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What Went Wrong with Steve Nash, and Where Do Nets Go from Here with Kevin Durant?

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVAugust 8, 2022

Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Just when it started to feel like the NBA offseason was calming down, Kevin Durant dropped a big old spoon into the pot, stirred it, shook it up and dumped it out.

On Monday, The Athletic's Shams Charania broke the news that KD had issued an ultimatum to Brooklyn Nets governor Joe Tsai:

Shams Charania @ShamsCharania

In a meeting with Nets owner Joe Tsai, Kevin Durant reiterated his trade request and informed Tsai that Tsai needs to choose between Durant or the pairing of general manager Sean Marks and coach Steve Nash, sources say.<br><br>Story: <a href="https://t.co/W1voNf9MDC">https://t.co/W1voNf9MDC</a>

In a follow-up, Charania added, "The meeting was described as transparent and professional, with a clear message: Keep me—or the GM and coach."

Well, OK then.

After just two seasons holding the reins, coach Steve Nash now finds himself on the wrong end of an ultimatum and facing news that's a far cry from what Durant said about him shortly after he was hired.

"His insight for the game, his communication, how he communicates the game of basketball is definitely going to help me as a player develop and it's going to help the rest of the team," Durant said on J.J. Redick's The Old Man and the Three podcast in 2020. "Every time I'm in the gym with him, I was always like a sponge. I'm looking forward to this, man."

The early reviews weren't as explicit or glowing for general manager Sean Marks, but Durant has reportedly had nice things to say about him over the years too.

Now, with a four-year extension recently kicking in for KD, he's sent the entire organization spiraling into what feels like the NBA's version of Marriage Story.

And it's hard to really wrap your head around why.

How did Kevin Durant and Steve Nash get here? (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

A generic "I don't like the direction of the team" feels like a surface-level complaint. And of course, we weren't in the meeting with Durant and Tsai. There was surely more said. But how exactly was Nash supposed to establish a direction that Durant and presumably Kyrie Irving were on board with when those two only appeared in 17 games together this season (and only 27 the year before that)?

And how could he have tailored the attack any more to the stars? Durant and Irving were both top 10 in the league in possessions used in isolation per game in 2021-22. Among those with at least 500 minutes, both were top 20 in usage percentage.

The two superstars ostensibly signed with the Brooklyn Nets in 2019 to play—or, rather, hoop—together. And Nash allowed them to do that. Well, he allowed them to as often as he could.

Nash, of course, had nothing to do with the unavailability of both stars. It wasn't his fault that Durant appeared in only 90 games over the last two seasons. He didn't write the New York City mandate for the COVID-19 vaccine that Kyrie Irving chose not to comply with.

Shoot, maybe Durant actually did want more of a free-flowing, team-first offense like the one that led to his two Finals MVP nods with the Golden State Warriors. Again, we don't know that. There are details of the meeting with Tsai we'll probably never know. But even if that is the case, how was Nash supposed to implement such a system that requires months and years of cohesion with so many players in and out of the lineup?

And what about Marks? He cleared the books to allow Durant and Irving to sign together. He made room for their friend DeAndre Jordan, who was objectively worse than incumbent center Jarrett Allen. Coach Kenny Atkinson's desire to start the younger, better 5 reportedly led to "internal strife," and he was eventually fired. Marks also traded for James Harden (another move Durant wanted), and we all know how that turned out.

If the complaint is, "Get rid of these guys because we need people in leadership who'll stop giving us what we want," fine. It's just hard to imagine that's the complaint.

And it isn't much easier to see their departures suddenly appeasing Durant.

He was a king with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but that didn't prevent him from signing with the 73-win Warriors. He won two Finals MVPs with Golden State, but that didn't keep him from orchestrating a team-up with Kyrie in Brooklyn. He's seemingly had carte blanche with the Nets, but here we are discussing a trade request from someone with four years left on his contract.

Combine that history with his age (34 in September) and a ruptured Achilles in 2019, and Tsai should have little confidence in siding with Durant in this either-or situation the star has created.

It isn't a no-brainer either way, though.

Injuries aside, Durant averaged 29.9 points, 6.4 assists and 2.1 threes with a true shooting percentage 6.8 points above the league average in 2021-22.

When he was on the floor, the Nets had a point differential around that of a 58-win team, compared to one around that of a 27-win team when he wasn't.

If he can play like that for a couple more years, Marks has already surrounded him with a contending-caliber roster.

  • Kyrie Irving, Patty Mills
  • Seth Curry, Cam Thomas
  • Joe Harris, T.J. Warren, Royce O'Neale
  • Kevin Durant
  • Ben Simmons, Nicolas Claxton

Ditching Marks and Nash and then installing a new regime that is more aligned with KD's preferred "direction" could very well lead to a title.

But in today's NBA, championships are never a given. Even that 73-win Warriors team lost in the Finals. And completely upending the front office and bench for a post-prime player who's seemingly never content feels like the bigger risk here.

Tsai and the Nets would be wise to re-engage with potential Durant suitors now. See if they might be willing to meet what Charania described as a "sky-high threshold" for acquiring him. If those suitors don't want to pay the price, Brooklyn can simply say, "Fine, KD has given us a path to keeping him, and we're going to take it."

That may sound a little disingenuous if it's coming from Marks, whose own job is on the chopping block in that scenario, but the Nets need to exercise any hint of leverage they might have now.

And they should start with the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat.

According to Charania, those three "remain the most significant candidates to acquire Durant."

After getting some time to sit on things, is Boston now willing to part with both Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart? Would Toronto possibly relent on Scottie Barnes being untouchable?

The answer could very well be no on both fronts, but Brooklyn has to at least ask.

If the Nets weren't already doing this, it's time to exhaust every possible avenue for a deal. If nothing acceptable is out there, maybe you give in to Durant and clean house. You just have to make sure there wasn't a better way before you take that path.

At any moment after that, KD might just ask out again.

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