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Stein: Threats of Durant holdout have been circling for weeks now

The smaller voices are finally taking over the conversation

Phoenix Suns v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

For much of the summer, NBA pundits have discounted, at least a little bit, Kevin Durant’s beef with the Brooklyn Nets because they said he was too much of a hooper to actually go with the nuclear option of holding out if he wasn’t traded.

They assumed, collectively (as if they were all in a summer-long echo chamber with no real sourced knowledge), that Durant could be swayed back into the Nets fold because he just couldn’t stand to be away from basketball. That he would rescind his trade demand if the Nets held firm, and would come back to camp all smiles... because basketball.

Now, the voices in the echo chamber are changing their tune. Since Durant met with Nets owner Joe Tsai last week and demanded he go or they go (coach and GM), the media and their third-hand sources have given a bit more credence to the outliers who have been whispering that Durant is more serious about this trade demand than the collective wanted to believe.

Marc Stein took some heat on Monday for his newsletter, including from Kevin Durant himself, because he mentioned the extreme (retirement) to get a rise out of his readers rather than the more likely option of a holdout.

There’s no way Kevin Durant would retire from basketball, but there is a strong chance he could hold out from team activities when they kick up again in late September.

Here’s the broiling snippet, from Stein’s substack($$).

During summer league in Las Vegas, one of the most well-connected team executives I speak to regularly insisted to me that, based on what he was hearing, Kevin Durant was more apt to retire than play again for the Brooklyn Nets. This was in early July.

I told the tipster that I simply couldn’t believe that. I was a loyal subscriber to the theory that Durant The Hooper loves playing basketball way too much to adopt such a stance.

Now? More than a month later? Attaching the R-word to Durant still comes across as serious hyperbole, but it is certainly getting easier to envision him refusing to report to training camp when the Nets get back together in six weeks for Media Day (Sept. 26) and their first practices of the new season (Sept. 27).

After KD clapped back on twitter later in the day...

...Stein later clarified that he didn’t mean retirement retirement and that he was only quoting a source for an anecdote to begin his report on what he’s hearing.

What could happen, though, is a holdout.

We do not know if Durant will hold out from the Nets, but we see how other stars have forced their way to the team they wanted, including Durant’s teammates this past year. James Harden got himself traded TWICE in 13 months, while Kyrie Irving got himself traded from the NBA champs to Boston when he wanted a change of scenery. Even Durant’s new teammate, Ben Simmons, showed you can hold out with little cost, as he settled the salary dispute with the Sixers the other day and will not, in fact, sacrifice all of his salary for refusing to show up in Philly.

Back to the Stein article. Stein stopped using the R-word from that point on...

If Durant hasn’t been traded by then, there is a growing expectation in league circles that he will continue trying to cause as much of a ruckus behind the scenes to try to prod the Nets into lowering their asking price at last to facilitate a deal.

If it wasn’t apparent by now, he really wants that trade to Phoenix or Miami or maybe even Boston or Philadelphia, no matter what it does to his reputation when he hasn’t played a single game yet under the four-year, $194 million contract extension signed in August 2021.

Adding in Miami, Boston and Philadelphia are media and non-Durant sources trying to make a bigger playing field of potential suitors. Durant has never, himself, said a team other than the Phoenix Suns, but that’s just boring.

Stein gets into the ugliness of the Nets situation, painting it as petulance by Durant and Irving taking their toys and leaving the playdate because someone else wants to change the rules.

Sure, that’s definitely a part of it. Durant and Irving went to the Nets partially because they could have more say over how the team is run. Part of the problem here is that the Nets promised to comply — the proof here is that they never publicly refuted Irving’s claims over the past three years that track to what he said just this past April after they were swept from the playoffs.

More Stein...

Irving clearly wasn’t exaggerating in late April after the Nets were swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs when he told reporters that Brooklyn was “a co-management relationship.” That’s how these Nets operated until owner Joe Tsai and GM Sean Marks, in response to the Boston brooming and all the chaos last season that preceded it caused by Irvingʼs refusal to submit to the COVID-19 vaccine, finally pushed back in May.

So now the Nets have had enough. They are trying to change the power dynamic, and it’s not going well for them.

Brooklyn’s change in approach since the season ended is thus believed to be a key driver in Durant’s sudden desire to leave. For all the criticism he is taking for trying to force his way out, and most recently taking the extreme step of calling for the ousters of Marks and Coach Steve Nash if the Nets refuse to trade him, Durant appears to be operating under the belief that he is justified in making all these rebel demands because the Nets have abruptly changed the terms of their deal.

Durant and Irving did not come to Brooklyn because they were impressed by the culture Marks and Atkinson built. They did not choose the Nets to be part of a program. They chose the Nets to be the program.

Now Stein delves into why it’s taken media so long this summer to take his trade demand seriously. They continue to think Durant is the go-along and Irving is the instigator, when maybe its simply that Irving is the one most comfortable being the bad guy in front of a camera.

Much of the external shock stems from the fact that Irving has always been the unpredictable and destabilizing half of the duo — and that it’s now Durant disrupting franchise operations to a Kyrie-esque degree. Yet this becomes a far more plausible outcome when you rewind to the beginning and revisit how the Nets’ marriage to Kyrie and KD came together.

Suns fans are probably asking ‘why the heck would we want Durant, if he’s going to act like this?’ and you are right to ask that question.

No one wants Durant to come to Suns camp and immediately say ‘this is a co-management situation between me, Monty and James’ but I just don’t see that happening. Durant would be walking into a culture that’s already set and proven to carry a team to the Finals.

James Jones played with LeBron James his last eight years in the league, team to team, so he know how to assuage egos without losing his own.

Chris Paul and Devin Booker are already Alpha 1 and Alpha 2, in their own ways. And they are so close to Monty that the apple cart just simply won’t be tipped over by the new guy.

I see Durant joining Phoenix more similar to Durant joining Golden State. They’d already set their culture, made two deep playoff runs together, and had great symmetry among coach, GM and top players.

Durant is doing what he needs to do right now to force a trade. And he wants it to be to the right team. It’s in his best interest to tamp down trade offers from teams who don’t want to take a chance that he’ll turn on them.

The foremost obstacle to a trade that brings an end to this saga, on top of Durant’s age (34 on Sept. 29) or injury history, remains the fear we reported on recently that interested teams have when they see how much the Nets have given Durant and still failed to prevent him from wanting to move onto his fourth NBA team.

Potential suitors don’t want to surrender what Brooklyn is asking for asset-wise because they still want some semblance of a quality roster for Durant to join, but also because they are deeply unsure they can do any better than Brooklyn has when it comes to keeping him happy.

The Suns are being patient. Durant is doing the dirty work.

We’ll see how it all shakes out.