The Brooklyn Nets’ season of disarray has pushed their franchise centerpiece to seek greener pastures.
Durant, 33, reportedly has kept his distance from Nets management this offseason in the aftermath of a humbling first-round sweep by the Boston Celtics. Last summer, Durant signed a four-year, $198 million contract extension that seemingly solidified his position with Brooklyn for the rest of his prime.
But the ensuing 12 months included several twists and turns. Durant’s co-stars, James Harden and Irving, weren’t re-signed to long-term deals last summer, and Harden forced his way to the Philadelphia 76ers at the trade deadline. Earlier this week, Irving picked up his $36.5 million player option with the Nets for the 2022-23 season after the franchise opted against extending him a long-term max contract. Irving’s lack of availability for much of last season because of his refusal to be vaccinated against the coronavirus influenced Brooklyn’s thinking.
Durant carried the Nets through a turbulent campaign; he averaged 29.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists to earn all-star and all-NBA second-team honors. This summer, Durant jetted to Europe immediately following the playoffs and has taken a hands-off approach to Irving’s potential free agency. On a recent podcast, Durant said that he planned to “let things play out” and that their friendship “will still be there” no matter what happens.
“This is this man’s livelihood,” Durant said on the ETCs. “This is much bigger than me. Being a free agent, it’s one of the most important times in your career. That can’t be swayed by anybody else.”
Beyond Irving’s disruptive presence, the Nets faced a host of roster questions thanks to a laundry list of free agents, including Patty Mills, Bruce Brown, Nic Claxton, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.
In Phoenix, Durant would be joining a no-nonsense, all-basketball culture and a contention-worthy roster headlined by all-stars Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Durant has teamed with Paul and Booker to win gold medals with Team USA, and he shares ties to Maryland’s Prince George’s County with Suns Coach Monty Williams.
The Suns, who came within two wins of claiming the 2021 title before losing in the second round to the Dallas Mavericks this year, have multiple attractive pieces they could include in a trade for Durant, including center Deandre Ayton and forward Mikal Bridges. Ayton, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, is one of this summer’s highest-profile restricted free agents.
Miami also has an experienced, playoff-tested roster that reached the 2020 Finals and this year’s Eastern Conference finals.
Durant’s trade request came just two weeks after the Golden State Warriors, his previous team, won their first title since his 2019 departure for Brooklyn.