Kevin Durant didn’t even take a meeting with the Nets when he decided to go to Brooklyn - teams are just bystanders in the player empowerment era. Guys get together over the summer, decide where they want to play, and teams bow to their will. But unlike front offices, it seems star players don’t do their due diligence and make rookie mistakes. For instance, they are surprised when a man whose jersey has been put up in a strip club shows up out of shape.
The breakup in Brooklyn
Kevin Arnovitz wrote a terrific story dissecting the superteams in the modern NBA. In it, Arnovitz shared the beginning of the end for the Brooklyn Nets. While everyone was wondering how come KD isn’t more upset with Kyrie Irving not showing up due to his anti-vaccination position, Durant was actually pissed at his other star teammate.
Sources say that much of the discontent between Harden and the Nets started in September when he arrived into training camp out of shape. Durant had been understanding of Harden's predicament in Houston as a man in need of new scenery, but also tacitly expected his former teammate to commit himself to conditioning and self-care when he came seeking a title in Brooklyn, according to a source close to both stars. With Irving's status already in flux due to his unwillingness to get vaccinated, Durant was astonished in the opening weeks of the season at Harden's lack of explosiveness and sluggish play, something he attributed in large part to Harden's being out of shape, as he did the ensuing hamstring issues.
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN
Arnovitz continues to say that Harden “found Durant’s slant grating and self-righteous.“ The two never ironed things out, and Harden reacted by becoming more isolated. Things just got worse as the season went along, and the only resolution possible was getting Harden out of there. Jackpot for Daryl Morey (well, we’ll see about that very soon.)
We could play armchair psychologist all day and guess what Harden’s position was - probably something in the line of” Kyrie’s at home, I showed up, and I’m the problem??” - but that’s neither here nor there. What I find fascinating, and flying under the radar, is how incompetent star players are to see what’s right in front of them.
When cornered with facts by media or criticized by fans, star players always have a way out. They say something to the tune of” You don’t know what it’s like to play in the NBA. Only other players know and have the right to say something.” That’s partly correct - Kevin Durant knows more about basketball, the Xs and Os, than every member of the media combined.
But team building is about a lot more than reading defensive coverage. You’re dealing with people, and that means your due diligence has to capture more than watching film. Let me put it like this - player-GM’s have a track record more similar to the Sacramento Kings than the Toronto Raptors.
LeBron James was shocked Russell Westbrook kept taking shots when he’s the worst shooter in basketball, didn’t set screens, rarely moved without the ball on offense, and was bad on defense. Kevin Durant was “astonished” Harden showed up out of shape and then didn’t respond well to being called out for it. This guy.
Checks and balances
Klutch Mafia pulled its strings to let it be known LeBron might’ve pushed for Westbrook, but that’s only because Westbrook promised James he’d change his game. He promised? This is like Glen Taylor, former Timberwolves owner, telling the front office to give Andrew Wiggins a max contract because Maple Jordan promised to work hard.
Karma sometimes takes its time but always shows up. The last time an NBA superstar heard “no” was back in 2012. LeBron tried to stage a mini coup by asking Pat Riley if he’d fire Erik Spoelstra and take over as head coach. Riley made it clear that’s not happening and that Spo runs the show.
Since then, people more or less did everything LeBron wanted. So to think Westbrook wouldn’t follow up on his promise was not even a consideration for LeBron. When LeBron says jump, you ask, “how high?” Same goes for KD. People have been doing everything he wanted just to keep him happy for so long that the idea that someone wouldn’t do that didn’t even cross his mind.
Teams, entourages, agents, business partners - they all say and do whatever the stars want. But it turns out, there’s a small group of people that don’t dance to that tune - other stars. James Harden and Russell Westbrook don’t spend their summers thinking about making LeBron and KD happy. They do whatever makes them happy.
In those moments, you need a Pat Riley to call out your superstar teammates and get them to fall in line. The only problem is then they might do the same to you. You can have a Pelinka or a Riley. The next generation of stars might come to the conclusion you wanna go with Pat Riley.