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EXCLUSIVE: Nets pursuit of KD and Kyrie doesn’t happen without the players

2019 NBA All-Star Game Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Sean Marks stood in front of reporters and fielded questions about Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving for the first time since the two signed with the Brooklyn Nets. He told reporters he didn’t know the Nets had a commitment until The Boardroom posted it on their Instagram.

“The Instagram post that he put out, we were all sitting in the office and we all got that in real time with you guys,” Marks said. “We weren’t even sure if we were getting a meeting that night or a telephone conversation with him.”

Whether this is true or exaggerated, it doesn’t sound like the Nets needed it. They had others doing the recruiting for them. And Marks admitted so in Las Vegas. When discussing Kyrie’s past in Boston, he explained how he doesn’t get into that kind of business, rather he lets his players relay who they should or shouldn’t recruit.

“All I can do is comment on what’s going on inside our franchise,” said Marks. “We use our players for a lot of that. Our players are our biggest storytellers. They’re the ones that, ‘This is what the Nets provide for us,’ and so forth.”

One source close to the situation said it started with Spencer Dinwiddie, who was the biggest recruiter for Irving. The two are “very close” according to the source and “have been for a while.” The source pointed to a time last August when the two took a class together at Harvard.

“The thing about the NBA, everything you read is plausible,” Dinwiddie said with a smile on his face. “And with that being said, obviously, it could’ve happened, it may not have happened.”

The rumblings about Kyrie Irving-to-Nets started around the All-Star break -- the same time David Griffin sat on NBA TV and discussed Irving’s attraction to Brooklyn’s culture. Marks and the Nets knew they couldn’t speak to players, but they knew what their goal was dating back to the summer of 2018 when Marks said, “We have a year to prepare for 2019.”

Word around the league was that Durant and Irving wanted to pair up – and it would likely be with one of the two New York teams. The Nets knew they had an advantage with Irving, which ultimately helped them snag Durant.

Time went on and Irving started looking at Brooklyn, as his time in Boston began to fall apart. He saw his hometown team having fun, winning games and building a culture. As the Nets started looking towards the playoffs, Kyrie started looking at them.

… And so did Durant.

Dinwiddie also made some subtle pitches to KD. A few days after the All-Star Break, he went on a sneaker show, and wound up talking about KD’s “unique” style. Dinwiddie couldn’t help but use the opportunity to gush about KD as a “7’1” SG, and possibly the greatest scorer we’ve seen.”

In mid-April as the Nets were in the midst of a playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, a high-ranking source close to the Nets told ND that Durant was “seriously considering” the Nets. The same source discussed how Durant was intrigued by the idea of playing with Caris LeVert. LeVert said he didn’t pressure KD, but they did talk.

“We have a good friendship, but I never really pressured him about it or that type of stuff. When he got hurt I reached out, kind of made sure he was OK and everything like that. But obviously he knows that he’s a great player, he knows that I would love to play with him. But I kind of left him alone with that stuff.”

Time went on and the signs became more and more clear as Nets’ players helped recruit Kyrie -- and his camp encouraged a move to Brooklyn. A source told NetsDaily that four Nets players were at the 40/40 club the same night as Kyrie Irving. Whether they were all together… that’s up for you to decide.

Less than a week later, he switched agents and signed with RocNation, Jay-Z’s company. More sources came forward, including players and high-ranking officials, all of them suggesting that Irving was essentially a “done deal.” If you believed, as the Nets did, that the two players were “like brothers” as more than one source put, there was little question where Durant was leaning towards.

“The difference between Brooklyn and most teams that have cap space is that Brooklyn has the full package,” one league source said about Durant in early June. “Players want more nowadays and Brooklyn has all the tools. They’ll have a good shot at KD if Kyrie ends up in Brooklyn.”

By this time, the Nets had traded Allen Crabbe in a salary dump and the Nets were just a couple million dollars away from freeing up enough cap space for not one – but two free agents. Head coach Kenny Atkinson chuckled on-air during the Draft Combine and said, “We’re going to have options. A, I think we all know what A is. There’s some great players out there.”

We all knew then and know what “option A” was.

As Decision Day grew closer and Kyrie was all but a “done deal” to Brooklyn, people questioned Marks and his strategy. They didn’t know KD was the second guy because Marks kept his cards down at the poker table… unlike the Knicks front office.

Leading up to the Draft, a source close to the Nets said, “The Draft will tell us a lot about the Nets and NBA.” Another source added during this time, “Confidence is growing [with Durant].”

The Nets ended up trading their first-round pick which cleared up close to $2 million in cap space, leaving them just $2 million shy of reaching the maximum 35% and 30% they could offer to max free agents.

That’s when it started to hit.

Still, in the days leading up to free agency, few would comment on the status of KD. One source even backed off by saying he wouldn’t believe it until pen hits paper. Another source acquainted with the Knicks said, “There’s no shot KD is going to Brooklyn.”

Then, came June 30. NetsDaily learned that the team was “extremely confident” and that the players had gathered around at HSS Training Center looking at their phones and laughing in excitement.

People close to the situation explained how Kyrie is certainly worth getting excited for, but something “monumental” was about to happen. With Durant, nobody was ever 100 percent certain, hence why players, coaches and executives celebrated when they found out he was coming.

So, maybe Marks didn’t get a meeting with Durant after all. Maybe he did. The point is, the Nets let their work —and their players— do the talking. The more they grow, the more they’re seeing fruit to their labor -- from an unexpected playoff berth to the biggest free agency in franchise history. Their winning ways, evolving culture, the biggest market and the opportunity presented with KD’s business moving to New York City all played a big role in the superstar committing to Brooklyn.

There were questions on Brooklyn’s end, though. Durant ruptured his Achilles in the NBA Finals and people inside wondered if he was still worth a max contract. During the process, Marks sat down with his medical team and asked each person for their feedback on whether he should give Durant max money or not. As Mannix wrote…

The Nets GM asked for a show of hands: Who was in favor of committing a max contract?

“That was a pretty moving moment,” Marks told Chris Mannix. “When you know there’s a group of young men and women that are here saying, ‘Hell, we can’t wait for that challenge. We cannot wait to sacrifice whatever it takes to get [Durant] out on the court again, and probably prove people wrong.’ Again, it’s that sort of chip on your shoulder. Kenny and I talk about it a lot, players having that. But I think it’s also important that your entire organization has something to prove.”

Since then, NetsDaily has learned that there’s a chance he plays this season. Marks wouldn’t dismiss the idea to reporters, leaving the discussion wide open. The Nets are extremely cautious with injuries and will not put anybody on the court if they know there’s risk. However, some believe the injury might not be as serious as initially thought.

Regardless of whether he plays this year or not, the Nets are going for it all. They brought in talent Durant and/or Kyrie consider “family” as they see this as a new chapter in their careers together.

For Kyrie, he’s back with family and friends while playing for his hometown team. For KD, aside from the other incentives, he’s playing with his friends, namely Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Caris LeVert and Taurean Prince. Not to mention that Brooklyn’s assistant coach Adam Harrington is KD’s former trainer and shooting coach with the Thunder.

The only players Marks kept from last year’s team were either drafted by the Nets or plucked out the G League. They assembled their own core of LeVert, Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris, Rodions Kurucs, Dzanan Musa and Theo Pinson.

It’s crucial to point out just how important Dinwiddie was during all of this. He didn’t post pictures of him and Kyrie on Instagram or anything along those lines. He kept quiet, the way Marks and the Nets like to keep it.

“We use [the players] in a lot of our decision-making,” said Marks. “Whether it’s a trade call or whether it’s free agency or what not, the players know these guys. They know them well. It’s about bringing these guys into our culture, bringing them into locker room, into our environment, and bid on all the people we have bid on now for three years.”

The Nets trusted their core, while others were let go as a result, namely D’Angelo Russell. Russell has since unfollowed Spencer Dinwiddie on Instagram, while he continues to follow the rest of the players from last year’s team. Make what you want out of it, but Dinwiddie and Russell always had a competitive relationship. Dinwiddie’s “recruitment” might have rubbed Russell the wrong way as he heads to Golden State.

Russell and his camp were consistent with their message all summer, saying how he wanted to come back, but they also understood that he might be a victim of circumstance. The Nets organization has no ill-will towards DLo. Instead, they’re grateful for what he’s done. A few coaches told NetsDaily they’re “happy” Russell will be rewarded for everything he did in Brooklyn.

But at the end of the day, it was Dinwiddie who prevailed with the Nets. It’s he who will play with the likes of these superstars and compete for a championship in Brooklyn. We may never find out whether or not the Nets had a meeting with Kevin Durant, but the only thing that matters is that they got him and Kyrie.

And it all probably wouldn’t have happened without the players, Spencer Dinwiddie et al, talking up the franchise.