Kevin Durant is staying with the Brooklyn Nets, at least for now, and NBA teams that may have been interested in acquiring the mercurial all-time great can resume their business without the persistent trade rumors.
The good news for the Nets is that because of the offseason work of general manager Sean Marks, they are once again contenders in the Eastern Conference with Durant staying.
The damage of Durant’s trade demand may not be felt as much by the Nets as it could in the next collective bargaining talks between the players and owners. The behavior of Durant, James Harden, Ben Simmons, and Kyrie Irving — all current or former Nets — will be a major issue in the next agreement.
Each player demanded a trade or refused to play for non-basketball reasons despite being paid maximum or near-maximum salaries. The NBA is already a player-driven league where the stars can carry major influence over personnel decisions, how often to practice, etc. But owners have a real issue with players refusing to play, demanding trades at inopportune times (Durant’s demand came right before free agency), or showing up in less-than-optimal shape.
Durant and his business partner, Rich Kleiman, met with the Nets brass last Monday in Los Angeles and settled matters, at least for now. Durant has four years remaining on his contract and could again request a trade if he feels he has irreconcilable differences with the franchise.
But for now, all is well in Brooklyn. The organization is again promoting Durant, Irving, and Simmons as a potential Big Three, while there is hope with Joe Harris, Seth Curry, Nic Claxton, Patty Mills, TJ Warren, and Royce O’Neale as a supporting cast.
Luckily for the Nets. Marks prepared as if Durant was going to return. He wanted an All-Star-caliber player, another primary contributor, and several draft picks in any trade for Durant, a price that teams such as the Celtics weren’t willing to meet, and assets others just didn’t have.
Marks smartly priced teams out of the Durant trade market until Durant changed his mind, because the Nets didn’t want to trade Durant in the first place. How does Durant remaining with the Nets affect the rest of the Eastern Conference? The Nets immediately become the No. 3 contender behind the Celtics and the Bucks, and they could close that gap with resurgent seasons from Irving, Simmons, and Harris.
The Heat were interested in Durant but lacked the assets to make a serious offer. They couldn’t include Bam Adebayo unless Simmons was included in the deal as well, because of the obscure rule that prevents teams from acquiring two players on max rookie extensions. Without Adebayo, the Heat had little to entice the Nets besides Tyler Herro and the bloated contract of Kyle Lowry, who has two years left on his deal.
The Nets now move ahead of the 76ers, who are banking that the 33-year-old Harden shows up to camp in shape and fully engaged. The 76ers also added rugged P.J. Tucker, but he along with journeyman Danuel House were the team’s lone offseason additions.
The Raptors made a spirited run to the postseason but were thumped by the 76ers in the first round, and their lone free agent signing was Warriors swingman Otto Porter. The Raptors are banking that players such as Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa take significant steps forward. With coach Nick Nurse, the Raptors are always going to be a threat, but they lack the talent of the top teams.
The Hawks moved Kevin Huerter and acquired Dejounte Murray for an intriguing backcourt with Trae Young, but they did little else in free agency. They’ll have to depend on John Collins, who has been mentioned in trade rumors for the past two years.
The Cavaliers, Bulls, Knicks, and Wizards have upgraded in the offseason and will be pushing for the final four playoff spots.
The good news about Durant’s decision to stay in Brooklyn is league business can now resume. The Lakers already made a deal, acquiring Patrick Beverley from the Jazz for Talen Horton-Tucker and Stanley Johnson, a move that had been on hold for weeks until Durant’s decision.
The Nets can now focus again on basketball and trying to win the East. For more than a year, they have been the most chaotic and drama-filled team in the NBA.
The hope is this reconciliation between Durant and management can be the first step in reaching elite status. But the Celtics, Bucks, and other clubs have been making moves and enhancing chemistry, while the Nets have dealt with infighting.
Holmgren news is taken in stride
The season-ending foot injury to rookie forward Chet Holmgren during a pro-am game was devastative news for an Oklahoma City franchise trying to become more respectable after years of playing kids, collecting bad contracts, and amassing first-round draft picks.
This was supposed to be a breakthrough season for the Thunder with All-Rookie second-team member Josh Giddey, emerging star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, rugged forward Luguentz Dort, and a slew of young talent. But the injury to Holmgren, suffered when he was stepped on by LeBron James while defending against the Lakers forward, is yet another setback for a franchise besieged with bad luck and constant rebuilds since Kevin Durant left and Russell Westbrook was traded for Chris Paul.
The Thunder reached the playoffs two years ago in the bubble, but then general manager Sam Presti decided to go young when he moved Paul to the Suns. Oklahoma City has 13 first-round picks over the next five years, but losing Holmgren, the No. 2 overall pick, for a full season can’t be considered progress, regardless of how Presti attempts to spin it.
“This is just a great example of getting some bad luck,” said Presti, an Emerson College graduate. “I wish that wasn’t the case, but this is the hand that we’ve been dealt. The long-team prognosis is very positive. I’m obviously very disappointed for Chet because he’s been having a monster summer. In this case, we’re just going to have to wait a little bit longer for his presence, for him to actually take the floor for us. But I know who he is, especially over the last few days, having watched him and have to process all of this. He’s absolutely the right guy for us. He’s got a great mentality.”
The Lisfranc injury is significant and it will take Holmgren a full year to recover, but there were concerns about the 7-foot-1-inch, 195-pound one-and-done from Gonzaga because of his slight build. The collision with the hulking James was not abnormal, but Holmgren got the worst of the contact.
“It’s an injury that’s very, very common in football players,” Presti said. “It’s not one that’s common in basketball players because of the uniqueness of where the force has to be and the way that people have to have contact. It’s a contact injury. There are a lot of players who have had injuries their rookie seasons.”
Presti cited recent history with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Blake Griffin, and Nerlens Noel missing their rookie seasons while injured, before going on to healthy or productive careers. The Thunder were not likely to reach the playoffs this season, but they were prepared to take the next step.
That’s still possible, but they’ll miss a year of development for one of their top and most intriguing prospects since Durant.
“Whenever we have bad fortune or something doesn’t go our way, there’s always something good that follows that,” Presti said. “I’m positive that’s going to be the case here. Something positive will come from this.”
The Thunder were uncertain how much production they would receive from Holmgren, but he looked impressive in summer league, unafraid to play against bigger, stronger players. Oklahoma City added more talent in this draft with Jalen Williams from Santa Clara and rugged forward Jaylin Williams from Arkansas.
Former first-round pick Darius Bazley is due for a breakout season, while 2021 first-rounder Tre Mann shot 36 percent from the 3-point line as a rookie. Presti has built a team of youngsters hungry for playing time.
“There will be other people that emerge, there will be other people that get opportunity,” Presti said. “We’ll learn some things. We’ll figure some things out and on the other side, when we get Chet back, he’ll be coming back to a better team. We’ve had our fair share of injuries and we have to approach it the same way.
“When you’re in the NBA, it’s a pretty chaotic world and unforeseen things are going to happen, so the ability to keep pressing through that and being able to adapt and adjust is the key.”
Before winning just 46 games over the past two seasons, the Thunder reached the playoffs 10 out of 11 years, including the NBA Finals in 2012. They were considered a model franchise with Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka emerging as standout homegrown players.
The Thunder suffered a major setback when Durant decided to sign with the Warriors in 2016. Presti acquired All-Star Paul George in the final year of his contract in 2017, and signed him to an extension the next summer. But after the 2018-19 season, George wanted a trade to his hometown Clippers and the Thunder obliged.
Six days later, Presti traded Westbrook to the Rockets for Paul. The Thunder surprisingly made a playoff push with Paul, Danilo Gallinari, and a bunch of youngsters. Knowing Paul was aging and the run wouldn’t last, Presti decided to rebuild.
“From a team standpoint, we’re trying to climb our second mountain, basically in Oklahoma City,” he said. “There are going to be plenty of setbacks and adversities and when we get where we want to go, we’re going to be able to look back at this and remember, and that this is a source of pride that we managed this, as well. We’re building something that can be sustainable and we have a long runway with our team because of its age. Chet will be a huge factor in that. It’s bigger than one season and one game for us, and we just have to be patient as we go through this.”
Although it appears as if the Thunder have been rebuilding for years, it’s only been two seasons. There is trust that Presti can again produce a Western Conference contender. Holmgren’s injury makes that quest more difficult, but there’s more than enough young talent to become an intriguing team.
“It’s a little bit of delayed gratification but that’s OK, we’re still in an advantageous position,” Presti said. “He’s going to be able to find value and work on himself throughout the season.”
Lisfranc injury rare in basketball
Chet Holmgren’s Lisfranc fracture was surprising because it’s usually an injury sustained by football players, including Cam Newton and Travis Etienne, and most recently Panthers rookie quarterback Matt Corral.
The injury is significant, occurring when the mid-foot ligaments are torn or ruptured when the foot is pulled in an awkward direction, according to Dr. Andrew J. Elliott from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
“The foot has to, in order for running and pushing off and jumping, has to act like a rigid structure,” Elliott said. “In acting like a rigid structure to hold all these bones together, the ones in the mid-arch region are very, very strong. There are three different things that can happen. One, the ligament can pull off the bone, and the second one is when the ligament tears right in the middle, or you can get fractures as well as tearing of the ligaments.”
Elliott said the Thunder aren’t being overly cautious by holding Holmgren out for the entire season, even though the season doesn’t begin for nearly two months.
“In basketball, I would equate them more as a wide receiver,” Elliott said. “They’re doing a lot of running on a hard surface. And you’re probably looking at the earliest, depending on which joint was injured, six months, but more likely between nine to 12 months.
“The basic premise is you’re rupturing the ligament because the ligament is seeing a load to it that’s higher than what it can handle.”
Elliott said he watched the play during which Holmgren was injured on video and believed it was caused by all of Holmgren’s weight landing on his foot as he tried to defend LeBron James.
“He’s done that a million times, but obviously this had a little bit more weight,” Elliott said. “And it was a different vector of force that was going through it than he normally had seen. That’s the same for most people. It’s usually fall onto the foot or a pushing-off type of injury that usually has some torque type of moment, as well.”
The most concerning aspect of this injury for the Thunder, Elliott said, is it could cause arthritis or chronic pain even after fully healed.
Now that Kevin Durant has decided to stay in Brooklyn, teams will be more aggressive in making free agent moves and filling roster spots. There remains some intriguing free agents on the market, such as Carmelo Anthony, Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins, and Dwight Howard. The Celtics are seeking a third center, critical since the club plans to give 36-year-old Al Horford some games off. Noah Vonleh and Bruno Caboclo will compete with former first-round pick Mfiondu Kabengele for that spot. President of basketball operations Brad Stevens said Luke Kornet could fill that role if needed, but look for the Celtics to spend the next few weeks searching for an upgrade. Cousins, Howard, Hassan Whiteside, and Montrezl Harrell all come with baggage but could be signed at the veteran minimum with little risk … Thomas is being targeted by the Hornets after finishing last season with them as a reserve point guard … The Cavaliers have to decide what to do with Collin Sexton, a former No. 8 pick who has slipped in the organization’s graces because of injury and the emergence of Darius Garland at point guard. The Cavaliers could bring back Sexton for one year at $8.55 million but risk losing him for nothing as an unrestricted free agent next summer. Garland has assumed duties as the starting point guard, while the club also re-signed veteran Ricky Rubio. The Cavaliers can find a significant role for Sexton but would much rather involve him in a sign-and-trade deal that would upgrade the frontcourt. Sexton has not received any offer sheets and the two teams with significant salary-cap space — the Spurs and Pacers — wouldn’t be interested in such a financial commitment … The BIG3 basketball league just completed its fifth season and it appears momentum is declining with several big-name players retiring. One of the interesting moves the BIG3 made was to allow players as young as 22 to enter the league, turning it from a post-NBA opportunity to a league filled with non-marquee players with no NBA experience. Also, many recently retired players, especially those who may attract viewers, have decided to pass. Former journeyman Earl Clark, who just signed with a team in the Philippines, was named league MVP.