Kevin Durant lost.
After a meeting in Los Angeles between the two parties, this is the main message that can be gleaned from the statement that was released on Tuesday by the Brooklyn Nets. The statement announced that the organization and its dissatisfied superstar “have decided to move forward with our cooperation.”
This is the partnership that just a few weeks earlier, Durant demanded be dissolved so that he could be sent to the team of his choosing. He wanted to play for the team that he wanted to play for. It was a meeting that included the owner, Joe Tsai, as well as the two men who Durant had insisted be dismissed if he were to stay — the general manager Sean Marks and the head coach Steve Nash.
Now, the couple that is planning to end their marriage has stated that they “are focusing on basketball, with one united goal in mind: establish an enduring franchise to bring a championship to Brooklyn.”
That is a spectacular comeback for Durant, and it is a seismic shift from the regular course of things when NBA superstars make demands, regardless of how implausible they appear to be at the moment.
The Brooklyn Nets were close enough to at least two of the most egregious examples of player power gone awry for them to have finally reached a point where they’d had enough, both for themselves and, potentially now, in a shift of power in the NBA as a whole. First, James Harden desired to leave Houston, and then, paradoxically, to leave Brooklyn; ultimately, he chose to play with the Philadelphia 76ers. And, secondly, but connectedly, it was Ben Simmons’s refusal to play for the Sixers and his subsequent move to Brooklyn, where he still hasn’t played a single minute of basketball, even though he has been there for over a year.
Both players ended up achieving their goals. The same can be said for practically any other superstar when they are feeling miserable; names like Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, and others have all been on this list at one point or another.
Because of the ham-fisted approach that K.D. took to handling the situation, there is now precedence for teams that desire to grab back some of the upper hand. This move was made possible in large part because of K.D.’s actions. If you don’t know how to control your power, it can quickly end up in the hands of someone else. If you use your power carefully, though, it can be an extremely effective weapon.
In July, when this disaster initially began to develop with Durant’s first now-failed ultimatum, we suggested that the Nets, for a variety of reasons, should just tell him no to avoid further escalation of the situation. That is just as true today as it was back then, but Durant made things a lot simpler for Brooklyn to do.
It was always much less likely for Durant to miss time than it was for Simmons to miss time because, as anyone in the NBA will tell you, Durant loves to play basketball. This is a player of world-class caliber who still has four years left on his contract. Because it is a passion for him, as well as a commendable and essential part of his all-time excellence, it is quite unlikely that he would ever voluntarily skip playing the game that he adores.
That marked the beginning of the Nets’ winning streak. It was also helpful that the Kyrie Irving catastrophe meant that the Nets would always want to address the Durant situation first and — just as essential — demand a sizeable return to deconstruct a team with the lofty expectations that come with a Durant-Kyrie duo.
This was not a club that was led by a single superstar and had no real chance of winning a title shortly, like the Denver Nuggets squad that Carmelo Anthony was a part of before he was traded a decade ago. At the very least on paper, the Nets were a contender, and that meant that Marks needed to acquire the appropriate return to keep his job.
When there are no other options available to you, a peculiar form of freedom may present itself. This was the situation that the general manager of the Nets found himself in.
When Durant foolishly traveled to London and informed Tsai that the owner had to choose between him, Nash, and Marks, he lost track of everything that had transpired up to that point. A decent rule of thumb to live by is as follows: Do not make any attempt to coerce billionaires.
Then, after still being unable to adequately gauge the situation, Durant or those around him released the ultimatum in an attempt to put pressure on Tsai to give in to his wishes. A second rule to live by, which is strongly connected to the first: After the private method of strong-arming fails, you should not then attempt to exert pressure on those billionaires openly.
Now, it is true that all sides still receive something out of this situation, but it is not the charade that they are attempting to peddle that pretends we’re all in this together. Although Durant could still play for the Nets this season, it is not a given that he would do so. As a result of this agreement, both teams stand to benefit in some way from the deal.
This remark is the ideal method for Brooklyn to convey to the Grizzlies, Celtics, Suns, Heat and any other potential bidder who were dreaming of acquiring K.D. that the price is the price and there is no room for negotiation. Brooklyn has used the possibility that Durant will re-sign with the Nets as a powerful and public bargaining chip with the other clubs to secure the trade they desire for Durant.
That, Durant and Company, is the way to get the job done.
In addition, Durant will receive something. He gets to hoop. He will get to prepare for an NBA season, most certainly with the Nets but possibly still with another team. The keys to having a successful start to the season are having a training camp that is (less) distracting and maintaining a clear focus on basketball. He can continue playing the game, which is something, considering how much he enjoys it.
But you shouldn’t let the headlines distract you from the fact that Durant was defeated in the very public fight that he initiated in the very public manner.
Even though he ordered that his coach be let go, that coach will continue to work with him. The General Manager who he insisted should be let go is still in charge. The group that he first turned down the opportunity to join will continue to benefit from his services for the time being. And the team owner who he turned to for muscle demonstrated to him just what it means to have cutthroat strength.