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The Brooklyn Nets were supposed to destroy the NBA, setting records on the scoreboard and in the vibes department.
Instead, the Nets were destroyed from within, the biggest disappointment in NBA history.
Worse than the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers, worse than the 2013 Lakers that were supposed to give the NBA world a dream Finals against the dynastic Miami Heat. Both Lakers squads were star-studded in name only, the best players slightly removed from their primes.
It speaks to the nomadic nature of the NBA, a league so exciting in July while at times struggling to capitalize on continuity during the regular season marathon. Even a player-constructed team couldn’t create a connective tissue for fans to follow and identify with, not even able to expect championships after early failure.
The league moves quicker than ever, and we’re seeing the uncertainty of the present leading to an even more questionable future if this type of behavior continues. The Eastern Conference was back in full effect after 20-some odd years, but it doesn’t feel sustainable, especially if Kevin Durant goes west again.
It’s a rare case where no one party is a victim, but no single party is solely to blame — almost all have a hand in the state of affairs to date.
Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden have all taken turns being nightmares for defenses, arguably the greatest trio of one-on-one talent on one squad in 75 years of this league, and looked to wreck everything in sight.
It ended up being every man for himself, a true Battle Royale for the exits, at various times for various reasons.
Harden was invested until he wasn’t, and best believe the Nets have seen the last of Irving in their uniform — don’t be surprised if the Nets use the waive-and-stretch provision to rid themselves of Irving’s presence even if his scent will linger over the next three years.
And no amount of sage will make Irving more attractive when he’s officially free, this stench sure to follow him for the rest of his career, predictably.
Durant — the reason anyone gave a damn about the Brooklyn Nets — is still squarely in his prime, still with a case to be the baddest man on the planet. Having a man with that title usually means contention is the bare minimum, and perhaps he believed the bare minimum would be necessary to field a contender.
His partner-in-dysfunction, the master of destruction, Kyrie Irving, made sure to test that theory. Irving’s resolve to bend the limits of everything team-building has been about succeeded, leaving a mess on Atlantic Ave and bread crumbs of responsibility to be shared by all involved.
Everything about this marriage seemed off, especially when considering the Nets brass found out Durant and Irving picked their black-and-white rose on Twitter, like the rest of us Irving-termed “peons.”
Sean Marks and Co. could never get in front of Durant and Irving, perhaps unaware of the weight they were undertaking. Now, the Slim Reaper is playing the Undertaker to a franchise that seemed promising at worst, and model-worthy at its highest potential.
Even Durant making the trade request to Nets governor Joe Tsai instead of talking to Marks illustrates the disconnect, another bearing of fruit falling from a poisonous tree. It’s easy by comparison to build a culture of players looking to make names rather than those who are established supernovas on a bad day.
Irving is the ultimate mirror, putting everything you think you are on trial, and it looks like the Nets were found guilty by a jury of two.
The Nets had to say yes to Durant and Irving, they’d be fools not to. They had no identity on the NBA’s cultural map, in the shadow of the back-page grabbing Knicks. But it appears they didn’t set actual parameters, as if they were so grateful to be graced by today’s stars they didn’t bother to have a level of structure to be followed, let alone respected.
It’s no coincidence the two franchises Durant has eyed represent some kind of stability and competitive consistency, with the Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat being atop his list. For all the influence Durant perhaps craved and was granted in Brooklyn, he’s a hooper first and second — with the game being the main thing with #HeatCulture and in the Suns’ building.
Sources told Yahoo Sports wanting to play alongside Devin Booker is a main motivation, along with the possibility of being slated next to Miami’s resident hard-ass Jimmy Butler — two players whose attendance is rarely questioned.
Durant likely underestimated Irving’s effect on a franchise, not seeing his friend’s destructive nature as being anything but layered and misunderstood, however being worth the trouble. But being misunderstood is cute until you need someone to understand, and the Nets were either ill-equipped or unwilling to continue catering to Irving’s whims, finally pushing back.
The franchise was stretched so thin it was hardly recognizable to Durant, but it shines a light on how he played for well-run organizations in his first two stops. The Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t win a championship, and Durant was certainly justified in wanting to depart, but it wasn’t dysfunctional. And the Golden State Warriors wandered in the wilderness long enough to know not to mess with a good thing when it shows up at the doorstep, perhaps giving Durant the impression any kind of stability could be formed with the snap of a finger, that having good players automatically creates a culture.
Sometimes pushback is necessary in any healthy relationship. Any level of dictatorship in the NBA isn’t smart, with organizations needing the backbone and foresight to protect the players from their own worst devices — and that requires trust.
There’s a line between control and influence, and only a handful of franchises are respectable enough to toe it. The NBA being a player’s league can be both a legitimate reason and an excuse for franchises to avoid doing their jobs, seeing as how they walk around in fear of the most powerful people terminating the relationship at a moment’s notice regardless of contractual obligations.
Who does Durant feel like he can trust? Perhaps it’s Irving, but even that has to be shaken at this point. It’s impossible to interpret his state of mind, but if it’s possible to give him credit, he knew when it was time to leave.
Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra, the unwavering duo capable of handling everything from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to Butler and everyone in between, looks like a beacon next to the clown show in Brooklyn. Monty Williams is the adult in Phoenix, perhaps overshadowing the controversy at levels higher than himself, with a great relationship with Durant — while also not being afraid to coach him.
Durant’s not as obsessed with winning at all costs, but wasting the next four years of his career wasn’t palatable under the circumstances — even if he played a huge part in creating them. Guessing what Durant wants is a fool’s errand, even though everybody plays the fool at one point or another. Perhaps he’s never happy unless he’s unhappy, the ultimate vagabond.
When he speaks, he explains complex thoughts so simply it can’t just be what he says; there has to be more.
He’ll have to explain this in some forum or another, because even his next destination won’t reveal his wants as much as escaping the burning house in Brooklyn, as his buddy Irving holds a bottle of kerosene behind his back.
In a way, Irving was the shield for Durant, even if Durant didn’t mean for that dynamic to exist. Durant needing to be rescued from Irving’s wayward clutches, sullying the good name of a player with a once-pristine reputation is something Durant bristles at, especially when Durant has experienced being placed at the opposite end of the stable superstar, Stephen Curry.
Durant is the same figure in both pairings, our perceptions of him shaped by who he’s around rather than his figure being so clear no teammate or foe could color it.
Durant is packing his bags, yet again, justified in wanting out but carrying responsibility in the circumstances he’s rightfully leaving.