The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Kevin Durant’s messy trade request left other players twisting in the wind

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant wanted to be traded. Now he doesn't. (John Minchillo/AP)

Patrick Beverley only tweeted what the others are thinking.

The Others, as they have been labeled by Shaquille O’Neal during TNT broadcasts. They are the non-superstar players in the NBA, and the average fan would recognize them only from such insightful analysis as:

Giannis is having to do too much. The Others must step up!

LeBron has to trust The Others to score eight or so points tonight against the Thunder!

The gods KD and Kyrie are on a tear. Good thing they have The Others to fan them and feed them grapes during halftime!

These are the role players, the overshadowed, disrespected, voiceless have-nots in this NBA caste system. Beverley was sticking up for them Tuesday morning, following the non-climactic news that Kevin Durant is staying in Brooklyn for now.

On set with Patrick Beverley, the say-anything star of the NBA playoffs

Since late June, several teams in the league have been at the mercy of an unhappy and impulsive megastar (an annual NBA tradition unlike any other). By asking out of Brooklyn, just one year after he signed a four-year, $198 million contract extension, Durant performed as the de facto puppet master — not only attempting to pull the strings over his career but also those of The Others who would have been packaged as trade chips in deals not of their own choosing.

But Durant’s maneuverings failed. He and the Nets, including the general manager and coach he tried to kick out of Brooklyn, agreed to move forward in their partnership. And so Beverley decided to tweet the silent part out loud.

“Yal can sit and don’t say nothing but that ain’t cool. It’s dudes with families out here who haven’t got a job because of this KD s---. And to be on and off ain’t cool.”

At the core of Beverley’s mini-rant is the unappealing truth about this league. The modern player empowerment era works for only the lucky few: the 10 to 15 superstars who run the entire operation. Everyone else — from the owners to The Others — simply act as their valets.

This doesn’t mean that sometimes the haves and have-nots won’t intermingle from time to time. Within their powerful union, the players have rallied together for matters of importance. Credit goes to the players for recognizing and embracing their influence, therefore pushing the NBA to the forefront among the four major American professional leagues on social justice and voting rights issues.

However, the Durant standoff and Beverley’s fiery reaction to it reveal more about the NBA’s class gap, as well as a growing chasm in the players’ united front.

Beverley needs no introduction to hoop heads. The real ones know. He’s a defensive pest whose flopping and taunting conjures an unspeakable rage whenever he plays against your guys — but you sure would like him on your team. So maybe that explains why every year, he wears NBA jerseys like a paid-by-the-hour wedding DJ dons tuxedos. He moves around so much that they’re rentals for him.

Not even in the deepest of NBA fantasy leagues would anyone spend a draft pick on him. Because Beverley is an Other. On Wednesday, a day after the Nets said Durant would remain in Brooklyn, Beverley’s own future shook out, with multiple reports that he will be traded from the Utah Jazz to the Lakers. So he can relate to those players in limbo because of Durant’s trade request.

Picture Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges this summer. Somewhere drinking his water and minding his business with his four-year, $90 million extension. Though all-stars Chris Paul and Devin Booker lead the Suns, they don’t make it to the 2021 NBA Finals without players such as Bridges and, of course, Coach Monty Williams. So that contract extension should have entrenched Bridges within the young and fun Phoenix lineup, one that should contend for years.

Then Durant reportedly thinks he will be happier if he played basketball in the desert. Bridges can only stay in the corner and wait patiently until Durant changes his mind, again.

“Im sittin here watching just like yall lol,” Bridges wrote in a tweet Monday.

Or imagine being Boston Celtics standout Jaylen Brown, talented enough to form a contending alliance with Jayson Tatum but still not so untouchable if Durant thinks he will look good in green and white. So instead of basking in the glow of the Celtics’ run to the Finals, he’s hearing his name as trade bait.

The idea didn’t sit well with Brown. Like most young professional athletes today, he cryptically tweeted through his feelings hours after the rumors surfaced.

Good luck with the whole locker-room-unity thing this year, Celtics, as you try to contend in what will remain a very loaded Eastern Conference.

There are others, among The Others, who would have been impacted by a potential Durant trade. It always happens that way: A superstar in the NBA sneezes, the role players catch a cold. And the owners rush in offering boxes of Kleenex. Because let’s face it: When given the opportunity to add a gifted, generational scorer such as KD, any executive or governor would at least think about moving the entire roster, the mascot, the dance crew and concession workers if necessary.

The NBA, after all, remains a business, and players such as Bridges or Brown must understand they can be traded at any time. Furthermore, any professional under team control through a multiyear contract has to know that loyalty is just a three-syllable word tossed around only when convenient.

NBA schedule features ‘Rivals Week,’ international games and Election Day off

Coaches lose their jobs, players get traded, and life goes on. But this business model takes an odious turn when the elitist class wields so much control, too much, over the construction of the league. Their whims take precedence over their brethren in the majority. And, it seems, the silent majority may want to change that.

Beverley could be easily shooed away and branded as a disrupter. During a players’ meeting held inside the Disney World bubble in 2020, reports leaked that Beverley constantly interrupted then-National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts. He can be brash and disrespectful, but Beverley’s tweet voiced the inequity experienced by those at the bottom of the NBA’s caste system.

The league’s collective bargaining agreement ends following the 2023-24 campaign, just two more seasons of ensured labor peace. Recently, a team owner told me there are far worse problems in the NBA than a superstar demanding out of his contract. To that person, this issue has been ongoing for so long that it is just ingrained in the fabric of the league and no simple solution exists — and so it will not impact the upcoming negotiations between players and governors.

In a follow-up tweet, however, Beverley suggested otherwise. He wrote that the owners “can’t wait until the new deal comes” and noted what should be obvious to anyone who’s concerned about the future of this league: A situation like KD’s is not good for business.

With Durant’s demand gone wrong, the modern player empowerment era took a rare “L” while the establishment could at least exhale until the next fire. But when the day comes for players and governors to negotiate for a new deal, superstars such as Durant will need backup and not The Others such as Beverley remaining on the sidelines, tending to their grapes and personal grievances.

Loading...