Fans have been reading tea leaves for more than a month now, hoping they can see a pattern that suggests their two superstars would “run it back” next year in Brooklyn. That cup of tea wound up as spillage Monday with word from Shams Charania that Kevin Durant had given Joe Tsai a ultimatum: fire Sean Marks and Steve Nash or trade me.
Other than that, though, what should be expect now that positions are hardened, and arguably the best player in basketball is headed to his fourth team in 16 years? Probably not much immediately.
On Sunday, the day after Tsai met with Durant in London, word around HSS was that the Nets intend to be “hardline” on Durant’s demand — “request” no longer encapsulates the situation. Then, after the leak, Tsai offered his support for the front office and coaching staff and added, “We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.”
Shams in his story on the KD ultimatum noted, “Tsai and the Nets have made clear privately that they will take every last asset from a team that trades for Durant, sources said.”
What all that suggests is that Brooklyn doesn’t want to rush into anything, doesn’t want to move quickly, doesn’t want to take 70 cents or less on the dollar, but instead wants to stay the course they’ve followed since June 30 when hours before his four-year, $198 million extension kicked in he told Tsai he wanted out. If a team wants Kevin Durant, they will need to pay up.
They continue to want what they want: a gaudy package of a young All-Star, multiple picks and swaps and maybe another rotation player. After all, Durant is under contract to them at roughly a million dollars a month. They don’t have to do anything. If he chooses not to play, chooses not to show for training camp, they can dock that pay stub like the Sixers did with Ben Simmons last season. That is their leverage and coming after the Simmons situation, the franchise is likely to have the support of the NBA’s other owners. (The NBA is awaiting a ruling from an arbitrator on whether Simmons’s mental health claim is verified and he gets up to $19 million in back pay.)
There are, of course, a lot of things we don’t know, like the details of why Durant wants out. He wants Nash fired after publicly and effusively complimenting him twice in April, the second time immediately following the Celtics sweep. We also don’t know if the player with the professed love of the game will sit starting September 26, Media Day in Brooklyn. And we don’t know how his contract is structured. Is he one of those superstars who gets a big chunk of his salary up front, meaning he already got $10 million plus on July 1?
We do know that the Nets have held off filling out their roster, offering them flexibility to take on multiple players in a trade ... if one emerges to their liking. They also haven’t used their taxpayers MLE, $6.5 million a year, which could be used to facilitate a trade. We also know that the Nets believe strongly in Simmons and seemed to welcome their prodigal superstar, Kyrie Irving, back into their good graces, last week.
What leverage does Durant have? As he’s said, You know who he is. He’s Kevin Durant, one of the biggest and brightest stars in the NBA ... ever. That matters. Can Tsai and Marks withstand a steady drumbeat of negativity that would sound daily with reports and rumors whether he plays or not? And what about Nash? After praising him in April, KD now wants him fired. How does that work when the balls start rolling out in September?
Brian Windhorst on ESPN said that KD is running out of options and will probably be back in black-and-white at least through training camp...
.@WindhorstESPN doesn't think the Lakers are guaranteed to make the postseason— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) August 9, 2022
"With the roster that they currently have, the Lakers are going to have to be great to get into that playoff situation." pic.twitter.com/GoiF30fYAw
Does the league do anything on all this? Can it? Brooklyn is ground zero of superstars committing then abandoning their teams. James Harden forced his way out of Houston in 2020 by showing up out of shape, then forced his way out of Brooklyn a year later with lackadaisical play. Ben Simmons forced his way out of Philadelphia last year by contending that mental health was his priority. Now we have Kevin Durant trying to force his way out of Brooklyn with an ultimatum. That lack of commitment will be a big part of the next round of CBA negotiations whenever they begin. Either side can ask for talks to begin early this season.
There is an alternative narrative that might give Nets fans some hope. It’s possible that Team KD, realizing the trade market isn’t what they thought it was, is desperate to get back to Brooklyn, but doesn’t want to make it seem like they’re caving. So they offered the ultimatum hoping that they could save face if Tsai went along. If that’s the case, then the ball is in Durant’s hands.
Finally, what about the fans? They are already deeply polarized. Does their skepticism turn to cynicism? Is it reflected in attendance, ticket sales, merchandise sales, etc. or just a loss of faith? In the meantime, they will have to wait till that next cup of tea is brewed and hope the leaves are in a better position.