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Kevin Durant’s trade saga ends as Nets say he’ll stay in Brooklyn

The Nets said Tuesday that the team's leadership met a day earlier with Kevin Durant and business partner Rich Kleiman in Los Angeles and agreed to move forward with our partnership. (Seth Wenig/AP)

The saga surrounding Nets star Kevin Durant’s next destination reached an anticlimactic conclusion Tuesday, when the team announced it will keep the 12-time all-star in Brooklyn.

General Manager Sean Marks announced the news in a statement saying Durant and the Nets “have agreed to move forward with our partnership. We are focusing on basketball, with one collective goal in mind: build a lasting franchise to bring a championship to Brooklyn.” The announcement included the Nets’ logo alongside that of Boardroom, the media company Durant created with manager Rich Kleiman.

Durant was reportedly being pursued by the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat, the Toronto Raptors and, most recently, the Memphis Grizzlies. His decision to stay with Brooklyn comes two weeks after Durant reiterated his request to be traded and told Nets owner Joe Tsai to choose him or Marks and Coach Steve Nash, according to the Athletic.

Tsai responded with a tweet showing his support for the front office and the coaching staff.

A two-time champion and two-time Finals MVP, Durant will continue a tenure in Brooklyn that has been defined by drama.

Durant, who left Golden State to team up with Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn shortly after tearing his Achilles’ during the 2019 Finals, attempted to pull the plug on the venture just three years later. Hours before the NBA’s free agency period opened June 30 and just two weeks after the Warriors won their first title since his departure, Durant formally requested a trade following an exhausting 2021-22 season that ended with a humbling first-round sweep by the Celtics.

Durant’s Brooklyn tenure has unfolded in a blur, in part because it so closely aligned with the coronavirus pandemic. The four-time scoring champion sat out the 2019-20 season as he recovered from his Achilles’ injury, and he opted against rushing to return for the bubble staged in Orlando. During the condensed 2020-21 season, Durant was limited to 35 games because of injuries and coronavirus protocol absences before turning in a sensational postseason run that ended with a second-round loss to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks.

Last season, Durant again missed time with an injury that limited him to 55 games, and then he turned in one of the most forgettable postseason showings of his career against the Celtics.

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Along the way, the Nets swung a blockbuster trade with the Houston Rockets for James Harden in January 2021, then reversed course by trading the all-star guard to the Philadelphia 76ers this past February.

A key driver of Brooklyn’s instability was Irving, who missed significant time over the past three seasons with injuries, personal absences and eligibility issues related to his refusal to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. While Durant was careful to always defend Irving in public, it was clear the Nets needed major changes following their disappointing showing against the Celtics. In one sign of how quickly Brooklyn unraveled, Durant’s trade request came less than a year after he signed a four-year, $198 million extension.

In the beginning, Durant appeared to view the Nets as an opportunity to be the face of his own franchise again, to expand his business and media portfolio in a major market and to construct a roster filled with his friends. Brooklyn pledged to cultivate a player-friendly culture, even deferring to its stars on matters such as playing time and injury management.

That philosophical approach backfired in the 2021-22 season, as Irving’s vaccination saga overshadowed the Nets’ season, contributed to Harden’s departure and placed a huge burden on Durant. Organizational inexperience was the root cause of many of Brooklyn’s shortcomings: Tsai only took full ownership of the franchise in 2019, Marks was a relatively new executive with no previous experience managing A-list superstars, and Steve Nash was a first-time coach when he was hired in 2020.

Time and again after landing Durant and Irving, the Nets looked like they had bitten off more than they could chew. While Brooklyn had the NBA’s second-highest payroll last season — trailing only Golden State — it was the only one of 16 playoff teams that didn’t win a single game in the postseason.

Even so, Durant has played at an MVP-caliber level when healthy throughout his Nets tenure, averaging 29.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game last season. Yet with only one playoff series victory during his time in Brooklyn, the undisputed highlight of Durant’s post-Achilles’ period was his central role on USA Basketball’s gold medal winning team at the Tokyo Olympics. Otherwise, he was forced to watch as major rivals LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry won championships while the Nets repeatedly fell short of expectations.

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