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Even before Kevin Durant’s trade request, Nets owner Joseph Tsai already had reason to be angry.

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Kyrie Irving’s decision this week to choose the last year of his Brooklyn contract hasn’t calmed Kevin Durant’s wandering thoughts.

Durant asked to be traded on the opening day of NBA free agents, even though Irving took $37 million sitting in front of him, with no trade terms. The Nets are not required to trade Durant — he has four years and $198 million left on his contract. But now, it’s no surprise that he and Irving traded before the start of training camp.

Nets owner Joseph Tsai has already reached his breaking point, several sources say. Athleticafter years of injury, off-court embarrassment, and playoff setbacks, threats leaked from Irving and Durant during Brooklyn’s contract negotiations with Irving followed.

Tsai, 58, co-founder of Alibaba Group, China’s largest retailer, was born in Taiwan, graduated from high school in New Jersey, has two college degrees and four graduate degrees (in lacrosse) from Yale University, and his net worth, according to Forbes is $9 billion. .

As an owner, he stays aloof from his basketball staff for the most part, giving his blessing to the most important decisions, and would otherwise understand/support/won’t mind the general trend of player empowerment in today’s NBA.

Tsai understands that, under normal circumstances, stars like Durant and Irving might be forced to trade a year after signing maximum extensions (Durant) or trying to publicly negotiate another maximum contract (Irving) if it comes down to it. Tsai has sat at a negotiating table or two in his career.

In this particular set of circumstances involving Durant, Irving and the Nets, things got more complicated than planned. Brooklyn spent three full seasons paying a luxury tax, failed to reach the second round of the playoffs, fired a popular coach, sold many assets to bring in another star in James Harden, and then was forced to trade him because he lost any faith in Irving’s drive to win. This led to the acquisition of a player with a maximum contract who was physically and mentally unable to play at all last season (Ben Simmons), while neither Irving nor Duran came close to playing in half of the Nets’ games. Add to that Irving’s COVID-19 vaccine rejection and team cohesion that impacted last season, and it’s no surprise that Tsai has reached his limit.

Here’s a look at how Cai came to be able to trade both.

In the summer of 2019, the Nets made a major turnaround by bringing in both star free agents. It was a package deal. Irving signed a four-year, $137 million contract, ending two tumultuous seasons in Boston. Durant joined the team on a four-year, $165 million deal, despite tearing his Achilles in the previous NBA Finals with the Warriors and missing the entire 2019-20 season. It was a risk any team would take to play with two champions and gold medal winners who are just as gifted as anyone else in the NBA in their respective positions.

The first year Durant was out, Irving started well but suffered a shoulder injury. As Athletic as detailed in a previous Irving story, he sought so many opinions on his shoulder outside of the Nets doctors that it delayed either his return or surgery or both by several weeks. It’s been a frustrating time for the franchise, but Irving is by no means the only injured star to take care of her body into her own hands. These are the costs of doing business.

The Nets made the playoffs in a pandemic-shortened season, and Irving was out of action for the rest of the year with shoulder surgery after Brooklyn fired coach Kenny Atkinson.

The following off-season, with Irving and Durant healthy and ready to play, the duo seized on the KD podcast and downplayed new coach Steve Nash’s role in leading the team. Irving stepped down from the team for about a week at the start of the 2020–2021 campaign, having voluntarily broken COVID-19 protocols to attend a family birthday party. While he was away, he was seen talking to a local politician via Zoom minutes before the Nets were due to play a game.

Around the same time, Brooklyn traded promising center Jarrett Allen, talented defenseman Carys LeVert, two other players, and their 2027 first-round pick for Harden. Tsai and general manager Sean Marks have laid the team’s entire future to win now by adding Harden to the already-signed All-Star tandem.

Durant was sick for most of the season. He played in 35 of the 72 possible games. And when the playoffs came, Harden and then Irving were both injured. The Nets still nearly beat the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round, just a step away from Durant on their way to the Conference Finals.

Then there was last season. You remember the main points and weak points. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when trying to figure out how Tsai can look at his big picture with the Nets right now:

• Tsai is a strong supporter of a COVID-19 vaccine. He received at least four doses.

• According to sources, Duran urged the organization to return to its original position and allow Irving to play and train away where possible. Brooklyn was second in the East on the day of Irving’s first game.

• Not only did the Nets get worse with Irving’s return to the team (which failed until the Play-In Tournament), but it was with Irving that Harden decided he wouldn’t re-sign in Brooklyn and wanted to be traded to the 76ers. Simmons, Seth Curry, and Andre Drummond arrived from Philadelphia, but Simmons never showed up, disappointing the entire franchise.

• Harden waived a $47 million option on his contract this week, promising the Sixers to sign a long-term, team-friendly deal so they can add more players. This literally almost never happens in the NBA. Meanwhile, Brooklyn owes Simmons over $100 million for the next three seasons. He hasn’t played a minute since June 2021 and has undergone back surgery.

Much of this is directly related to Irving and Durant. Irving played in 103 of a possible 226 regular season games for Brooklyn; With a missed 2019/20 campaign, Durant could only count 90 games.

If both played their last game with Brooklyn, it’s safe to say that the Nets are actively involved in deals that suit all parties, if only because it’s likely to bring in the most profit.

What Tsai won’t do is force Durant to honor his Brooklyn contract.

Because he’s had enough.


Related Reading

Aldridge and Thompson: Kevin Durant wants to be on the move again
What’s next: Possible directions for Kevin Durant

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(Photo by Joseph Tsai: Brad Penner/USA Today)


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