In the past week, there has been a great flurry of signings and trades — their overwhelming volume is now an annual norm in the NBA. After all that change, July 2022’s roster-reshuffling period has hit its typical impasse, and we shall now all try to memorize and analyze the consequences of the dizzying round of musical chairs that just happened. But we know that it’s not all over, and may be far from it. What’s happened, so far, has been a series of relatively predictable movements, based on whose contracts are up, which teams are well situated to exchange each others’ pieces, who has space under the salary cap, and various other elements of rote, mostly financial circumstance. A much murkier foot has yet to drop.
What happens next is about more existential stuff. This is to say that Kevin Durant is centrally involved, so front office executives and pundits alike are tasked beyond their usual categories of consideration. The sea of gossip that comes with discussions of Durant and the unusually unstable Brooklyn Nets, which he played a large hand in creating, is one thing. But in wondering where Durant may end up next, after reportedly requesting to have his very long and very expensive contract traded to a different team, observers and participants are pressed with questions like: How long can the league really go on in this way? Can happiness be truly achieved? Is celebrity a disease?
The perpetually unpinnable Durant has been pretty much mum, publicly, about his latest tectonic decision. This puts an entire, massive media ecosystem in a position to do a whole lot of psychoanalytical speculation about how he has gotten here, with just a few potential reasons behind his thinking reported — dissatisfaction with the Nets for not giving his teammate and friend Kyrie Irving a full contract extension, and a longing for glory caused by seeing his old Golden State Warriors teammates win a title without him have been mentioned as possible causes for his desire to go elsewhere. Perhaps Durant will unleash a signature tweetstorm, at some point, and enlighten us about his real thinking, but for now there are the rumors.
These whispers seem relatively plausible. But, whether or not they’re fully accurate, it’s clear that the immediate direction of the NBA will be influenced in disproportionate volume by how one supremely talented man is feeling. More than anyone before him, Durant has acknowledged, explored and pressed the limits of what the architects of his international super-entertainment product will do for him, when he wants them to, regardless of any precedent or formal constrictions. Despite signing a contract to keep him in Brooklyn until 2026 just a year ago, the perennial All-NBA forward is now set on involving himself in potentially one of the more headache-inducing trades in the sport’s history, to make a fourth and, ostensibly, final pivot into more functional championship contention for the rest of his career.
There is obviously no guarantee this will be the last time Durant looks to change course. Teams around the league are still calling the Nets front office daily, though, knowing that a single season with him on their roster could be all it takes to win a title, which is often all it takes for most parties involved to have job security and receive praise for years to come. Durant recognizes these truths, and that filing one simple desire ignites them into a frenzy, which will inevitably get him somewhere he’d rather be, perhaps in a deal that ropes together enough other teams and big-contract players that it resembles a league wide reorganization more than what we traditionally think of when we hear the word “trade.” As the fates of Deandre Ayton, Donovan Mitchell and John Collins all remain foggily subjugated to the big domino that is Durant’s status, this possibility grows.
Durant’s unhappiness in Brooklyn is obviously sincere, and relatable: Whether or not you’ve ever sniffed millions upon millions of dollars and mega fame, you’ve been part of a mess you helped make, and needed to leave. There is a remote chance he stays where he is, but otherwise, this iteration of the Nets has been an epically failed project, with many wisdoms and rational measures persistently thwarted because a franchise decided to attract a generational star by allowing him to have organizational sway usually only granted to an executive or an owner. Surely some of us have had similar experiences in creating more dysfunction than splendor when we’ve turned on the cheat codes while playing The Sims. To be able to live out in the real, actual corporeal world with that sort of power in your hands is frightening if you think about it long enough and humanly enough, and that’s where Durant has gotten himself.
Sympathy for the superstar is and will be slim, though. That’s not what this column is calling for, or against. Rather, we look at the singular combination of sloppiness and scale on display. Durant’s is not a malicious lack of discipline and commitment, but that of a creative mind in a very regimented world, dominated from the outside by a demand for the fulfilling of narratives that his career has already moved past the possibility of fulfilling. Durant is messy because he is so aware of the tales and incentives around him, often uncanny in calling them out, but at the same time clearly stressed by the prospect of not telling the same quality of story that his peers (LeBron James and Steph Curry, to name a couple loud ones) have told. With his latest ask for a mythological reset, in the hopes of getting there, testing his credit so much, it’s clear that whatever comes next is likely to be Durant’s final chance at showing the world what he’s still dying to show.