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KD GONE: Nets trading Kevin Durant to Suns in blockbuster

Brooklyn Nets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Clean Sweep Era, which began with such great hopes on June 30, 2019 but failed to produce anything other than a first round playoff win, ended on February 9, 2023. Days after the Nets traded Kyrie Irving to Dallas, they are sending Kevin Durant to Phoenix for a package that includes Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder, four unprotected first-round picks, a 2028 first round pick swap for Durant and TJ Warren. The Nets traded Crowder to Milwaukee later Thursday.

The Nets dealt Irving to Dallas for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith and picks, including a 2029 first rounder on Tuesday. Thursday’s trade also comes four weeks after Durant went down with a sprained MCL that ended a stunning run for Brooklyn going 18-2 including a 12-game winning streak. Then, last Friday, in a move that caught even KD by surprise, Irving asked out and was traded on Sunday following an impasse in contract extension talks. Since then, KD’s status seemed at best uncertain.

Both Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania broke the news at around 1:00 a.m. Thursday, 14 hours before the NBA trade deadline.

On Sports Channel, Woj said Durant had been talking to Joe Tsai and Sean Marks in the past several days. Woj had previously reported the two sides were having “hard conversations” about the “direction of the franchise” that were “fluid.” Ultimately, Durant told Tsai and Marks that he wanted out and wanted Phoenix...

“After the Kyrie Irving trade last week, the conversations between Kevin Durant and Joe Tsai, the owner in Brooklyn Nets, Sean Marks, their GM, they started to move toward the idea that if there was a deal that could be done in Phoenix, Kevin Durant would certainly be open to it and certainly even eager for it,” said Woj. “Matt Ishbia, the new owner in Phoenix who was approved only last week, wanted Kevin Durant.”

Woj added that Ishbia and Tsai were both engaged early in the negotiations. Suns GM James Jones and Marks then closed the deal just before 1:00 a.m. ET.

As Woj noted, the Nets are no longer contenders, pointing out “They have hit the reset button.” The inability of the Nets to capitalize on their signings of KD and Kyrie — and the subsequent trade for James Harden — now becomes a managerial failure of the first order with first Harden, then Irving and finally Durant asking out.

“This is the greatest failure in NBA history,” said Zach Lowe on NBA Today without exaggeration. One league source told NetsDaily Wednesday that a housecleaning is likely to follow at HSS Training Center this off-season.

Key to the deal, said Woj, was the inclusion of Bridges, one of the top young two-way players in the NBA. He is currently averaging 17.2 points a game on shooting splits of 46/39/90. The Suns initially did not want to include the 6’6” Bridges, said Woj “but that wasn’t happening.” The Nets, he said, had “long coveted” Bridges.

Bridges reacted this way...

There’s been no initial public reaction from the Nets or Durant but Irving reacted in Dallas, his new home.

“We had a lot of conversations throughout the year about what our futures were going to look like,” said Irving. “There was still a level of uncertainty, but we just cared about seeing each other be in places where we can thrive… I’m just glad he got out of there.”

Irving also suggested during his press conference that he had been plotting his own exit from early in his tenure in Brooklyn. Irving was talking to the media in Dallas following the Mavs win over the Clippers when the news broke...

Meanwhile, Shams Charania reported that during their meeting in Los Angeles last August, the Nets brain trust promised Durant that if he was still unhappy at the deadline, they would send him to his preferred destination ...

Phoenix had all its first rounders and with the Stepien Rule, the picks headed to Brooklyn are firsts in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029 with the swap pick in 2028, per Woj. The Nets also have their own picks in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029 as well as the 76ers first in 2027 and the Mavericks first in 2029. The 76ers pick is protected 1-8 in 2027 but the Mavericks pick in 2029 is, like all the Suns picks, unprotected. They still owe the Rockets their first rounders in 2024 and 2026 and if the Nets fall behind the Rockets in the standings in 2023, 2025 or 2027, the Rockets have the option of swapping picks. The Nets also have six second rounders they can trade.

The two key players the Suns are sending the Nets — Bridges and Johnson — are both 26. The 6’6” Bridges is at the start of a four-year, $90 million deal, The 6’8” Johnson is on an expiring $5 million deal.

With the trades this week, the Nets also have generated additional trade exceptions. All told, they now have four TPEs, of $18.1 million, $4.5 million, $1.8 million and $1.7 million. They also have roughly $5.4 million remaining from the Taxpayers MLE which can be used to sign free agents at the March 1 buyout deadline.

The Nets are adding Bridges and Johnson to a solid cast of young players like Nic Claxton, 23 and Cam Thomas, 21, as well as promising players like Day’Ron Sharpe, plus veterans like Joe Harris, 31, Seth Curry, 32, Royce O’Neale, 29 and the newly arrived Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith, also both 29.

The big question mark for the franchise has to be future of Ben Simmons. Like the new Nets, he’s 26 and under contract nearly as long as Bridges, through 2025. He has played poorly and just returned Tuesday from being out five games with knee soreness, reportedly a function of his off-season back surgery. There are other questions as well. The Nets still had a surfeit of wings and limited size as of 1:00 a.m. Thursday. It did not change by 3:00 p.m.

The KD deal was the Nets third trade in three days. In addition to the Kyrie Irving trade which provided the Nets with Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith, they dealt Kessler Edwards and cash to the Kings for the draft rights of David Michineau, a 28-year-old French point guard who is not considered an NBA player. Despite all that movement of big contracts, Yossi Gozlan, Hoopshype’s capologist, tells NetsDaily that the Nets are not under the luxury tax threshold.

The loss of arguably the game’s greatest player in his prime has to be the single greatest failure by ownership and management in NBA history. No matter what role Irving or Durant played. the buck stops in the front office and ultimately, the ownership suite.

After years of being mostly a joke on the court and at the box office, the Nets acquired Durant, Irving and DeAndre Jordan on June 30, 2019 — which Woj dubbed “the Clean Sweep” — in hopes of creating a basketball dynasty. Instead, the era never got beyond the second round of the playoffs in 2021 and last year the Nets wound up being swept by Boston in the first round of the playoffs.

A culture based on player empowerment failed miserably with the franchise continually caving in to the superstars demands without a commensurate return in the win column. Only after a miserable season capped off by the sweep did Tsai and Marks change but by then, things were settled, as evidenced by Irving’s contention at last season’s end-of-season press conference that he, Durant, Marks and Tsai could “manage the franchise.”

At the end of June of 2022, first Irving decided to opt out and not sign an extension, then Durant requested a trade. The Nets and KD sparred during a series of meetings arranged by Tsai, first in London where Durant argued for the dismissal of Marks and head coach Steve Nash, then in Los Angeles where the two sides agreed to “continue our partnership.”

Then, when the Nets began the season 2-5, Nash was fired and Durant wanted Tsai to hire Ime Udoka, the Celtics head coach, as his replacement. Udoka however was under suspension for sexual harassing women in the Celtics front office and the league office let it be known that it would frown on letting Udoka off the hook so quickly. One league source also said women in the Nets basketball and business offices made their feelings known. Jacque Vaughn got the job, turning things around until the KD injury and Kyrie trade request.

Of course, Irving was once again involved in controversy, tweeting out a 20-year-old video clip in which conspiracy theorist Alex Jones said the government was using disease to control the U.S. population, then another filled with anti-semitic tropes and falsehoods. Irving was ultimately suspended for eight games but chafed under Tsai’s requirements that he apologize and do work in the community countering anti-semitism and hate speech. On Tuesday, it was revealed that Irving had deleted his apology to American Jews from his Instagram account.

Now, the Nets face a rebuild, and it’s uncertain who will be in charge. Marks’ tenure as GM may very well be at risk. His singular achievement, getting KD and Kyrie, to sign in 2019, is now history.