Things got ugly for Ben Simmons in Philadelphia and if Kevin Durant is not careful, he could be heading down a similar path in Brooklyn — if he is not already.
But could that be all part of the Nets superstar’s master plan?
Well, Durant certainly got the NBA world talking earlier in the week then he issued an ultimatum that left Nets owner Joseph Tsai in a tricky situation.
Durant, who requested a trade in June, reportedly told Tsai he needs to choose between the 12-time All-Star and the pairing of head coach Steve Nash and GM Sean Marks.
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A subsequent report from The New York Post laid out Durant’s specific grievances with the team, including a lack of consultation over the Nets’ firing of assistant coach and director of player development Adam Harrington.
But not everyone in the NBA world seems to think that Durant actually wants Nash or Marks fired from the organization.
That is certainly the opinion of Fox Sports’ Nick Wright, who said on ‘The Herd’ with Colin Cowherd that Durant’s ultimatum is all about achieving one “single goal”.
“I don’t think Kevin Durant actually wants those guys fired,” Wright said.
“I think he just wants to be traded. I think if he wanted Sean Marks and Steve Nash fired, he would have gone to Joe Tsai a month ago when he did the trade demand and quietly and privately said: ‘Listen, if you don’t fire these guys, I’m going to demand a trade’.
“I read this differently than most. I read this as Kevin Durant asking for something he knew he would not get in order to make it untenable for them to bring him back because he was starting to get concerned they were actually going to bring him back.
“This was him upping the ante to a level that is pretty unprecedented. It’s why I think Durant understood Joe Tsai is not going to do it and they also, I don’t believe, can ask Steve Nash to now coach Kevin Durant. I think it was a really smart move if his single goal is to be traded and I think that is his single goal.
You see, it is not like Durant has much leverage in this situation, as NBA front office insider John Hollinger explained in a recent article for The Athletic.
Hollinger pointed towards two numbers in particular to prove that point — 34 and four — Durant’s age and how many years he has left on his contract.
“Throwing both his coach and GM under the bus — in many cases for moves that came with a wink and nod from Durant’s camp — certainly makes it less likely the Nets will find it tenable to reunite everyone in the fall,” Hollinger wrote.
“Of course, this gambit offers no guarantees. The trade offers in front of the Nets today aren’t any different from the ones they rejected yesterday, and it’s not clear how or if Durant’s latest demand will compel action.”
What it could do though is lead to a similar situation to the one Simmons found himself in Philadelphia last year, although there are a few key differences as Hollinger also pointed out.
“Seemingly the sharpest arrow left in Durant’s quiver is pure hardball: a holdout, one that would cost him a chunk of his $44 million 2022-23 salary for every day he sat out,” he wrote.
“It would, ironically, be a near carbon-copy of the situation a year ago in Philadelphia with Durant’s occasional teammate Ben Simmons.
“Here’s the thing: The Nets are working on a different timeline than the Sixers were.”
Hollinger is right. Philadelphia had to move relatively fast to capitalize on Joel Embiid’s prime and as such was more inclined to reach a swift resolution in the Simmons drama.
The same cannot be said for the Nets though, as Hollinger argued.
“If anything, they would seem to have the opposite motivation,” he wrote.
“Yes, Brooklyn’s first choice would be to run it back with Durant, Simmons and Kyrie Irving (or a suitable replacement). But in the absence of Durant, wouldn’t the Nets’ second choice be to tank the season and try again in 2024? And wouldn’t a Durant holdout do anything more than accelerate the Nets toward that endgame?
“Brooklyn’s best-case scenario may be waiting until midseason, when this summer’s free agents are eligible to be dealt with. It seems less likely they’d let a year of Durant’s contract wither on the vine at his age and wait until next offseason… but it ca n’t totally be ruled out either given the tanking incentive.
What was consistent among a host of voices in the NBA media landscape was a sense of uncertainty, not knowing what exactly was coming next, again similar to the Simmons saga.
“The whole situation is a mess, but the kind of mess Brooklyn might happily sweep under a rug and ignore, if only it could,” The Ringers Rob Mahoney wrote.
“It’s impossible to replace Kevin Durant. Hell, it’s hard enough just to set a fair return for Durant in a trade, much less one suitors can realistically meet. Every ask sounds ridiculous because Durant is a genuinely ridiculous player.
“That might be the only reason he’s still a Net some six weeks after requesting a trade—and maybe the real reason KD is stirring the pot with this ultimatum in the first place. Does he really want Marks and Nash gone? Or is he just looking to send a shock through the Nets’ system?”
The Athletic’s Alex Schiffer, meanwhile, pointed towards Durant’s strong endorsement of Marks after the Brooklyn’s four-game sweep at the hands of Boston as proof of just how confusing it all is.
“If Durant wanted Nash out but didn’t feel like putting him on blast to the media 10 minutes after the season ended, he could have discussed Nash’s future with an ‘I don’t know’ or ‘Now’s not the time for that’ . But he didn’t,” Schiffer wrote.
Schiffer agreed one “plausible explanation” is that this is Durant trying to force Brooklyn’s hand, to make the situation so untenable that the Nets back down.
The Heat have been heavily linked to Durant since he first requested the trade but are unlikely to have the assets to make it work, at least in a traditional two-team deal.
The Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang though Durant’s ultimatum was an important point in the drama, even if it still left “plenty of questions unanswered”.
“But in the wake of The Athletic’s report that Durant doesn’t want to work with Nash or Marks, the question is: Will this force the Nets to trade Durant prior to the start of training camp in late September to avoid any awkward tension and drama between the two parties? he wrote.
“That sort of deadline could take away some of the Nets’ leverage as the window to trade Durant before training camp shrinks as each day passes.
“The Nets could also decide to take Durant into training camp if a good enough offer doesn’t present itself, which would force Durant to decide whether to skip practices as he waits to be dealt or play through it.”
NBA insider Brian Windhorst though was not so sure it would pay off, should Durant’s ultimatum have been a ploy to try speed up a trade out of Brooklyn.
“Doing it now is a manoeuvre, a manoeuvre that I don’t think worked because as I talk to teams out there, they don’t think this increased his trade demand. They think this hurt his trade value,” Windhorst said on ‘NBA Today’.
Windhorst brought up Tsai’s tweet earlier in the week as proof of it, in which the Nets owner claimed: “Our front office and coaching staff have my support. We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.”
“I want to point to the second half of the Joe Tsai tweet,” Windhorst said.
“I think it’s obviously important to look at the first sentence which is that he’s not going to fire Sean Marks and Steve Nash. But the second sentence is really the sentence that the league paid attention to it. And it seems benign when he says ‘We make decisions for the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.’
“But I’m going to decode that for you. What he’s basically saying is despite what Kevin Durant is trying to do here, we’re not going to change what our expectations are for a trade and if you are not traded, we expect you to be reporting to camp to continue the four years you have left on your contract.”
At this stage though, we are no closer to either party getting what they want, with Schiffer putting it best in his summation of the drama.
“During’s ultimatum,” he wrote, “opened a chest’s worth of questions while the clock to training camp continues to tick more loudly”.