By Lenn Robbins
From the school of, “If You Rebuild It They Will Come,” we give you the fascinating story of why Kevin Durant became a Net.
His signing with the Nets was a stunner but it didn’t have quite the drama as Kawhi Leonard taking on the role of wheeler/dealer power broker.
Durant’s decision was much more sublime.
With KD, there were no dictator-like demands for absolutely secrecy, although, as Nets GM Sean Marks revealed, the Nets learned of Durant’s decision along with everyone that has an Instagram account.
Leonard took on a Supreme Leader mentality:
Any team that spoke about his free agency was eliminated from consideration. Anyone that didn’t buy into the narrative that Leonard is different kind of superstar – a calm, even-keeled basketball assassin – was be dismissed.
One social media troll once posted that Leonard, “has the personality of a pebble,” meaning his team had zero chance of signing Sir Stoic. Not that being a flatliner is a demerit.
No one can question the competitiveness Leonard displayed his one season in Toronto and previous seasons in San Antonio. Not every star needs to be the great entertainer and player.
Respect Leonard for the player he is. Respect Durant for being the keen observer of NBA culture that he is. And respect the Nets for the franchise they’ve become.
Leonard held meetings with several teams. He wanted to know about ownership, the coaching staff, the medical staff, the diversity of the franchise and city, his role and possible, where to find the best bagel in town.
Durant never even spoke to the Nets before signing.
It begged the question, ‘Why?” Why did Durant seemingly choose the Nets on a flier?
If KD wanted a chance to win an NBA in the 2020-2021 season when he returns from a torn Achilles tendon, why not stay on the West Coast and sign with the LeBron James-led Lakers?
If he wanted to come to the media capital of the world, why not sign with the Knicks and play in The Mecca known as The Garden?
His answer was one of the most refreshing responses uttered by a professional athlete in recent time.
“I see how hard you guys play,’’ Marks said in a WFAN interview after speaking with Durant. Surely Marks was curious as to why KD choose the Nets.
This is the rest of what Marks said Durant told him.
“I love the system. I love how you guys play. I see how hard you guys play. … You were never out of games. We could never take you guys lightly.”
To fully appreciate those words, we need to remember where the Nets came from.
Former GM Billy King mortgaged the franchise in trading for Kevin Garnett, Paul Piece and Jason Terry. Unless he was ordered by ownership to make a headline-grabbing trade to bring fans and media to the Nets, who had moved from the witness protection state known as New Jersey, giving up three unprotected first-round draft choices was folly.
The Nets went from player-friendly coach Jason Kidd to generally unfriendly Lionel Hollins to interim Tony Brown to the completely authentic and refreshing Kenny Atkinson.
King eventually was replaced by Marks, who steadily worked to increase cap space and restock picks. It was a long haul.
The Nets, bereft of picks, were the NBA version of the Titanic. They won 69 games over three seasons. When Atkinson’s third season opened with an 8-18 record last year, many thought his tenure was over.
But Marks and Atkinson had created a harmonic, patient, thoughtful and supportive front office. They took the long view. After that start, the Nets started winning more than losing and made the playoffs.
Durant took note. Kyrie Irving took note and no doubt communicated with KD.
The Nets weren’t done putting their first-class organization on display. When Marks was asked when Durant would return from injury he said, “This is entirely going to be a Kevin Durant decision.’’
Players around the league heard.
And when the Nets didn’t have the cap space to keep a resurgent D’Angelo Russell, they helped work a sign and trade with the Warriors.
When the next wave of free agents considers their options, they can’t help but look at a Nets franchise that plays and works with players. Brooklyn rebuilt it and the stars have come.