Kevin Durant issued trade requests to the Brooklyn Nets because he didn’t approve of how his teammates responded to adversity last season and because he wasn’t convinced the organization was upholding a championship standard.
Durant said he became concerned in the months following his decision to sign a four-year, $198 million extension in August 2021. Expecting to continue chasing championships with Kyrie Irving and James Harden, Durant instead endured a nightmare campaign hampered by injuries, Irving’s extended absence because of New York City’s vaccine mandate and Harden’s midseason trade to the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I’m getting older,” said Durant, who will turn 34 this week. “I want to be in a place that’s stable and trying to build a championship culture. I had some doubts about that. I voiced them to Joe, and we moved forward from there.”
Durant’s frustration grew when he missed six weeks from mid-January to early March with a knee injury. During his absence, Brooklyn went 5-16, including an 11-game losing streak, and Harden missed multiple games under mysterious circumstances before he was traded. Durant concluded that the team “skipped some steps” in its work habits.
“I wanted everybody to be held accountable for their habits as a basketball player every day,” Durant said. “I think a lot of stuff was getting swept under the rug because we’re injured or this guy is not around or just the circumstances. I thought we could have fought through that a little more and focused on the guys who were here a little bit more. When I went out with the injury, we lost  in a row. I’m like, ‘We shouldn’t be losing some of these games that we lost, regardless of who is on the floor.’ ”
Durant noted that the Golden State Warriors kept winning despite Stephen Curry’s late-season foot injury and the Dallas Mavericks didn’t quit when Luka Doncic suffered a calf injury right before the playoffs. The Warriors went on to win the NBA title once Curry returned, and Doncic led the Mavericks to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2011.
“I felt like we could have fought through a lot of the stuff that held us back,” Durant said. “Championship teams do that. ... I felt like we had enough talent to do that, and that’s what rose some doubt up in my mind. When adversity hit, can we keep pushing through it? I’ve been on some championship teams and teams right on the brink of winning the championship, and they did those things. I want to be a part of a group that did that.”
With the Nets in the midst of a playoff push, Durant said, he decided to focus on playing rather than airing his grievances. The Nets were promptly swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round, raising questions about the futures of Durant, Irving and Coach Steve Nash.
Irving said Monday that he had “felt embarrassed leaving the court” at the end of the season, and Durant didn’t wait long, issuing his first trade request to Tsai when free agency opened. Reports indicated that Durant made another trade request later in the summer and that he asked Nets ownership to replace Marks and Nash. Ultimately, Tsai stood by his general manager and coach, Brooklyn didn’t receive any trade offers for Durant that it deemed suitable, and Durant rescinded his requests in late August.
“Kevin and I go way back,” Nash said. “Families go through things like this — adversity and disagreements. ... We cleared the air, and we spoke. We got on the same page. I’m glad we’ve got it behind us.”
The saga dominated NBA headlines for nearly two months, but Durant said he wasn’t disappointed that a deal never materialized because he maintained his “love” of playing basketball, regardless of his organization. The 2014 MVP added that he appreciated Tsai’s candor during their offseason conversations; the owner and Marks told him flatly, “You’re too great for us to give you away.”
Durant said he and Nets brass eventually agreed that he would return, noting that Nash shared many of his concerns about the team’s response to adversity.
As Durant’s situation played out, Irving was embroiled in his own contractual limbo. Irving, 30, said Monday that he “gave up four years, $100-something million” by deciding to remain unvaccinated last year, a reference to a possible extension offer from the Nets ahead of the season. When Brooklyn declined to offer him a multiyear extension this summer, Irving flirted with the trade market before picking up his $37 million player option.
The seven-time all-star guard, who will be an unrestricted free agent in 2023, admitted the uncertainty around his future and Durant’s future this summer was “awkward,” “shocking” and a “clusterf---.” Nevertheless, Irving said he would be “all-in” with Brooklyn and acknowledged there “weren’t many” alternative options this summer because of the “stigma” associated with his unvaccinated status and extended absence.
Durant insisted that he had not intervened on Irving’s behalf this summer, despite their close friendship, and that he had encouraged Marks and Irving to build their relationship independently.
“I never walk into any GM’s office or coach’s office and demand anything,” Durant said. “... I come in and do my job as a player, which is to be coachable, work as hard as I can and be available. A lot of people got that in their minds that I control everything here with the Nets. I only control my job. My job is to be a player. Their relationship, they had to figure that out on their own. I’m not the liaison between Kyrie and the organization.”
The Nets have scrambled to rework their roster, but it’s unclear where they will land in the Eastern Conference pecking order. Out went LaMarcus Aldridge, Bruce Brown, Goran Dragic, Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin. In came Markieff Morris, Royce O’Neale and T.J. Warren, and Ben Simmons and Joe Harris are expected to return from significant injuries that sidelined them last season.
Before Brooklyn can reestablish itself as a title contender, Durant has laid out a more immediate and modest goal.
“I feel like we don’t have any respect out there on the court,” he said. “That’s what I want for us: respect amongst the NBA community as a team for how we play on both ends of the floor, from GM all the way down to the equipment manager. You do that by how you work every day. ...
“It’s [been] a year of growth and a year of us looking in the mirror. We f---ed up as a team. That only makes you better. I’m banking on that.”