Kevin Durant brushed by reporters Monday night in the bowels of Barclays Center, not stopping to make statements or answer questions.
The only questions that matter being what did he make of the Nets’ trading his friend Kyrie Irving? And will he follow suit in forcing his way out?
The seismic deal sending Irving to Dallas has now put contenders like the Suns and Celtics on high alert.
Last summer the Nets took two months to convince Kevin Durant to rescind his earlier trade request and stay in Brooklyn. This time they have just two more days before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline to make a compelling argument. If there is even one to be made.
“That wouldn’t even come up in our conversation. We talked about the game and that was really about it,” coach Jacque Vaughn said about Durant’s mindset and desire to stay.
“I won’t complicate it. Like I said, I’m going to coach the group that’s in front of me and to coach the group that’s in the locker room. That won’t change. I’m not going to speculate and get in Kevin’s mind at all. Not gonna even try to do that. I’m going to coach this group. I look forward to coaching him and look forward to winning.”
The Nets couldn’t win Monday, falling 124-116 to the Clippers playing with Durant, Ben Simmons and Seth Curry all sidelined, and incoming Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith not yet onboard.
But the million-dollar question — heck, half-billion-dollar question — is whether they can convince Durant they can win, as in hoist a trophy.
“At the end of the day, Kevin wants to win,” Vaughn said before Monday’s game, trying to simultaneously skirt the issue while still tamping down any panic. “That’s always been our goal.
“He wants to win at shootaround, he wants to win any game of the week. That’s why he loves to play and that’s why he wants to play 82 games. That will be our holy grail. We’ll continue to try to put a group out that wins and until there’s something for me to be concerned about, then I’ll carry on business as usual.”
Despite the Nets’ clear dysfunction, their talent made them a contender. Before Irving demanded out — having previously vowed he’d never leave his man Durant — Brooklyn had the fourth-best odds to win the NBA title. Now those odds have plummeted to 10th.
That’s not the kind of first-round-and-out mediocrity that Durant — currently sidelined with an MCL sprain — signed up for in 2019.
While the Lakers and Suns made concrete offers for Irving, the Nets took the Dallas package because they needed players playing at a high level, rather than just future assets. That again was about assuaging Durant, whose manager Rich Kleiman has heretofore been silent.
“For us, our expectations don’t change. We’ll put a product on the floor that will compete and play hard. No ifs, ands or buts about that,” Vaughn said. “We have an unbelievable ownership and group who want to win. That doesn’t change.”
Durant had requested a trade on June 30 over doubts about Brooklyn’s championship mettle. He rescinded the request on Aug. 23 after team owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks convinced him during a meeting in Los Angeles.
Marks hadn’t been interested in a Suns offer centered around Deandre Ayton, but Phoenix is sniffing around again. ESPN reported the Celtics are as well.
In the first year of a four-year, $198 million max contract extension, Durant would bring back a king’s ransom, but one the Nets — who’ve been in dialogue with their star — hope to not ever have to see.
“My conversation with Kev basically was based around [Saturday’s] game and how our group pulled together to get a win,” Vaughn said before Monday’s game. “He was enthusiastic about that how our guys played, how Cam [Thomas] played. So our conversations really kind of geared toward that direction and that was really about it.”
Durant has been out since spraining his MCL on Jan. 8 in Miami, with an injury update expected Tuesday.
“We’ll get you a full kind of scope once we get the word from the doctor what he’s been doing, what’s next for him we’ll get that to you [Tuesday],” Vaughn said.