Kevin Durant (292052)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

Joe Tsai, the Brooklyn Nets’ owner/governor (governor is becoming an increasingly more common designation for owner in NBA circles), has seemingly taken a firm stand against Kevin Durant dictating the terms of the franchise’s hierarchy.

The two reportedly met in London in the United Kingdom last week and the outcome was Durant issuing Tsai an ultimatum after having already demanded to be traded on June 30. The 33-year-forward informed the 58-year-old former Yale University lacrosse standout a choice had to be made: choose between him and general manager Sean Marks and head coach Steve Nash.

The explicit terms were met with a public response of support for Marks and Nash by Tsai, the co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. “Our front office and coaching staff have my support. We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets,” Tsai posted on his Twitter account, @JoeTsai/1999, on Monday night.  

It is difficult to make a compelling argument against Durant not bearing an unconditional love of the game of basketball and paying him the highest compliment a player could receive of being a true baller. He embodies the quintessential P.G. County, Maryland/Washington D.C. hooper who would play on a darkened court at midnight for no money if he wasn’t getting hundreds of millions of dollars to be on the short list of the best players in the world.

But he is engaging in what is seemingly classic passive-aggressive behavior and misplaced frustration. It is a reasonable premise that the source of Durant’s grievance is his friend and current Nets teammate Kyrie Irving, who is the primary source of why Durant is a Net. Irving sold Durant on joining him to sign with the franchise as free-agents in July of 2019 with the vision of the duo winning multiple titles.

Both inked deals with the Nets, Durant foregoing re-signing with the Golden State Warriors, with whom he won two championships and two Finals MVPs in 2017 and 2018. Irving moved on from the Boston Celtics after  playing for them from 2017 to 2019. The irony is those two teams met in the NBA Finals in June with the Warriors winning their fourth title in the past eight seasons. Today, the Warriors and Celtics are built to be title contenders for years to come.

The Nets? They have become the NBA’s top rated soap opera. They traded for superstar guard James Harden in January of 2021 only to see him grow disgruntled with the team’s dysfunction in large part due to Irving taking leave of absences for personal reasons and being unable to play home games in Brooklyn for most of last season as a result New York City’s rigid COVID vaccine mandates, which weren’t roll backed until late March.

Irving was steadfast in his position to remain unvaccinated and consequently did not make his home debut until March 27, 75 games into the regular season with the 39-36 laboring to remain at .500. By then Harden had forced a trade from the Nets to the Philadelphia 76ers for Ben Simmons in a deal that consisted of a total of six players and two first round picks. Simmons never took the court for the Nets last season resulting from his ongoing mental health issues and a herniated disk in his back, for which he had surgery in May.

So here the Nets and Durant are, roughly nine weeks from the start of the 2022-23 regular season, at an impasse. On the surface, Durant has little leverage. He’s under contract with the Nets for four more years. It is nearly impossible right now for the Nets to get equal value for Durant in a trade to some of his preferred destinations. Irving opted into the final year of his contract earlier this summer, although rumors of him being traded still permeate the media.

Another episode of the saga is coming soon.

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