House of Gelatinous Ignorance

As I’m writing this, Kevin Durant is sitting on the bench in Phoenix, cutting a Cash-esque figure in black and watching his new teammates swim upstream against the Los Angeles Clippers. His introductory press conference happened earlier today; reports indicate that it carried the same inexplicably off air as the entirety of his time in the league, basically, since he left Oklahoma City in 2016.

Oscillating trade requests culminated in none other than Kyrie Irving asking out of a previous arrangement he had shared with Durant and, at times, with James Harden and Ben Simmons, for the past three-and-a-half years. A week after the trade deadline, I still can’t believe it, and I don’t know what to make of everything surrounding that team, an instant all-time great roster on paper that only fleetingly leapt off of it and, now, is nothing more than dumpster fodder for your brain and your miniature desk receptacle. 

About that day in 2019: It happened when I still had Twitter on my phone. I had just gotten off the subway and was going to change out of sweaty clothes and into something fresh ahead of dog-sitting for a friend in Queens. For whatever reason I decided to get off a stop earlier than mine and walk the rest of the way, despite the heat. I remember it being a bit overcast, definitely bright but with a grey sheen

It was around 5 or 5:30 – this matters because NBA free agency “officially” opened on June 30th after years of parading as a rival to July rabbit rabbit habits[1] – and it happened after I turned off airplane mode while walking up the stairs at the 135th Street B-C subway station in New York.

Tampering rules and news-breaking and all the rest of it aside, the day had already been building, suddenly, toward the outcome, and then it the vibration and notification from Woj arrived simultaneously: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and (Obviously, you say to yourself now, holding coffee in the other hand, gliding past the actual news in the paper looking for the crossword puzzle) DeAndre Jordan were going to join, sigh, the Brooklyn Nets

I could almost hear the laughter of, to me, the until-then nonexistent Nets fans off Dean Street, the people bringing celebratory flasks to the Fort Greene tennis courts and throwing back nutcrackers in Park Slope. After many months of heavy speculation placing the duo in Madison Square Garden instead, yet again, the Knicks were losers, an entire year and change wasted telegraphing the ultimate coup and subsequent restoration to relevance.

Zach Lowe variously branded them with Dunder-Mifflin prefixes to convey what they looked like on paper, in charts, on basketball-reference, in the sports section of the newspaper you’re holding which you’re also skipping over – what are you doing on this website, though, is my question?

The Brooklyn Nets of the summer of 2019 [which would actually be 2020 because KD was going to be out for the entire 2019-’20 season even before the rest of us were] became a theoretical behemoth, the kind of team you’d leave a juggernaut for, as Durant did in departing the Golden State Warriors.

The other piece? Kyrie Irving, having already left one Eastern Conference contender to join another only to lose to his prior team and, after having pledged himself to Boston, opting out of his second professional city after only two seasons. 

Irving had some thoughts on individual liberties, among other things[2], and his habit of being injured enough otherwise that it might not have mattered anyway, but good luck telling that to his Nets teammates over the past three years. 

In January 2021, after James Harden decided he’d had enough of the Houston Rockets after piloting that team with his brand of unstated gusto for eight years, he arrived in Brooklyn, the very final piece of the championship puzzle. 

Harden, Durant and Irving played sixteen total games together, regular season and postseason combined, during which they did look like the mind-melting basketball utopia they sold to us. They were half a Durant shoe size from making it to the Finals, where they likely would’ve been favorites against the Phoenix Suns (the Nets won both regular season meetings against the Suns that year; in neither did all of Durant, Harden and Irving play).

What did the Nets give up to achieve this? Their future for whatever this was. Gone are many members of the once-plucky and objectively fun Nets of 2018, including Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, key members of the currently-plucky and objectively fun Cleveland Cavaliers of 2023. 

Those guys were included in a trade that ultimately brought Harden to Brooklyn. Harden played 80 total games over two seasons before he asked out in favor of a reunion with Daryl Morey in Philadelphia; he has since described the atmosphere in Brooklyn during his tenure as “a lot of dysfunction, clearly.”

After righting the ship and reeling off twelve straight wins earlier this season, Irving suddenly demanded a trade two weeks ago. Soon, he was gone. Now, despite the best efforts of the recently-anointed scoring king, Irving’s not in Los Angeles, as many expected; he landed in Dallas, still winless in an admittedly paltry sample size.

Durant soon followed, perhaps having finally noticed the writing that had been on the wall for almost the entirety of his Nets tenure. He’s now in Phoenix, though he sat out last night’s loss to the Clippers after another weird introductory press conference.

The Knicks, meanwhile, won their final game before the All-Star break, a 122-101 drubbing of spiritual nemeses the Atlanta Hawks, only two days after beating the new-look Nets by eighteen. They are two games behind a Nets team that, with the arrivals of Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson as well as the return of Spencer Dinwiddie, once again looks vigorous but will likely regress. Cam Thomas looks set to detonate after three straight 40-point games in his new, elevated role in the rotation.

The hardest part to parse in all this seems to be, as ever, figuring out what any of these people want. Durant and Irving are already NBA champions, but both won their titles as, at best, complementary pieces to the blueprint, even with Durant being a Finals MVP twice-over.

In theory, Harden should want a championship; he’s been on teams with legitimate title aspirations for most of the past decade, including with this iteration of the Sixers. Still, his aloofness and tendency to either overplay or check out of playoff games has become something of a theme.

The Nets, of course, want a championship, and Joe Tsai certainly believes he can turn New York into a Nets municipality, finally shedding the remnants of New Jersey. He might have a better chance winning over the city, however, with his other Barclays entity: the New York Liberty may have had the best offseason of any New York basketball team ever this year and figure to immediately become a league power.

But then, Tsai knows this feeling, knows how quickly it can turn. The KD-Kyrie Nets are, now, probably the biggest disaster in team-building history, at least as far as the NBA goes. The 2004 Lakers of Karl Malone and Gary Payton, at least, made the Finals; the “Dream Team” 2011 Philadelphia Eagles (sorry for the timing, Philly Guy) were overrated out of the gate and, anyway, are largely now forgotten. There is no forgetting Durant and Irving in Brooklyn.

Incidentally, ten years ago this summer, the Nets completed a trade acquiring Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from the Boston Celtics. They sent out draft picks that became, among other things, Jaylen Brown and Collin Sexton. Now, several iterations of rebuilds later, Brooklyn is missing a few first rounders over the next couple of years. The last all-NBA man standing, Ben Simmons, simply looks lost and, by his coach’s own admission, situationally unplayable (that said, though, Jacque Vaughn deserves a heaping of credit for navigating all of this and, so far, guiding Brooklyn to a 32-19 record after taking over for Steve Nash early on).

While they have been able to crawl out from under this situation in, given the circumstances, relatively decent standing, that it simply could’ve been avoided entirely makes it all the more painful. After cycling through more of them than some franchises have had in their entire existence, the Brooklyn Nets are once again in search of a star, a cardinal direction.

[1] Point being, tampering has been happening for a much longer time than any of us could ever really know, so the NBA threw the general public a bone by moving free agency a day earlier. Ah, alas: Woj and Shams still have to claw for their paychecks.

[2] I don’t intend to gloss over his antisemitic posting, his glib demeanor with regard specifically to that or the way he “ha-HA! You got me, right? No – I am the one who has gotten you, actually!” shitposts his way through press conferences because he’s confusing the size of his paycheck and the name recognition of the university he attended (for a semester and/or eleven total games, whichever was shorter) with his actual capacity for comprehension, or whatever level of empathy he thinks he has. Now, a bunch of people who five years ago would’ve scoffed at the name Kyrie as being “too ethnic” or some other loaded, coded phrase are rushing to support him. He’s not a doctor, nor a therapist, nor a person that you know and thus should feel a need to defend. If you’re here, you likely have an idea of how he approached all of this – unprompted, by the way – and how he’s been handling it. The liberal media he holds in such disdain (can’t imagine what might be driving that in his head) just honored him with a cover story on his way out the door. Always and forever, follow the money: someone’s getting paid, and it ain’t you.


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