stars long ago, and have been paying the price ever since.

Herring: The team’s culture was pushed to the side in favor of Durant and Irving coming there. The coach who had pretty decent success developing talent was pushed out. A first-time coach—albeit a Hall of Fame player—was brought in. The injuries and lack of depth hurt things. But Irving’s choice not to get vaccinated snowballed into a bigger and bigger problem after Kevin Durant got hurt, and James Harden grew tired of shouldering the burden as the only star-level constant. The team held Irving accountable in the form of denying a long-term deal, but only after things devolved beyond repair with this core.

Lundberg: Kyrie is an incredible player, but he has set ablaze every situation he’s been a part of. The Nets not caving to him likely soured their relationship with Durant, who deserves some blame, too. He got paid to rehab, picked his running mate, had a say in the coach, apparently was in favor of the Harden trade and had enormous sway in the organization only to want out with only one playoff series win.

Mannix: Uh, Kyrie didn’t get the vaccine. Irving’s decision sabotaged the season before it started. It pushed James Harden to ask for a trade and it sabotaged what could have been a championship season in Brooklyn.

Nadkarni: As absurd as this sounds … probably the pandemic? Irving was always going to be a risky signing. But his vaccine stance is really what started all of this. KD, Kyrie and Harden were great when they played together. Injuries robbed them in 2021, and all the team had to do was run it back last season. But Irving’s refusal to get the shot clearly created friction among the stars. And once Harden left and the team could no longer trust Kyrie’s presence on the court, the seeds were planted for this current predicament. I really believe without a once-in-a-generation virus—or if Kyrie seemingly wasn’t a victim of vaccine misinformation—Durant, Irving and even Harden are all still in Brooklyn. (Heck, if Joe Harris were healthy in the playoffs we may even be having a different conversation. The NBA is really that fragile!)

Pina: Being that they almost definitely would’ve won the title in 2021 had it not been for Kyrie Irving’s sprained ankle and/or James Harden’s pulled hamstring, it’s fair to say that last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals marked the beginning of their end. Of course, Irving’s decision not to get vaccinated is the real tipping point here. It was a selfish act the organization never recovered from.

What’s your favorite trade destination for Durant?

Beck: A second run with the Warriors would be incredible—and they have the young players to make a deal—but it’s never going to happen. Durant has zero interest in a warm and fuzzy reunion in San Francisco.

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Herring: Durant as a Raptor would be a lot of fun to see. A team with all sorts of length getting one of the longest, most unique talents the league has ever seen. Much like Kawhi Leonard put them over the top a few years back, it’s easy to see how KD could do the same in short order.

Lundberg: The Nets must nail any Durant deal. It is their last chip to cash in and it could be spun that they might make out in the long run after dealing with being the brunt of jokes. I like a Celtics deal based around Jaylen Brown, other players and draft picks to get that done. But Brooklyn should be patient. KD’s contract situation should allow them some leverage not to panic.

Mannix: Boston. Tell me what team is offering a better player than Jaylen Brown? The Celtics can make the money work with Daniel Theis and have most of their picks moving forward. There is no incentive for the Nets to tank—Houston owns most of Brooklyn’s future draft capital. They want an All-Star. Brown, an All-Star in 2021 who played like one in the second half of last season, is it. And if you’re Boston, you have to be fascinated by pairing Durant and Jayson Tatum together for the next four years.

Nadkarni: The Suns. The idea of Chris Paul and Durant trying to take down Stephen Curry and the Warriors is delicious. I need to see KD going up against his old running mates in a playoff series. Paul, Devin Booker and KD would also be a hell of an offensive trio. And that team wouldn’t feel unfairly unstoppable, either. The Nuggets are my dark-horse pick, though the trade machinations there are tricky. What matters most to me is that Durant ends up on a legitimate contender (though his presence alone goes a long way in ensuring that).

Pina: I would love to see Durant in a small market like Memphis, Portland or New Orleans, elevating them to a level unseen in years, if at all. Put him beside Damian Lillard or Ja Morant and, with apologies to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the NBA will have a new No. 1 dynamic duo.

Nets guard Kyrie Irving stands on the sideline in Brooklyn.

Which team should take a chance on Kyrie?

Beck: I asked a well-connected NBA source which teams, other than the increasingly desperate Lakers, would be willing to acquire Irving. His answer: “None.” I think I agree. The league has seen Irving wreak a lot of havoc over the last five years, from Cleveland to Boston to Brooklyn. It’s left an impression. But the Lakers badly need another scorer/playmaker next to LeBron and AD, and Irving is an infinitely better fit than Russell Westbrook.

Herring: I honestly have no clue. We keep hearing about the Lakers, in part because it would seemingly take a sizable gamble on their part to somehow become a contender, anyway. A locked-in, available Irving is still one of the best talents in the league. But no team can definitively say they’d be getting that version of the guard—if they could, he would have gotten the long-term security he was seeking from Brooklyn in the first place.

Lundberg: The Lakers seem to be the team due to LeBron likely believing he can manage Kyrie to a degree. It appears L.A. and the Mavs are the only teams interested and at this point there’s good reason for teams to be wary of Kyrie, despite his prodigious talents.

Mannix: Dallas. Would a Spencer Dinwiddie/Tim Hardaway Jr. package interest Brooklyn? Would the Mavericks even offer it? I don’t know, but the defection of Jalen Brunson left Dallas without a scoring guard. Irving would fill that role and give Luka Dončić the best backcourt partner he has ever played with. It’s a risk, sure, but a motivated Kyrie opposite Dončić will give a lot of defenses headaches.

Nadkarni: As silly as it sounds, it’s really only the Lakers who make sense. Is there any other team even remotely capable of reaching some kind of peace with Irving? I don’t see the Clippers—with the recently signed John Wall, too—and Kawhi’s quiet form of leadership seamlessly working Kyrie into their locker room. The Lakers are chaotic, but if there’s one thing LeBron is used to, it’s operating under absurd circumstances. He knows how to play with Irving, and while their personalities weren’t always a perfect fit, at least both parties would know what they’re getting into. And while we’re talking potential Warriors opponents, wouldn’t you want to see James and Irving get one more crack at them, too?

Pina: I don’t know why any team would, to be honest. But the Lakers are the only one desperate enough to try, even if it will almost definitely end in a melodramatic flameout. Whichever team that trades for Kyrie deserves the aftermath that’s guaranteed to follow whenever he decides he doesn’t want to be there anymore. 

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