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Book: Knicks desperately tried to stop Kevin Durant from joining Nets

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Brooklyn Nets v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

In his new book, “Can’t Knock the Hustle: Inside the Season of Protest, Pandemic, and Progress with the Brooklyn Nets’ Superstars of Tomorrow,” Matt Sullivan writes about how the Knicks went to extremes to keep Kevin Durant from joining the Nets, going as far as trying to convince KD’s father that the Garden was where he should play.

Despite the revisionist history that James Dolan didn’t want to pay Durant the max after his ruptured Achilles, Sullivan lays out just how panicked the Knicks brass were in mid-June 2019, setting up a video conference between Wayne Pratt and New York’s top executives, Steve Mills and Scott Perry. In the book and an excerpt posted Thursday on FOX Sports, the veteran sports writer and editor lays out the details ... and suggests that what the Knicks did was tampering...

Like his agent [Rich Kleiman), KD’s occasionally estranged father, Wayne Pratt, was a Knicks fan. When Wayne told his son that he’d taken a video-conference call from the Knicks executives Steve Mills and Scott Perry, and that the Knicks were trying to turn away KD’s interest from Brooklyn before free agency had officially begun, the father-son text chain blew up with expletives. KD didn’t think it was on anyone else to mess with his personal freedom. Plus, this Knicks meeting seemed to be a violation of the NBA’s rules against tampering, to “entice, induce or persuade” one player under contract to sign somewhere else. The regulations had long been ignored by most executives, but the league office had been cracking down on tampering over the past two years, and the summer of 2019 was thought to be something of a last splash before the commissioner might start collecting iPhones for his culture of “compliance.” The NBA’s balance of power was as sensitive as Kevin Durant, and he did not want his pops f---ing with the plan.

Sullivan lays out a text conversation between father and son in which Pratt talked about the “Mecca” and Durant talked about the Brooklyn “vibe.” KD did indeed want to live in New York and in fact, Sullivan writes, had been interested in Brooklyn and its “chill, on the low, all-black everything” for years!

Sullivan reports that Durant and his good friend, Kyrie Irving, had started talking about teaming up in Brooklyn as early as January 2019 when the Nets were turning things around on the court on their way to a winning season. Neither were happy with their then teams, the Celtics for Irving, the Warriors for Durant. They and DeAndre Jordan had talked vaguely at the 2016 Olympics of teaming up somewhere and that somewhere was Brooklyn.

Since January, KD and Kyrie had been talking seriously about teaming up in Brooklyn. After months of lobbying for KD to take his talents to BK, too, Kyrie was furious that Golden State had placed KD “on a national stage to end up selling a product that came before the person.” Kyrie felt he had been forced to play through pain in the 2015 Finals and put at risk by Cleveland’s staff, and he was — if not entirely distrustful of all traditional corporate systems — certainly protective of his best basketball friend.

Sullivan implies that the two players liked what they were hearing and seeing about Brooklyn’s culture, its performance team, etc. They also had issues with the cultures of their current teams ... and in Irving’s case, the larger issues of life. Brooklyn promised a new beginning for both.

Kyrie had grown sick of creating a social distance from Celtics teammates for days at a time or else, as he was that month in January 2019, pointing fingers at them in public, especially around a loss in Brooklyn. He’d tried to stop internalizing the media’s misperception of his ego. He’d tried to be more present for his three-year-old daughter. To treat his job like a job. But self-care could begin professionally, on his own terms. He’d been charting a path home, by way of his boyhood team: the Nets.

Going home and doing good had lingered in Kyrie’s mind, and the Brooklyn Nets were a team he and KD could manipulate — two max-salary slots, a flexible general manager, a few pieces, maybe even some room for their friend DeAndre Jordan — while Kyrie built a house in Jersey for his daughter, and perhaps more children yet, to grow up in. KD told a confidant that he didn’t think the Warriors would get any better if Steve Kerr couldn’t hold Draymond Green accountable for his outbursts, and that he was occasionally irked when Steph got so much attention from the media and from the fans.

It was, in short, about player empowerment: We want to play where we want to play, with whom we want to play ... and ultimately, be coached by who we want. If you’re an owner, a GM, you’ll have to accept that going in.

Sullivan also lays out the moment when Durant, still “one-legged and on a trike” 18 days after Achilles surgery, arrived at the HSS Training Center on June 30 for the big unveiling, the Clean Sweep. Irving was already there as was a slew of Nets players, coaches, staffers and friends.

There were Woo!s and Yessir!s and Oh-KAY!s, but the friends embraced in an official exhale at last: Clink. KD and Kyrie would make $164 and $141 million, respectively, over four years — maximum-value contracts for maximum-profit men. DeAndre, their Olympian amigo, was no longer valued him as a max guy, but his powerful friends viewed him as a starter and an essential presence in the revamped Nets locker room. KD and Kyrie told their agents to go get him $10 million a year, and they did.

Giraffing around the rooftop of Nets HQ, as if chaperoning prom, was a six-foot-ten-inch New Zealander named Sean Marks. He was the general manager who’d inherited one of the NBA’s worst teams in 2016, a franchise not even close to established enough to entice KD when he was a free agent that summer...

On the roof of the nearly $50 million HSS Training Center, Marks introduced himself to the friends and loved ones of his new players — there were nine in all, on a roster of 15, arriving one by one as the sun went down — because, he believed, when you had a chance to add future Hall of Famers who wanted to play together, you jumped at it, you healed them, and you kissed the ring.

Now, two years later, after the long wait for KD, the Kyrie controversies, the coaching change, the injuries, etc., etc. the promise lies within reach, within sight.

“A championship would be a whole other level,” Sullivan quotes KD as saying, “but injecting a new energy into a city through basketball would be even cooler.”