Here's a novel idea for Sean Marks, the general manager of the Brooklyn Nets, as he navigates Kevin Durant's demand that the superstar be traded to some very specific teams: To hell with player power.
Say it nicer than that, of course. Use charm and professionalism in communicating to Durant's business manager, Rich Kleiman, that they can all work together to find an amicable deal. Sing kumbaya together. Pretend the world is puppy dogs and rainbows if you must. Leak, as has already happened, that Marks and the Nets intend to work with Durant while trying to find the right return for Brooklyn.
Say what you must. The real task, though, is to push back on the temptation to even remotely care that Durant craves playing next for this team or that team, the Heat or the Suns or whatever group of contending teams catch his wayward eye. Durant was a part of the Nets power structure and a partner in trying to navigate the choppy waters of Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Ben Simmons and a disappointing year.
Now he's an asset, an all-time great player with four years -- four! -- left under contract. He is, in fact, perhaps the most valuable player ever on the trade market given those years, one who reportedly went around Marks, straight to Nets owner Joe Tsai, to demand an exit. Supposedly without communicating with the Nets front office all week.
He wants to play hardball?
No problem, Kevin. Here's some hardball for you:
· The Heat, one of the team's on his "wish list," can't trade Bam Adebayo to the Nets as long as Ben Simmons is on Brooklyn's roster because no team can carry two players with the designated rookie extension. And no Bam has to equal no deal. This is hardball, and moving Simmons right now would be even more daunting then, say, the Lakers moving on from Westbrook. Plus, Bam/Tyler Herro/Duncan Robinson/picks isn't enough, even if it was possible.
· The Suns potential offers -- the other "wish list" team -- also add up to an equally unappealing return for a player of Durant's stature with so many years left under contract. First, a DeAndre Ayton sign-and-trade would hardcap the Nets. Second, even Ayton, Cam Johnson, Mikal Bridges and draft picks that may have little value give that a Durant-Booker-aged-CP3 team probably ain't coughing up lottery picks, even years form now.
No. Thank. You.
There are several things happening here at once, and they all point, for the Nets, to the need to push back on a player-empower movement that's morphed into a star-players-have-all-the-power movement.
First, Durant, who has a history of injury and is going to be 34 years old in September, has those four years left on his deal. There is not a single iota of a chance that, were KD to have blown his MCL, or gotten otherwise seriously injured, or simply regressed in terms of output, that he would have woken up one morning in Brooklyn and agreed to give some of that money back. It's a contract. It's a deal. He got security from it in case of bad luck or sudden old age. The Nets should hold onto what they got -- Durant for four more years, or the proper return matching the value of Kevin Durant over those four more years.
Two, the Nets, under Marks, traded away a bevy of young talent as it collected Irving, Durant and Harden and then, when they caved to Harden's demands, Ben Simmons. That list includes: Jarrett Culver, Caris LaVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAngelo Russell and DeMarre Carroll. That young team once made the playoffs and looked interesting enough to be one star away from truly competing. They also boasted a strong culture with a ceiling.
So here's Sean Marks, having gambled everything on Durant and Irving, now faced with his superstar -- as so many do these days -- demanding an exit and specific definitions.
Which brings us to the third reality: GM's are expected to operate in their team's best interests but they also, of course, operate in their own. Marks cannot, deep down, covet a trade of picks and young players that he may not be able to see through if he doesn't survive the post-Kyrie-and-Durant wreckage.
KD played hardball, caring not one ounce for the Nets' future or Marks' career. Fine. Everyone's an adult here. But why on earth would Marks do anything that's outside his, and his team's, best interests?
Marks has, for years, been the steward of a team that went from severely limited in its options, to promising and young, to a supposed contender, to, on Durant's change of mood, a potential dumpster fire.
So there's a single word Marks must offer up to this latest demand of Durant's wish list: No.
In the expectation that Durant might take this route, I had conversations this week with NBA league sources on the notion of refusing to bend to a star's demand for an exit. They were met with a range of responses. Incredulity. Reminders that stars can simply shut it down, and in Simmons the Nets have a front-row example. The devastating impact of a star who does play, but does not try.
All valid points.
But Durant's wants are of no concern to the Nets. Meet his hardball with their own. You want to sit out? Fine. Sit out the next four years. You want to play somewhere else? We'll see. Go find us a deal we want, not some frontrunner (again) that fits your purely self-interested needs. You want a ring elsewhere? Yeah, we've seen that story from you before. Just understand we're chasing our own ring, and we won't move you without the requisite pieces to make that possible.
Talk to the Grizzlies about whether they'd part with some of their young stars not named Ja Morant and a boatload of picks. See if, say, the Atlanta Hawks would swap Trae Young and a first-round pick for Durant. Call Houston about all those picks. Point out -- and, yes, sure, this might be pushing it -- that the irony aside it turns out two of the most compelling packages could actually come from the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors. See if the Boston Celtics want to swap K.D. for Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown (and, in Brown's case, then some).
Explore every crazy idea. Because trading K.D. for less than what the Nets need is more insane, more destructive, and more likely to end badly, just as it did when they succumbed to Harden's same request.
Durant has already gone to the mattresses with his GM. It's time for Marks, then, to remember that it's not personal. It's strictly business.
And the Brooklyn Nets are in the business of the Brooklyn Nets, not Kevin Durant's next-team daydreams.