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The inside story of how Kevin Durant picked Brooklyn and the Nets

2019-09-10

Here’s how Kevin Durant made his decision to join the Nets this summer: He met his manager, Rich Kleiman, for lunch at Cipriani’s in SoHo, and Kleiman gave his client one last overview of the teams and his options.

“Alright. Well, I’m going with Brooklyn,” Durant remembered telling his agent, in an interview with WSJ. Magazine. Just like that — no meeting with Nets brass, no PowerPoint presentation — Brooklyn snagged the biggest fish in free agency, and it was unbeknownst to them until Durant announced the decision on his Instagram page.

Durant said in his interview he settled on Brooklyn for two reasons. First, he always felt “big love” suiting up at Barclays as an opponent, so much love that he wondered how it’d feel if he played in Brooklyn on the home team. Second, the Nets were one of few teams that offered the opportunity to play with his “best friend in the league,” Kyrie Irving. The Knicks and Clippers were others. We know how that turned out.

Durant admitted he left the Warriors because he never felt like he’d fit in. After all, Golden State drafted Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Durant didn’t join the Warriors until their third NBA Finals appearance, and on a team that didn’t truly need him to win a championship, he stood out.

“As time went on, I started to realize I’m just different from the rest of the guys,” he said. “And on top of that, the media always looked at it like KD and the Warriors. So it’s like nobody could get a full acceptance of me there.”

He also felt the Warriors had hit their ceiling from an X’s and O’s standpoint, that Steve Kerr’s motion offense only works for the first two rounds of the playoffs. That’s when teams get smarter and pickup on offensive schemes. It’s when Durant had to go deeper into his bag of basketball tricks, tricks he wanted to hone in the regular season that he was unable to with the Warriors.

Durant won’t be able to do it any time soon. His recovery and rehabilitation timeline from the torn Achilles he suffered in Game 5 of the NBA Finals will more than likely keep him out all season. He’ll probably spend a good chunk of the 2020-21 season readjusting to the NBA game.

But while Kenny Atkinson is a coach who openly promotes freedom in his offense, he, too, runs a system predicated on ball and player movement. That system will be put to the test first with Irving, a ball-dominant scoring guard who will run Brooklyn’s offense. It will be tested again when Durant returns from injury and wants both to have his cake and eat it, too.

Durant isn’t like the rest of the Nets, either. Brooklyn drafted Caris LeVert and molded him into a star. They took a chance on Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris, and both became notable players in this league, with Dinwiddie a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate and Harris the reigning three-point champion. Jarrett Allen appeared on the fast track to stardom before the DeAndre Jordan signing. Brooklyn had something blossoming before acquiring superstars this summer.

The difference? This Nets team didn’t come close to sniffing the second round of the playoffs. Brooklyn needs Durant — and Irving — in a way the Warriors never truly did. With this superstar duo, the Nets go from cute success story to feared championship contender.

Durant said “he just knew” Brooklyn was the right fit, and from the outside looking in, one would agree. He won’t know for sure until he steps on the floor for the first time, be it this season or next. By then, his return will be the missing piece to completing the Nets’ massive turnaround.