Home Sports Why NBA execs believe a Kevin Durant trade is still likely

Why NBA execs believe a Kevin Durant trade is still likely

by Atlanta Business Journal

By Ric Bucher
FOX Sports NBA Writer

Is the Kevin Durant drama really over in Brooklyn? If you’ve followed Durant’s career, you already know the answer: The Kevin Durant drama is never over.

That, at least, is how other NBA teams are viewing the Nets’ announcement last week that Durant has rescinded his trade request and “we have agreed to move forward with our partnership.”  

“I think the Nets simply told him, ‘There’s not a deal we’re happy with, and we’re not just going to give you away,'” an Eastern Conference GM told FOX Sports. “I think he’ll still get moved by the trade deadline if it doesn’t go well. That may have even been part of the deal, a soft agreement that they’ll move him if it’s not working.”

A second Eastern Conference front-office executive whose team is interested in acquiring Durant is counting on it. If the coming season is anything like the last one, he envisions both Durant and fellow Nets star Kyrie Irving asking to be moved. 

“I think it’s temporary, based on whether they win or lose,” the executive said. “Those two [Durant and Irving] will start barking and want to get out of there.”

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Sources within two other teams indicated that their brain trusts are also convinced that the situation in Brooklyn is far from settled. That is one reason Nets GM Sean Marks’ phone has not been ringing with offers for Durant the past few weeks.

“I don’t want to put my best offer out there now when I’m calling them,” the front-office executive said. “I want them to call us. The second time around, if KD says, ‘Get me the f— out of here,’ that’s when they’ll be calling. That’s when I want to be a buyer.”

Durant rescinding the trade request he first made June 30 might have come as a shock to those expecting him to act like every other recent disgruntled star, but he is different.

“He’s not like other great players,” the front-office executive said. “He’s an extra, extra-sensitive dude.”

If there has been a hallmark of Durant’s career other than being one of the league’s most gifted scorers — four scoring titles, 13 seasons averaging 25 points or better, the last nine shooting better than 50 percent overall — it has been the fickleness of his relationships.

“There are people,” said the Eastern Conference GM, “that fall in and out of favor with him all the time.”

Russell Westbrook, Draymond Green, Steve Nash and James Harden are among those Durant alternately has embraced and distanced himself from over the course of his career, in some cases more than once. 

The situation with Nash, Durant’s current head coach who he reportedly asked to be fired along with GM Sean Marks this summer, is one of the more perplexing.

The two worked closely together during Durant’s stint with the Golden State Warriors, when Nash was serving as a team consultant. They could be seen on the court after practice whenever Nash was in town, Durant clearly engaged as Nash shared with him the footwork and moves that made him a two-time MVP. 

League sources say Durant was also instrumental in the Nets hiring Nash as a first-time head coach last year, not only giving his stamp of approval for the hire but coaxing Nash to accept the offer.

The Eastern Conference GM heard that Durant told the Nets in the L.A. meeting that his them-or-me ultimatum to Tsai was simply a maneuver to get traded, but it did not sit well with the GM.

“You don’t say, ‘I was just bulls—ing, I just wanted to get traded,'” the Eastern Conference GM said. “What he did to Steve and Sean just ain’t right. That’s something Kyrie would do, not the KD I know. Or knew.”

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This is not the first time, though, that Durant has sent mixed signals about a relationship, both privately and publicly. When he was selected the 2014 MVP, he told a beaming Westbrook from the podium that he loved him and “I’m the first to have your back and just stay the person that you are.” 

But when he left for Golden State five years later, he informed Westbrook by text, this after meeting with him a few days earlier and reportedly leaving the impression that he intended to stay in Oklahoma City. He called Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban an idiot for suggesting Durant was the Thunder’s only true superstar — taken as a slight to Westbrook — but then on a podcast in 2020 said, “In OKC, I played with a lot of athletes, I didn’t play with a lot of skilled guys … I was tired of having to be the only guy that can make 3s, make jump shots and consistently make them.”

Green, meanwhile, was the one who reached out to Durant after Golden State’s unexpected loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 Finals and was allegedly instrumental in recruiting him to Golden State. The two routinely went out together after games, but a highly publicized in-game spat during the third season resulted in Durant becoming aloof with the entire team and once again moving on. Yet, a year later, he joined Green on an in-person podcast and held an amiable conversation about their split.

And just last year, Durant persuaded Harden, his former Oklahoma City teammate, to come to Brooklyn. A season and a half later, league sources said Durant had grown weary of Harden’s inconsistent effort and encouraged Marks to fulfill Harden’s wish to be moved again. Shortly after the trade, Durant joined LeBron James in a televised selection of the 2022 All-Star teams and Durant refused to select Harden, leaving him to be the last player picked by James. Yet several weeks ago, Durant and Harden were seen partying together at a Travis Scott concert in London.

Even though the history is there, one GM suggested that Durant might have grounds for being upset with the Nets this time. Durant signed his four-year extension a year ago with the understanding that Irving would receive the same deal this summer, guaranteeing their future together, which was the impetus for them joining the Nets in the first place, that GM said. The Nets declined to offer Irving that deal.

All of which leaves acquiring him or other Nets stars a plausible hope for other teams. 

The Lakers, according to a source familiar with GM Rob Pelinka’s thinking, were hoping that Durant’s desire to leave would motivate the Nets to deal Irving, as well. Irving, league sources said, has spent a good part of the summer in Los Angeles and is interested in joining the Lakers and reuniting with James, with whom he won a championship in 2016 for the Cleveland Cavaliers. James reportedly is as eager for a reunion as Irving is and the plan now, the source said, is to “wait for a Nets’ implosion,” although last week’s acquisition of Patrick Beverly for Talen Horton-Tucker and Stanley Johnson further reduced their trade assets.

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Is that implosion coming? It hasn’t been lost on other teams that while the team released a statement about their partnership continuing, Durant has yet to confirm it. Some are not sure if they’d believe it even if he did.

“I’ll take him in a heartbeat,” the front-office executive said, “because he gives you a chance [to compete at a high level]. But as a person? He’s a major risk.”

As one GM said, when once asked what he expected Durant to do when he became a free agent in 2019: “I can tell you if you tell me who he talked to last.”

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” the story of NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds,” the story of NBA center Yao Ming. He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.

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