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Kevin Durant: Nets were ‘family’ but he couldn’t ‘stomach’ loss of Kyrie Irving

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Phoenix Suns Introduce Kevin Durant Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Kevin Durant, who twice in seven months requested a trade from the Nets, once hours before his four year, $198 million contract kicked in, then again in mid-season following an 18-2 run, told thousands of Phoenix Suns fans Thursday that he considered the Nets “family” but that without Kyrie Irving the team “didn’t have a clear identity.”

Showing some emotion in his first public comments since his trade in the wee hours of February 9, Durant seemed to tie his desire to get out of Brooklyn directly to Irving who Brooklyn had decided to trade following the superstar guard’s own request to leave. That break, of course, came after the Nets, having tired of Irving’s serial ability to create controversy and miss 49% of his games in Brooklyn, declined to offer him a fully guaranteed four-year deal without stipulations.

“I built a family over there. They’re always going to be a part of my journey...I love those guys,” Durant said at the height of his discussion regarding the Nets.

He also credited the Nets will helping him through his year-long recovery and rehabilitation from achilles surgery which required him to miss his first year in Brooklyn. “I get emotional talking about them because that was a special four years of my career coming off an Achilles. They helped me though a lot.”

But in the end, it was Irving’s situation that pushed things to the breaking point...

He spoke as well about the demise of the “Big Three” a year ago when James Harden also requested a trade.

“We just didn’t get on the court enough. I think when you saw James, Kyrie, and myself, it was amazing basketball for 17 games. But in order for you to win a championship and to be a great team you just need more time on the floor,” Durant said. “It’s another story about why we didn’t get on the floor together... But those are hall-of-fame players that I learned a lot from every day and I’m wishing them the best as well. It just didn’t workout.”

(Durant, Irving and Harden actually played only 16 games together, Durant and Irving only 74.)

Durant answered the questions about the Nets from ESPN’s Nick Friedell despite boos from the assembled Suns fans at the Phoenix arena where he will play, presumably after the All-Star Break. Unlike Irving and Harden, Durant did not criticize the Nets organization and certainly didn’t show disdain, even anger, as the other two did. But like them, he also was vague as to why things didn’t work out. Nor did he name names or detail specific instances where things turned, other than Irving’s request to be dealt. He didn’t even describe what about Irving’s request he couldn’t “stomach.”

“I was upset that we couldn’t finish. I thought that we had some good momentum. We were finally building the culture that we always wanted,” Durant said. “But I didn’t know what was going on with Kyrie and his situation... It was a blow to our team. That was tough for me to stomach. I loved playing with those guys throughout the year.”

Before he sprained his MCL for the second time in two years and before Irving told Sean Marks that he wanted out, the Nets had the best stretch of basketball the franchise had experienced since moving to Brooklyn, winning 18 of 20 games, including 12 straight. Also, around that time, KD went out of his way to help the Tsais sign Breanna Stewart to a deal with the Liberty.

Despite all the other rationales provided for KD’s departure, it now seems amply clear that Durant’s top priority was keeping his friend by his side.

Indeed, Marc Stein writing in his substack, detailed the timeline of the two superstars’ trade requests, how tied they were.

Durant told the Nets shortly after Irving’s abrupt departure that he wanted to be traded immediately to Phoenix if a deal could be struck — but without the public knowing that he had requested a trade for the second time in eight months.

Even before Durant’s second request, Stein reports that the Nets brass understood the superstar era was over and that they had planned to pursue offers for the Durant in the summer, Durant, Stein and others have written, was willing to play out the rest of the season as long as the Nets kept things quiet. The Nets instead decided to move immediately, perhaps buoyed by the belief, accurate as it turned out, that new owner Mat Ishbia wanted to make a big splash in his first days as the Suns new owner and would give in to all the Nets demands. Stein wrote:

The Nets complied. After three-and-a-half seasons in Brooklyn filled with much more tumult than success, Irving’s sudden trade demand on Feb. 3 was indeed the breaking point for Nets owner Joe Tsai and GM Sean Marks. But they did it KD’s way and still got the deal they wanted.

Stein wrote Ishbia’s willingness to part with such a big trade package permitted Brooklyn “to cash in on new (and overzealous) Phoenix owner Mat Ishbia’s apparent determination to mark his arrival with the most significant Here I Am trade possible. Welcome to the NBA indeed.”

Looking ahead, Durant spoke about the pressure of being Kevin Durant.

“It’s pressure because I’m one of the best players to ever play the game, so every time I step on the floor, people are going to expect me to do great things and the team I’m on to do great things,” Durant said regarding Suns fans expectations. “But I enjoy getting better as a player every day and just waking up and getting to do this.”

Later in talking with’s Shlomo Sprung, Durant talked about his years in Brooklyn noting that he got better in the borough ... even if the Nets didn’t win a championship.

“I didn’t set out to accomplish anything, to be honest. I didn’t expect anything but to go out there and work hard as I could every day and see what happens,” he said of his Nets tenure. “Nothing came from it as far as a championship is concerned, but I got better as a player. I put some good stuff on the film, you know what I’m saying? And I feel like a lot of my teammates did the same. It didn’t result in the golden ball at the end, but only one team can win that. Is everybody a failure if only one team can win? So I don’t look at it that way. I felt like we all got better individually. It didn’t come together as a team, but we all learned some things.”

Ultimately, the Nets lost their two superstars in a matter of days following years of trying to make things work but failing to achieve any of their championship goals. The haul they received from the two deals appears a good one, as Mikal Bridges showed Wednesday night with a 45-point explosion at Barclays Center. In addition to Bridges, the Nets ultimately wound up with Cam Johnson, Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith as well as five first rounders, all unprotected, a swap pick of first rounders, four second rounders and two trade exceptions worth $18.1 million and $6.0 million as they try to win while rebuilding.