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IT’S UP TO YOU, JOE TSAI — LET DURANT QUIT IF HE DOESN’T GET HIS WAY
The one-sided trade demands of NBA problem children must end, meaning the Brooklyn Nets owner should let his pouting superstar rot and not cave to an ultimatum to fire the coach and general manager
If he frees himself from social media for just 10 seconds, Kevin Durant might be shocked to learn what the real universe thinks of his latest trade ultimatum. People don’t care. On the chance he didn’t hear the first time: PEOPLE DON’T CARE, BRUH. Once he fled the Golden State dynasty to construct his own dynasty in Brooklyn — only to see it die nasty — he pretty much lost us.
In fact, I’m hoping out loud that Nets owner Joe Tsai calls his bluff. Durant is demanding to be traded unless coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks are fired. Already, Tsai has tweeted in response to this brazen coup attempt, “Our front office and coaching staff have my support. We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.” Good. Cool. Wonderful. Assuming he means the braintrust will continue to hold out for a king’s ransom in any blockbuster swap — with only Boston and Miami in the fray, as interest pauses if not wanes — it’s increasingly possible that Durant will remain on the Nets’ roster when training camp begins next month.
Let him rot, then. Let him sit out the season, forfeit the $44 million coming to him. Let him retire and relinquish the $198 million left on his contract extension the next four years. If Kevin Durant wants to end an otherwise epic career as an all-time malcontent, when he helped create the very mess he’s trying to escape, he is more than welcome to dig his legacy grave. The rest of us will move on and wonder how many more championships the Warriors can win without him.
This is no small responsibility carried by Tsai. It’s up to him, even at the expense of the talent haul he could acquire in a deal, to save the NBA from the chronic entitlement that prompts superstars to routinely engage in Get-Me-Outta-Here-ism. It wasn’t long ago that commissioner Adam Silver encouraged and celebrated what he called “athlete empowerment.” Now, he’s rightly disturbed by the trail of big names disregarding the signatures they’ve placed on paper, with the Durant demand galling him in particular. “Look, this needs to be a two-way street,” Silver said recently. “Teams provide enormous security and guarantees to players and the expectation is, in return, they will meet their end of the bargain. I’m realistic that conversations always will go on behind closed doors between players and their representatives and the teams. But we don’t like to see players requesting trades, and we don’t like to see it playing out the way it is.”
After attending a Travis Scott concert — no one died in a stampede, I hope — Durant ignored Silver’s concerns and doubled down. His camp let it be known, through media insider Shams Charania, that he intends to be a coach/GM killer if Tsai wants to keep him and, by extension, partner-in-competitive-crime Kyrie Irving. Time was when stars who demanded the jobs of superiors were greeted with scorn — ask Magic Johnson. Today, we’re so worn down by Durant’s b.s. that we’ve come to expect it. Were his brain functioning, he’d realize a trade probably would have happened by now if it was meant to be. The Celtics were serious, until Marks asked for Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and a boatload of first-round draft picks. With the season starting soon, chances lessen of contending teams ripping apart rosters.
So, Durant has no leverage. By digging in and making his second trade request, interested teams will wait to see if Tsai cracks. Do not crack, Joe Tsai. Don’t accept a lowball deal and give Durant what he wants. The future of sports is depending on you. Durant can make threats about boycotting, but he cares far too much about how he’s perceived to sit around for months in his Manhattan penthouse. Should he choose to abandon his militant mode, he’d realize the pieces are in place to contend in Brooklyn. He has one more season of Irving, for what it’s worth. Ben Simmons, emerging from his own boycott coma, is said to be mentally prepared to suit up at last. Seth Curry and Joe Harris, healthy again, can drill longballs. Patty Mills, Nic Claxton, Royce O’Neale, TJ Warren … the Nets wouldn’t be favored in the East, but they could unnerve the Celtics, Milwaukee and Philadelphia.
Sorry. Durant, 34 soon, would rather be a child. Tsai must withstand the tantrum and resist all impulses, unless he’s completely gobsmacked by an overwhelming offer that likely isn’t happening. As it is, he looks like an idiot, having let Durant talk him into the Irving fiasco that sabotaged the Nets for three seasons. Before KD and Kyrie, they were fun overachievers coached expertly by Kenny Atkinson and featuring the likes of Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen. Thanks to Durant, they all went away, replaced by a circus. Nash arrived without any sideline experience, but Irving said they didn’t need a coach anyway. While Kyrie was missing chunks of the season as an anti-vaxxer, James Harden came and went, after which Simmons sulked behind his convenient mental-health copout. If Tsai bows again to Durant’s whims, he should sell the franchise in shame.
And to think only two weeks ago, Tsai offered an olive branch of sorts. On social media himself, the owner retweeted a video tribute to Irving, who is part of a long succession of New York-area point guards who’ve ruled the local playground scene. “Truth,” the owner wrote. Who was involved in a related documentary opening in the city? Durant.
But he’d rather kick and scream than break bread with Tsai. Is Durant really that upset that the Nets fired his personal trainer, Adam Harrington, without informing him? If he wants to run a team, he’d better buy one. With no recourse but his usual drama portal, he’s demanding the heads of Nash and Marks in August. Here in the dead of the offseason, when the league is on vacation, who would Tsai possibly hire to replace his coach and GM? A better question: Who of sane mind would want either job?
No changes are forthcoming, thankfully. Sometime soon, Kevin Durant will realize he’s stuck in the place he wanted to be, supposedly an upgrade over the place where he won his only two NBA championships. If he hasn’t been traded by opening night, and he still hasn’t accepted his fate, he can go away and never return. And we really won’t care.
Planet Earth, he should know, has been rotating on its axis for about 4.5 billion years.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.