Why NBA execs think a Kevin Durant trade is still likely

NBA

Through Rick Bucher
FOX Sports NBA Writer

Is the Kevin Durant drama really over Brooklyn? If you’ve followed Durant’s career, you already know the answer: the Kevin Durant drama is never over.

At least that’s how other NBA teams see the Nets’ announcement last week that Durant withdrew his trade request and “we have agreed to continue our partnership.”

“I think the Nets just told him, ‘There’s no deal we’re comfortable with and we’re not just going to turn you in,'” an Eastern Conference GM told FOX Sports. “I think he will still be moved by the trade deadline if things don’t go well. That might even have been part of the deal, a soft agreement that if it doesn’t work out, they’ll move him.”

A second Eastern Conference front office executive whose team is interested in acquiring Durant is counting on it. If the coming season is anything like the last, he envisions both Durant and fellow Nets Kyrie Irving asking to be moved.

“I think it’s temporary depending on whether they win or lose,” the manager said. “These two [Durant and Irving] will start barking and want out of there.”

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Sources within two other teams said their brain trusts also believe the situation in Brooklyn is far from resolved. That’s one of the reasons Nets GM Sean Marks’ phone hasn’t rang in recent weeks with offers for Durant.

“I don’t want to put out my best offer now when I call them,” said the front office manager. “I want you to call us. If KD says, ‘Get me out of here’ the second time, they call. Then I want to be a buyer.”

That Durant withdrew the trade request he first made on June 30 might have come as a shock to those who expected him to behave like every other disgruntled star of recent times, but he’s different.

“He’s not like other great players,” said the front office manager. “He’s an extra, extra sensitive guy.”

If there has been one hallmark of Durant’s career other than being one of the league’s most gifted scorers — four titles, 13 seasons averaging 25 points or more, the last nine averaging more than 50 percent overall — it has been his fickleness Relationships .

“There are people,” said the Eastern Conference GM, “who are constantly falling in and out of his good graces.”

Russell Westbrook, Draymond Green, Steve Nash and James Harden are among those whom Durant has alternately embraced and distanced himself from, on some occasions more than once, throughout his career.

The situation with Nash, Durant’s current head coach, whom he was reportedly planning to fire this summer along with GM Sean Marks, is one of the more confusing.

The two worked closely during Durant’s time with the Golden State Warriors when Nash served as team advisor. They could be seen on the court after practice whenever Nash was in town, Durant was clearly engaged as Nash shared with him the footwork and moves that made him a two-time MVP.

According to league sources, Durant was also instrumental in the Nets hiring Nash for the first time as head coach last year, not only giving his approval stamp of the appointment but persuading Nash to accept the offer.

The Eastern Conference GM heard Durant tell the Nets at the LA meeting that his the-or-me ultimatum to Tsai was just a maneuver to get traded, but the GM didn’t like it.

“They don’t say, ‘I was just bulls, I just wanted to be traded,'” the Eastern Conference GM said. “What he did to Steve and Sean is just not right. Kyrie would do that, not the KD I know.

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However, this isn’t the first time Durant has sent mixed signals about a relationship, both privately and publicly. When he was voted MVP in 2014, he told a beaming Westbrook from the podium that he loved him and “I’ll be the first to have your back and just be who you are.”

But when he left for Golden State five years later, he texted Westbrook after meeting with him a few days earlier and reportedly giving the impression he intended to remain in Oklahoma City. He called Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban an idiot for claiming Durant was the Thunder’s only true superstar — viewed as disparaging to Westbrook — but then said on a 2020 podcast, “In OKC, I got along played many athletes, I have done it. I don’t play with a lot of experienced guys…I got tired of having to be the only guy who could do 3s, jump shots and do them consistently.

Green, meanwhile, was the one who reached out to Durant after Golden State’s unexpected loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 Finals and was reportedly instrumental in his recruitment to Golden State. The two routinely dated after games, but a highly publicized in-game spat during season three caused Durant to distance himself from the entire team and once again moved on. But a year later, he joined Green on a personal podcast and had a friendly conversation about their breakup.

And just last year, Durant persuaded Harden, his former Oklahoma City teammate, to come to Brooklyn. A season and a half later, league sources said Durant had grown weary of Harden’s erratic efforts and encouraged Marks to grant Harden’s request to be promoted again. Shortly after the trade, Durant joined LeBron James in a televised selection of the 2022 All-Star Teams, and Durant refused to select Harden, leaving him the last player selected by James. But a few weeks ago, at a Travis Scott concert in London, Durant and Harden were spotted partying together.

Though the story is there, one GM suggested that this time Durant might have cause to fret over the Nets. Durant signed his four-year extension a year ago with the agreement that Irving would receive the same contract this summer, guaranteeing their future together, which was the push for them to join the Nets in the first place, GM said. The Nets declined to offer Irving that deal.

All of this makes acquiring him or other Nets stars a plausible hope for other teams.

According to a source familiar with GM Rob Pelinka’s thinking, the Lakers hoped Durant’s desire to leave would motivate the Nets to look into Irving as well. Irving, league sources said, has spent much of the summer in Los Angeles and is interested in joining the Lakers and reuniting with James, with whom he won a championship for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. James is reportedly as eager for a reunion as Irving and the plan now, according to the source, is “to wait for the Nets to implode,” although Talen Horton-Tucker and Stanley Johnson’s takeover of Patrick Beverly last week has continued their trade has reduced assets.

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Is this implosion coming? It hasn’t escaped other teams that while the team released a statement regarding the continuation of their partnership, Durant has yet to confirm it. Some aren’t sure they would believe it even if he did.

“I’ll take him immediately,” said the front office manager, “because he gives you a chance [to compete at a high level]. But as a human? He’s a big risk.”

As one GM once said when asked what he expects from Durant if he becomes a free agent in 2019, “I can tell you if you tell me who he last spoke to.”

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has authored two books, Rebound, the story of NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with early-onset Parkinson’s disease, and Yao: A Life In Two Worlds ‘, the story of NBA center Yao Ming. He also has a daily podcast, On The Ball with Ric Bucher. Follow him on Twitter @Ric Bucher.


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