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Mannix: How Nets carried out ‘heist’ of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving

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Boston Celtics v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

As Chris Mannix recounts for Sports Illustrated, there was a moment of truth for the Nets not long after Kevin Durant went down —and out— with a ruptured achilles tendon. Sean Marks gathered the team’s medical/performance staff for a meeting.

The Nets GM asked for a show of hands: Who was in favor of committing a max contract? Every hand shot up, Mannix writes.

“That was a pretty moving moment,” says Marks. “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.”

It’s one part of the Nets off-season that Mannix chronicles in detail, as Brooklyn went from 8-18 and a players-only film session just seven months ago to signing two of the biggest free agents —indeed, the biggest stars— in the NBA.

Marks, in fact, reveals that the planning for KD and Kyrie began a long time ago.

“We planned a couple years out that we could have an opportunity here,” he told Mannix. “I think when you have a window or you have an opportunity to swing for it and take a chance, take a challenge, and you can do it with the right people, that’s when you have to do it.”

The summer was ideal for a number of reasons. Yes, the class was historic and movement would be dramatic, but also the team proved it could win and players began to understand the culture in Brooklyn could produce results. (There was also the realization, a team insider told NetsDaily, that ownership was about to transition from Mikhail Prokhorov to Joe Tsai and that they needed to look ahead on other issues, like extending Caris LeVert,)

Things were coming together at the right time and as it turned out, the right place,

The strategy, as long reported, was getting both to commit And in recruiting Irving, Mannix reveals, Spencer Dinwiddie had an bigger role than reported, starting last week.

“Everyone knew Spencer was talking to him,” a source with direct knowledge of the Nets told Mannix. “The coaching staff knew it. The front office knew it. It wasn’t like they were asking him all the time, ‘What’s going on?’ But they knew his relationship with Kyrie.”

Recruiting Kyrie, Mannix notes, was helped by the lure of home. He paints a scene of Irving showing up for a dinner with Dinwiddie and others on June 30. Everyone knew it was near a done deal. KD had committed both privately and publicly by that point.

Gazing out a window at the city, he spread his arms, savoring the moment. He talked about how long he had been waiting for this. He talked about coming home.The next day it was official: He was in, too.

Durant’s recruitment was a bit more complicated. He, too, wanted to step out on his own, perhaps get out of Steph Curry’s spotlight, get away from Draymond Green’s barbs. He was all about basketball, wrote Mannix, but his big business venture was also headquartered in Manhattan. That helped.

What Durant wanted was simple. A good team. A strong, supportive environment. The Nets checked all the boxes. Durant’s decision was never directly tied to Irving’s, but the opportunity to play with his close friend certainly appealed to him.

In fact, a lot of the Nets culture appealed to him, The emphasis on performance. The family orientation. Mannix cites examples of how it works. It’s not just the family room.

So the wives of incoming players now receive flowers. Kids get boxes of Nets gear. After Dudley signed with the Lakers last week, his wife received a card, thanking her for being part of the organization. Says Dudley, “The way they treated my family—no organization has come close.”

Dudley and DeMarre Carroll described to Mannix the value of the Nets medical, performance and sports science/medicine programs.

“It was the most thorough training staff I’ve ever been a part of,” says Jared Dudley, who spent last season with the Nets, his sixth NBA team. Every muscle is tested regularly. Catapult, a GPS technology used to track player movements, helps with load management. “They had so many different ideas,” says DeMarre Carroll, a seven-team vet who played the past two seasons in Brooklyn. “Sometimes in the NBA you get caught up with the traditional stuff.”

There’s a LOT more in the story, like how ownership told the front office and coaching staff there would be NO tanking. But the bottom line is that while nothing is set in stone, the Nets as an organization, are willing to take risks, just like the medical/performance team Marks polled on Durant.

“Whenever you can add this type of talent, you probably should jump at the chance to do it,” says Marks. “Especially guys that want to be here. Especially them.”

  • Behind the Scenes of the Nets’ Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving Heist - Chris Mannix - Sports Illustrated