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The Nets stalemate represents a potential massive power shift in Sixers division

Kevin Durant still wants to be traded, and he’s content to put Joe Tsai in quite the sticky situation.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

So how about those Nets, huh?

Amid so much public turmoil, it’s easy to forget the Brooklyn Nets front office built the most talented team in the NBA just about 18 months ago. With a pre-hamstring issue James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving they were built to win a title or two, but a pair of injuries derailed their hopes in 2021, then a pandemic and NYC’s rather unique response, gave Irving a choice that has now left a smoldering trail in its wake. Harden is a Sixer, Ben Simmons and Seth Curry both needed surgeries but are still Nets, Brooklyn has two of Philly’s draft picks, KD wants out, Kyrie kinda doesn’t, no team is currently prepared to go pay for either yet, here we are.

It’s impossible to know exactly what is going on. But my guess is some version of the following:

Kevin Durant wanted Joe Tsai to extend Kyrie Irving long term. With no more pandemic mandates keeping his friend out of the lineup, the coast was clear to align his future with Irving’s for another four years. Kyrie Irving wanted (wants) the same thing. The two stars may not be quite as close as has been implied, but their top goals are to remain in Brooklyn, together, and compete for championships. But now that the team (understandably reluctant to offer a four or five year deal to a dude who has played so little for the club) couldn’t reach an agreement with Irving, with the mercurial superstar being in a contract year, there’s no way Durant can feel secure with the Nets path towards contention over his current four-year deal, with no player options. Every other day he has to hear new rumors about Irving being traded for an aging Russell Westbrook, and that’s what makes being somewhere like Miami or Phoenix so desirable to KD, one of the twelve best players ever (IMHO), for his final elite seasons. But no deal came even close to materializing. And so rather than direct his wrath at the man in charge, Joe Tsai, the man cutting his own checks, KD is sort of... misplacing (for lack of a better word) his frustrated feelings towards eminently solid GM Sean Marks, and fine if not spectacular head coach Steve Nash. At the least, he’s placing Tsai, the guy he’s probably most frustrated with, in the most impossible of situations facing public ultimatum. Cave to a diva star, or place principles over winning and retool?

Why do I say misplacing frustration? Well, I don’t think Sean Marks has done a terrible job. He did enough to leave a championship team on the floor in 2021 before injuries slowed them down. Then when facing a difficult decision, to keep James Harden, or risk losing him for likely nothing in a few months, he got what many felt was reasonable value at the time in Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and a pair of future first round picks from Daryl Morey’s club.

Those who might quibble with my take that KD and Kyrie both ultimately prefer to be in Brooklyn (like Net Income of NetsDaily, might at least agree with me that it’s difficult to believe KD truly has this massive beef with Marks and Nash):

Not that his feelings couldn’t change but here was Durant going out of his way to defend Steve Nash just after his team was swept by the Celtics last Spring:

(My favorite part of that clip is when KD glares with his eyes towards Kyrie when he says “guys in and out the lineup” and Kyrie, who missed most of last season due to vaccination status, nods along like yup, Nash had to deal with my part-time a$$).

So I think whether Durant, who made his request right after Irving picked up his one year player option, has reached a point of no return with the Nets or not is up for debate. The Nets don’t seem intent on taking 75 cents on the dollar via trade for him and they do have leverage here. Durant, inked through ‘26, would have to pull a Ben Simmons and sit out to make a bigger statement than he already has. Few think he would. Many will keep watch on whether or not Simmons actually gets some cash out of Sixers’ owner Josh Harris and co. in his pending arbitration case. If Ben gets paid it might set a weird precedent moving forwards. The mental health rout isn’t available so maybe he needs the “put Tsai in an impossible choice” playbook to be taken seriously.

Were KD to hold out that obviously helps the Sixers. If the Nets were to trade him, that could help the Sixers... as long as he didn’t go to a team like the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, or Toronto Raptors. Then that could potentially backfire. Miami might have to gut their team, sending Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro to Brooklyn. The Nets might have to find another home for Simmons to take Bam, and that leaves the Heat less scary than say the Celtics acquiring KD. But still....

We might disagree over which of those teams (rumored to be favorites to land him) would be best for Philadelphia. A friend of mine said that since the Celtics are already better than the Sixers, you could make the case Sixers fans should actually prefer KD go to Boston. Because that would crush the Nets, and now there’s just one less team that might knock you out of the playoffs, and the amount of teams better than you is left unchanged. It also arguably shortens the C’s title window spanning Embiid’s prime, were they to part with Jaylen Brown. If KD went to a team like Toronto, they’d simply supplant the Nets as a super power and you’re not “gaining” any traction in the East so the Sixers title odds may even diminish more with KD in Canada.

Philly enjoys the 8th best overall title odds in the NBA. Surprisingly, the Nets are favored just ahead of the Sixers to win the 2023 title on Draft Kings right now, as they continued to creep up steadily in the rankings, in the weeks after KD’s initial request. We’ll see how that changes with the latest on this chilling ultimatum.

But I’ve also heard great arguments why KD going to the Celtics would be a worst case scenario too.

My hunch is that now that Durant can envision a world where Kyrie is traded, or leaves next summer in free agency, now that he sees neither he nor Kyrie have the influence they feel they deserve with what they feel is Tsai’s “hardball” stance to offer a short-term deal, they don’t want to win for this club as much as they once did.

How about something like:

Look you didn’t let Kyrie play and it cost us big in that James and I got hurt picking up the slack and we were a Play In team and now there’s no mandate and you still couldn’t get a deal done!? And what! Your gonna trade him for a dude I didn’t wanna play with in 2016 when he was great now that he’s washed?! I want out and am blaming the GM and coach forcing you to pick makes you at least take me seriously. Or something?

And Tsai has already compromised some principles allowing Irving to come back as a part-time player and may even regret that choice. Or maybe Durant looks at the fact that both Seth Curry and Ben Simmons came over from Philly and weren’t healthy. Did the Nets not do due diligence on Curry’s ankle or Simmons’ back? Both players needed offseason surgery, the latter never suited up for the Nets once after flaring up that herniated disc.

Could he be mad at that? I’m fine that you traded James Harden but everyone from the Sixers was hurt!

It’s very difficult to get a read on this situation. But I think some fans are underestimating just how good the Nets could be if they don’t make any changes. Defense will be a major concern for them again, and maybe Steve Nash isn’t the best coach to bring it all together. Many Sixers fans have always wondered how Ben Simmons might look with shooters, shooters, everywhere and Durant, Irving, Joe Harris, Patty Mills, TJ Warren, Cam Thomas, Seth Curry, and Royce O’Neal is certainly a murderer’s row of floor-spacers. But where will Ben be after a serious back surgery and 16 month layoff?

This thing has held up the NBA and the Atlantic Division for a long time and there’s no reason to think it’ll be resolved while the weather is hot. If the key dominoes (like Durant or Utah’s Donovan Mitchell) fall, both could wind up in the Atlantic making division rivals even stronger. Miami is always a player, as a destination city. Danny Ainge, Utah’s exec, may not be willing to trade players like Jordan Clarkson or Patrick Beverley until he figures out what’s going on with Mitchell. The Knicks still represent the most likely landing spot for him but their GM Leon Rose is playing some hardball. That slowly developing situation may be another headache for Daryl Morey and Elton Brand who were reportedly still sniffing trade options.

Your guess is as good as mine on what to root for here but I hope the Nets send one of KD or Kyrie west. The best case might be just offering Tobias Harris for Kyrie now and seeing if the Nets’ bite, they could tweak the protections on that 2027 pick they owe as sweetener. And the second best case might be if the Nets send Irving to the Lakers, cause many of these KD rumors are pretty daunting, including the one where the Nets simply stay pat and work through their issues.

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