Six years ago Kevin Durant changed the NBA’s “balance of power” by signing with the Golden State Warriors—who were already very good and subsequently became unstoppably good— and leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder, who over the course of the next few years went from being a title contender to being very bad. Durant later said on a podcast and in a video interview with Warriors star Draymond Green that he felt that he was being relied on too much to cover the shortcomings of other Oklahoma City players and wanted a chance to maximize his abilities as a member of a more skilled team. Another Oklahoma City player, Kendrick Perkins, later said that Durant felt constrained in his ability to market himself as a solo star on account of the Thunder’s selflessness-obsessed organizational culture.
Three years after that, Durant changed the NBA again by leaving the Warriors, with whom he had won two championships and may well have won a third if he and Klay Thompson hadn’t both gotten injured in the 2019 Finals, for the Brooklyn Nets.
Despite all that success on the court in Golden State, Durant had butted heads, as they say, with Green, although they’ve since reconciled enough to shoot that video, at least. (Green also, incidentally, has a podcast. As does Durant.) He also apparently felt that he was not viewed as being as integral to the team’s success as the group of players—Green, Thompson, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala—who’d won the Warriors’ first title. He is a notoriously avid social media user, and was often attacked online for bandwagoning onto a team that was already Finals-caliber before he signed. The Nets were to be “his” team in a way Golden State had not been—a chance to win “on his own.”
When Durant left, the Warriors suffered, missing the playoffs two years in a row, unless you count “play-in games” as playoff games, which dignified people do not. (A number of their best players were also injured during this stretch.) The Nets, where Durant was joined by Kyrie Irving, became a top title contender, getting knocked out of the 2021 playoffs in a Game 7 overtime loss by the eventual-champion Milwaukee Bucks, a game the Nets would have won if Durant wore smaller shoes.
And now Durant is going to do it again, having reportedly spoken personally to Nets owner Joe Tsai to ask to be traded. He is under contract for four more years, but the expectation around the league is that the Nets will find him a new team immediately so that they can get a good return and move on. The repercussions of this will be huge: The team he plays for next will be a title contender, while Irving might himself get traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, which would either make that team elite again after two poor seasons or create a black hole of chaos and dismay that will consume us all. The Nets will probably return to being a medium-good upstart squad.
It’s not entirely clear what Durant’s motive is this time. That’s not just because it takes time and care to edit podcast audio, but because the Nets were such an insane mess that there are too many potential explanations. Irving, after having left the team for much of the 2020-21 season on what was essentially a vision quest, also refused to get vaccinated, which meant he wasn’t available in 2021-2022 for games in places that had a vaccine requirement at the time, like New York City. This apparently put off the team’s third superstar, James Harden (who had himself forced a trade to Brooklyn by half-assing it quite aggressively on his previous team) to the point that he asked to be traded himself, a request that was granted by exchanging him for the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons, who was once an up-and-coming star but who missed the entire 2021-22 season, including the time he was in Brooklyn, because of what is reportedly a combination of back problems and not being sure if he likes playing basketball. (It’s never too late to get into podcasting!)
It would be natural to suspect Durant asked for a trade mostly because he, too, has gotten tired of Irving’s independent thinking, except that reports during the season indicated that Durant was supportive of his teammate’s position on vaccination, or at least believed that the Nets should have pushed to have him deemed eligible to play without getting the shot. Given previous history, maybe a good guess is that all of the interpersonal tension, in sum, simply made him feel bummed out to be around his teammates, coaches, and other co-workers, to the point that he decided that the goal he is always seeking—a balance between individual acclaim and team camaraderie, a sense of ownership and control over both his own career and the larger project of winning a championship—was no longer achievable in the Brooklyn environment.
Does this make Durant a ridiculous baby-man? A cancer not just on locker rooms but on the national character? To be spectacularly rich and celebrated, to bathe daily in a warm amniotic swirl of luxury, deference, and convenience that is literally unimaginable to most people, but to still play for four teams in eight years because of not feeling appreciated or respected enough—is this “entitled” behavior?
Sure. Yes. But do you—the reader—feel appreciated enough in your workplace? Do the things your friends and co-workers say sometimes make you feel left out? Are there people around you whose lack of competence is holding back your career? Are you tired of having a boss, but certain you’re not the kind of person who would be happy working alone? Do your spouse or roommates give you enough credit for what you do to keep the household running? Have you felt this kind of resentment at some point during the course of every job and relationship you’ve ever had? Should you look at your phone less, and take more walks instead? If you were, without question, one of the five most financially valuable individuals in the world who did whatever it is you do (probably podcasting), and knew that every other organization in your field would be pleased to employ your services, would you look into moving around when you felt your situation was unsustainable, which, again, if you are like most people, is something that happens every couple days or months?
No, yes, yes (Jim), yes, no, yes, yes, yes, for me, at least. Which is not to say Kevin Durant couldn’t learn something from everyone who has to stick things out, talk through problems, repair relationships, realize that a bad day is not a trend, blah blah blah. He could probably do that. He also definitely should have known that Kyrie Irving would screw this up—everyone knew that.
But is KD a bad guy? No, he’s just like me. And I’m great.