Nets need more than ‘culture’ to prove questions stemming from Kevin Durant trade demand won’t come up during season – Yahoo Sports

Nets need more than 'culture' to prove questions stemming from Kevin Durant trade demand won't come up during season - Yahoo Sports

NEW YORK – Kevin Durant it was clear… sort of.

Kyrie Irving was charismatic… sort of.

Ben Simmons it was encouraging… sort of.

After basketball resumes, the Brooklyn Nets will be the biggest story in the NBA – giving up that space for the moment because of problems in Boston and Phoenix rightly takes more oxygen in this ecosystem.

Before the Nets can do the business of staking a claim in a conference that hasn’t been this top-to-bottom competitive in perhaps two decades, they need to get their own house in order.

There was very little discussion of championship expectations or even avenging the embarrassing first-round sweep at the hands of the Celts — little mention of it, though — because so much attention has been focused on how the Nets got here.

And not about where they are going.

When hiring a player of Durant’s talent, championship talk should be kept to a minimum. But the Nets are surrounded by so many other things, you wonder if it will be possible for them to galvanize themselves over the next eight to nine months.

June is a long way off, with a long and winding road between now and then. Durant expressed his concerns with the Nets, laying out the issues that led to his business requestand then a subsequent withdrawal after it was clear the Nets had no incentive to move him.

Oh, and along the way he wanted the Nets fire general manager Sean Marks and head coach Steve Nash as a condition to keep him. It was a botched power play, one that resulted in everyone having to kiss and make amends — or pretend it wasn’t as damaging as it seemed.

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant speaks during the Nets' media day on September 26, 2022. (Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant speaks during the Nets’ media day on Monday. (Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

Durant called it a “walk away,” one in which he understood why the Nets weren’t in a rush to trade a guy as great as he is with four years left on his contract.

On the one hand, he adamantly claims that he wants no part of being in charge.

“First of all, I never walk into any GM, coach’s office and demand anything. Tell them to sign anybody or make a play for me,” Durant said. “I go in and do my job as a player. A lot of people have it in their mind that I control everything here with the Nets.

“I’m not the partner between Kyrie and the organization, I’ve always told them that. I told Sean and Kyrie, ‘You all have to build all of your relationships.’ Everyone is different.”

Durant could honestly believe that, and this space is not here to question him. But there is another side. How the organization handles its trade affects how Durant sees his future — and how the Nets approach a trade must consider what might be best for Durant, whether he expresses it or not.

He said the games he missed with his MCL injury exposed the Nets’ problems, some he may have hidden with his individual size. Once-fired Irving was brought back on a part-time basis, James Harden started acting up after Irving refused to be vaccinated, leading to his trade to Philadelphia and all hell broke loose afterward.

“We saw Steph Curry with the Warriors, injured coming into the playoffs. That team still fought and won games,” Durant said. “Luka [Doncic], he was injured, his team still won games. That’s what raised a little doubt in my mind when adversity hit, can we keep pushing through it?”

Discount Durant’s titles with the Warriors if you like, but he’s not wrong about everything, or this issue. Diagnosing what he sees is correct – finding out the reasons behind it is where one can part.

Just as Durant doesn’t want to be responsible for reading Irving’s mind, the Nets may be just as confused about figuring out what Durant wants and needs as he enters a critical moment in his career.

Imagine Durant having to explain Irving’s feelings when Irving pretended he was noble by “sacrificing” $100 million in an extension he didn’t get last summer due to being unvaccinated, or Irving claiming he doesn’t understand where the thinking is he doesn’t ‘t want to play every night when there is a full set of evidence that shows that living up to his contractual obligations appears as optional.

It’s a burden Durant knows he’s ill-equipped to carry, especially if he’s allowed to feel as confused as the average basketball watcher at Irving’s actions, regardless of the friendship.

“Awkward, very awkward,” Irving said of Durant’s trade request, which came after he opted out of the final year of his contract.

The word of the day was “culture”. Everyone pointed to it, talked about it but could only give brief definitions of what it meant to each person. Marks pointed out spurs culture and Heat culture, but said the Nets want to have their own — which is which?

One can only assume that Durant, who mentioned the word a lot, had some level of conversation with Irving.

Did Irving feel the responsibility applied to him as well, or just everyone else?

“I sit and listen, a student because he has been through a lot. I respected his wisdom,” Irving said. “He saw championship runs, was part of them. Won some, lost some. I wanted to hold space … to be in charge of where he feels comfortable at that level. Just meet each other where we are.”

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving talks with Kevin Durant as he walks to the podium for a news conference at Nets media day on Sept. 26, 2022. (Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving talks with Kevin Durant as he walks to the podium for a news conference at Nets media day on Sept. 26, 2022. (Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

To be fair, no answer would be satisfactory given the circumstances in which the Nets were last in droves. The parity everything seemed to gain in a gutsy second-round loss to Milwaukee in 2021 has been squandered, and the Nets are starting from scratch.

“A year of us looking in the mirror, we [messed] up as a team,” Durant said. “It just makes you better. I believe we have competitive people in this building.”

There is only one bankable commodity in this entire diverse crew, and that is Durant’s on-floor excellence. Irving is extraordinarily productive when healthy and present, but is better served as a support player than the entity around whom everything revolves. Simmons is talented and dynamic — perhaps even more effective at winning than Irving, perhaps — but is armed with as many questions on the floor as off.

Can anyone really gauge how good Nash is as a coach, or at least, how commanding he is? And Marks has shown he can put together an overachieving team full of effort, but handling a championship run has yet to be determined.

The culture gets in the way of practicality — is the roster ready for a championship, independent of the big three pieces? Has Marks done enough to answer questions about the deficiencies on the floor?

Is Markieff Morris an answer? How about Royce O’Neale or TJ Warren?

There are things to like about the Nets that aren’t a total disaster on paper. But they won’t get the benefit of the doubt, not for a moment.

“Just get to work,” Nash said. “It’s not an easy way, I can’t sit and chart. We work, communicate, set goals, limits. As Sean said, culture evolves. When you ask us, ‘How is our culture?’ Ask me tomorrow.”

And tomorrow after that and tomorrow after that.

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