Joe Tsai, the owner of the Nets, issued a statement of support for the team’s front office and coaching staff on Twitter Monday evening and added, “We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.”
The tweet appeared to be in response to a report from The Athletic that said the team’s star forward, Kevin Durant, was still insistent that the Nets meet a trade demand he made in June. Durant, one of the NBA’s best players, met with Tsai in person over the weekend. The Athletic reported, and conditioned his stay with the team on the removal of Coach Steve Nash and General Manager Sean Marks. (Durant had previously publicly praised Nash, who just completed his second year as the Nets’ coach, saying in the spring that the coach had handled the Nets “perfectly.”)
The Nets did not respond to a request for comment, and a spokesperson for Durant’s company, Boardroom, was not immediately available for comment.
Tsai’s Twitter post was an unusual escalation of a simmering feud between Durant, 33, and the Nets. Tsai has rarely weighed in on basketball matters publicly, and just one year ago Durant appeared to be happily married to the Nets, having agreed to a four-year contract extension with the team he had signed with in the summer of 2019.
But much of Durant’s three seasons with the Nets haven’t gone according to plan and have been marked by tumult.
Durant, while recovering from an Achilles’ tendon injury, signed with the franchise along with his friends, the star point guard Kyrie Irving and the veteran center DeAndre Jordan. During the 2020-21 season, the Nets traded many of their young players, along with several draft picks, to Houston for James Harden, seemingly assembling one of the most formidable star groups in NBA history.
But injuries kept the three stars from seeing the court very often. They played only 16 games together and had a dominant record of 13-3. In the 2021 playoffs, the Nets lost in the second round to the Milwaukee Bucks, the eventual champions.
Last season, the Nets were once again optimistic that they would live up to their lofty expectations. But Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated against Covid-19 meant that he could not play in home games until later in the season because of a New York City rule that was eventually lifted. A frustrated Harden asked the Nets for a trade, and the Nets sent him to the division rival Philadelphia 76ers for Ben Simmons. And once again, Durant, as well as other players on the team, dealt with injuries, forcing Nash to push rookies into unexpected roles.
The Nets hit rock bottom in the playoffs, where they were swept in the first round by the Boston Celtics, an embarrassing outcome for a team that looked to be — on paper — one of the most talented teams of the decade.
Durant’s trade request was a bombshell that shocked many league observers. For one thing, the Nets were projected to enter training camp with a formidable roster that includes Simmons, a three-time All-Star, and Irving, who opted into the final year of his contract. But a player of Durant’s caliber has almost never made a trade request like this with four years left on his contract.
Durant’s trade value, despite his résumé, is uncertain, in part because of how rare his request is and also because of Durant himself. In three years with the Nets, he played 90 regular season games of a possible 236 because of injuries. He will be entering his 16th season, a stage by which most players are already in steep decline. But when Durant has played, he has mostly looked like he always has: a generational talent.
Durant’s talent makes him a tantalizing risk for a team looking to put itself over the top, not the least of which is that when a team trades for him, he might not want to stay.