The Brooklyn Nets have had a cloud of drama swirling over them at nearly every turn. Whether it is the Kenny Atkinson firing, Kyrie Irving missing games after choosing not to get the COVID-19 vaccine, trading for James Harden only for him to request a trade out a season later, the Ben Simmons injury, and more. One constant for the franchise since bringing in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving has been some form of tension.
Another common thread in Brooklyn has been the lack of structure or leadership to help calm any tension or drama, especially when it comes to their superstars. One of the early examples of Brooklyn’s lack of leadership was before Durant had even returned from injury and Irving worked to get the team to fire Kenny Atkinson. Matt Sullivan, who got a front row seat as some of the drama unfolded in Brooklyn as he wrote his book ‘Can’t Knock The Hustle’ shared some of the dysfunction he witnessed.
“I just remember not being able to talk to the management, talk to the coaches, talk to anyone without them being kind of scared of these guys. Including Kenny Atkinson, who built this whole program up,” Sullivan said in an interview on the Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. “He’s kinda saying, ‘Let’s leave KD, the Maserati, in the case, and let Kyrie be Kyrie.’ But Kyrie goes behind his back and gets him fired. Kenny Atkinson is left wondering if he should fly halfway across the country and have a talk with this guy.”
Ultimately, the Nets would hire Steve Nash to coach the team. Another person in a leadership position that no one really expects to solve any potential drama. The idea that management is “scared” of Durant and Irving stays true today. Irving even said after the hiring of Nash that he is head coach, but that the Nets don’t really need a head coach. KD could coach one day and Irving the next.
It’s this lack of structure that has continually be missing in Brooklyn. It’s that lack of structure that let their star player only appear in 29 games last season and end up in the play-in tournament despite having one of the best NBA rosters.
Kevin Durant Growing Frustrated
So, where does Durant tie into everything? The latest reports say that Irving may leave Brooklyn as long-term extension talks have stalled with the Nets. Durant has to be frustrated. Where would they have seeded if they had Kyrie all season long? What if Ben Simmons had come back?
One NBA source told Heavy NBA Insider Steve Bulpett his belief that Durant has already been tiring of the drama in Brooklyn before the latest Kyrie news. That after Irving refused to get vaccinated, the Ben Simmons situation, and some of the struggles in the past season and playoffs were already frustrating Durant.
“It’s such a s***show there,” the NBA source told Bulpett. “I feel for KD. He’s such a great player. But I’ve never seen anybody in the NBA get beat up the way KD got beat up by Boston and have no reaction to it whatsoever. Like, he can’t swing an elbow at somebody? Just out of frustration alone?”
Durant had another stellar year leading the Nets. He averaged 29.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game, pretty much carrying the Nets to the playoffs without Irving and after the Harden trade.
“It’s easy to put it on (coach Steve) Nash and put it on Nash’s inexperience that he’s not putting them in the right spot. But KD’s played in enough big games, and he’s got enough autonomy to do what he wants — what he needs. It just looked like he was pretty frustrated out there,” the NBA source continued.
What Happens Next?
What any of it means for the Nets is hard to say. There are endless rumors about what the makeup of the team will look like next season. There are reports that Kyrie will return on a short-term deal, reports that the Nets plan to roll with Kyrie, KD, and Ben Simmons next season, trade rumors sending Kyrie Irving for Rudy Gobert, rumors Kevin Durant may be traded, the list goes on.
This offseason will be one of the biggest tests for the Nets brass on the decisions they make, how they manage their stars, and what team they build. No matter what team ends up being together, come Nets training camp, the leadership will have more to prove on how they handle the players and ensure they get the most from the team with already high expectations.