Kevin Durant Failed…And That’s OK

Kevin Durant failed in his time in Brooklyn
David Richard | USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Durant failed in his experiment with the Brooklyn Nets. But you know what? That’s OK.

This is obviously coming off of the report that Durant has requested a trade from the Nets.

Durant came to the Nets in a trade a little under three years ago. And just 11 months ago he signed a four-year contract extension with the team. But after just one playoff series win and tons of team drama, the 12 time All-Star is ready to find a new home.

Let’s go back and see how we got here. To try and understand not only how Kevin Durant failed, but why Kevin Durant failed.

Leaving OKC

Durant was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007. In 2008 the franchise moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. Durant would spend nine seasons with the franchise and take them to six playoff appearances. They went to four conference finals and one NBA Finals.

In 2016 playoffs the Thunder lost to the Golden State Warriors in a seven game Conference Finals series. The Warriors would famously go on to lose the championship, but won the Durant sweepstakes in free agency.

The decision for Durant to leave the Thunder, his own franchise where he’d had so much individual and team success already, after nine seasons definitely sent shockwaves across the league. A team that just won 73 games and made two finals appearances in a row (winning one) just added a top three player in the league. Amidst criticism for “riding coattails” or “taking the easy route” however, Durant’s motivation was one thing: play a beautiful game of basketball.

Durant has said many times that the way the Warriors played the game was a big reason for leaving the Thunder. OKC’s offense had become stagnant. Very iso-heavy, and “your turn, my turn” with teammate Russell Westbrook. Durant was drawn to the free-flowing offense in Golden State, and believed he and Stephen Curry could make for a whole different type of lethal duo. And oh yea…he wanted to win championships.

Time In Golden State

Durant joining the Warriors was one of the purest basketball moves out there. He saw a team that played a fun and winning style of basketball and thought, “I’d like to do that”. Who wouldn’t feel that way? But he didn’t just come in as a topping on the ice cream sundae. He was an extra scoop of ice cream right in the middle. Perfectly combining with the existing ingredients, but also becoming the star of the show, and putting the dish over the top.

The Warriors won two NBA titles with Durant on the roster, and arguably could have won a third had Durant and Klay Thompson not gotten hurt in the 2019 finals. But for as quickly as the group came together they just as quickly fell apart. Rumors and speculation started swirling early in the 2018-19 season that Durant was growing unhappy. The championships hadn’t satisfied him the way he thought. And although the level of basketball the team was playing at was high, he realized for most that wasn’t enough.

Durant heard all the noise about the titles not counting. About the Warriors being Steph’s team and Durant was just hitching his wagon (despite winning two Finals MVPs) and suddenly things weren’t purely about basketball anymore.

With the experience of playing this brand of basketball and some championship hardware, Durant was ready to move on to the next stage of his career. He decided to go to the Brooklyn Nets, and the Warriors were able to trade him there in the summer of 2019.

Building Brooklyn

Now 12 seasons into his career and Durant had seen a lot. He’d been on a rebuilt team with him as the centerpiece that made it to the NBA Finals in just his fifth season. He’d joined a championship winning team and turned them into juggernaut. It was now time for him to take what he’d learned and be the builder of his own champion.

To do that he needed a running mate. He had Westbrook after all. And Steph had Klay before KD arrived. Durant decided Kyrie Irving was that guy. They had some sort of friendship already and decided they would play well together. Add in their combined championship experience and they believed they had what it took to build their own contending franchise.

They decided Brooklyn was the place to do it. The Nets had just finished dragging themselves out of the mud after winning just 28 games two seasons before. But they put together a fun, scrappy team that went 42-40 in 2018-19. It was believed they had a strong foundation in place of young assets that would either mold into reliable players or good trade pieces for other stars.

While the seemingly sour sendoff for Durant from Golden State was sad, I always understood his reasonings. Durant has said publicly that the championships didn’t fulfill him as much as he thought. With his basketball mind, entrepreneurial spirit and competitiveness, going somewhere else to build his own contender made sense. He had a team built around him and he joined a team on its way to dynastic proportions, now it was time to put those experiences together to try and do it himself.

Brooklyn Gone Bad

There was just one problem…player run teams hardly have success. At the behest of their new superstars the Nets made many moves that have proven disappointing. They signed DeAndre Jordan to a four year $40 million contract in 2019. And in his second season he began starting games over the young, promising center Jarrett Allen.

They then pushed in all the chips for James Harden. Sending out Allen, Taurean Prince, Caris Levert, Rodions Kurucs and seven first round picks for the former MVP. You know what has happened since then. Now after being swept in the first round of playoffs Durant is seeking a trade. Harden is already gone. And Kyrie has opted into his player option, but could also be on the move.

The Nets were supposed to be the next championship contender, but there have been a number of issues both on the court and off. Health was certainly a factor. In three seasons Durant played 90 regular season games for Brooklyn, and Kyrie just 103. With so little time on the court, combined with so many roster changes, organic on-court chemistry was also difficult to come by. The chance to build a similar style of play to the Warriors, let alone a similar franchise structure, never had enough time to come together.

Add in the extra stories and rumors off the court, and you come to a swift conclusion for this “era” of Nets’ basketball.

What was once a scrappy team of young promising players became a top-heavy team of aging stars either past their prime or on their way. And after trading their picks there’s not a great way to replenish the cupboard. Seeing the writing on the wall and/or possibly growing tired of Irving’s antics, has led to Durant wanting a trade.

Did Durant Fail?

Yes. Kevin Durant failed. His experiment did not work. But that’s OK. How many of us got a great basketball idea, hopped on the NBA 2K Franchise Mode and tried to make a contender only to quit after a couple seasons? As fans would we like players to stick it out and “clean up their mess”? Sure I guess. There’s something to a player sticking it out and helping a franchise get to the top. But Durant doesn’t have that kind of time. At 33 years old and entering his 16th NBA season the years of his absolute prime are diminishing.

And let’s not feel too bad for the Nets. Every team would do what they did. Cashing in to land stars is why you build the young and scrappy team. And if do-overs were a thing, they’d probably bring Durant and Kyrie back at least five times out of ten. Let’s not forget, they did take the NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks to a Game 7 just one season ago. And that was with a hobbled Harden.

Now it’s time for Durant to move on again. And he’ll take what he learned at this stop and apply it to the next one. Perhaps he’ll go somewhere that won’t take five years to be built around him, and the right style of basketball will be played, and perhaps he’ll go to a team that truly needs him to reach that next step, and maybe he’ll go to a team with an infrastructure to handle the team building decisions with minimal input.

If all of this happens, perhaps Durant can find the basketball satisfaction he’s been looking for.

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