Since losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 7 of the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals, the Nets have had a tumultuous year and a half. Star point guard Kyrie Irving played just 29 games last season due to his COVID-19 vaccine status, the team traded away All-Star James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers, got swept in the first round by the Boston Celtics, both Irving and Kevin Durant requested trades during the summer, and most recently they parted ways with head coach Steve Nash and suspended Irving.
Following a 153-121 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, Durant spoke to Bleacher Report's NBA Insider Chris Haynes about his trade request during the offseason, his frustrations with the organization, his relationship with Irving, the Nets' 6-9 start to the season, and more.
The 12-time All-Star and two-time NBA Finals MVP said that making a trade request was because of the way the team was preparing for games.
"It wasn’t difficult at all to request a trade because it was about ball," Durant told Bleacher Report. "I went to them and was like, ‘Yo, I don't like how we are preparing. I don't like shootarounds. I like practices. I need more. I want to work on more s--t. Hold me accountable. Get on my ass in film if that's going to help you get on everybody else’s head. I want to do more closeouts. I want to work on more shell drills at practice.’
"This was the type of s--t I was coming at them with. It wasn't like, ‘Yo, y'all need to make sure everybody around me can make my life easier.’ Hell nah, I want to make everybody else’s life easier. Ask Steve Nash, you can go call him right now. I would say, ‘Yo, I need more closeout drills. We need to practice more.’ That's what I was on."
He continued by saying that "nobody was on that same vibe with me," except for recently hired head coach Jacque Vaughn, and that's why he requested a trade from Brooklyn.
"I wasn’t feeling that, and nobody was on that same vibe with me. Jacque Vaughn is. I had some complaints in the summer, and my complaints were not about just me; it was about how we are moving as a unit. I want us to be respected out here in the basketball world. I don’t want players to look at us and say, ‘Oh man, these [expletive] are full of s--t. That’s not the type of team I want to be on.’ So when we’re all playing like s--t, you know the one person they’re going to look at. That’s why I requested a trade."
Durant then responded to critics about his leadership skills, and said that the world doesn't need to know everything that happens behind closed doors, including his conversations with Irving.
“I’m not a leader? What the f--k does that mean?” Durant said. “A lot of people say I’m not a leader because I didn’t tell Kyrie to get vaccinated. Come on. Or I didn’t condemn Kyrie for leaving the team, going out and living his life. I’m not about to tell a grown-ass man what he can and can't do with his own life and dissect his views or how he thinks about s--t.
"We can have a conversation and exchange perspectives on how I feel about the topic and you feel about the topic, but everybody else don't need to know or hear about our conversations because we’re grown-ass men. I don't operate like that."
Durant responded to the idea that the team should be successful no matter what with him on the court and made it clear that he's simply "having a good time" playing basketball.
“Look at our starting lineup. Edmond Sumner, Royce O’Neale, Joe Harris, [Nic] Claxton and me. It’s not disrespect, but what are you expecting from that group?" Durant said. “You expect us to win because I’m out there. So if you’re watching from that lens, you’re expecting us to play well because No. 7 is out there.
"I’m really having a good time. I wish y'all could hear me talk during the game. If I got mic’d up more, people would stop asking me if I'm happy or not. I'm enjoying every moment I get to step on this f--king court, and part of it is because I tore my Achilles. And the pandemic, I didn’t know if we were going to play again. I didn't know if I was going to play again. I was just like, 'This can't be it for me.' I have to really enjoy every single moment I'm out here. That’s part of being a pro. I have to be coachable, I have to knock down shots, I have to be aggressive, and I have to talk to my teammates the right way. That's the journey and the battle."
Durant continued by saying he wants to have "good practices," "good preparation," and "good energy" on the court. Despite all of the controversy surrounding the Nets, he believes the team is heading in the right direction under Vaughn and he's still learning how to improve his game.
"That's what I said last summer," Durant said. "I didn't feel like we had those things last year like good preparation, great energy to start real team chemistry, and I feel like we’re building that right now. We got some guys in and out the lineup, but I think guys have been figuring out their roles within that. And it's been fun, regardless of games like tonight."
He added: "It's been fun grinding with these dudes. It’s been fun grinding with Jacque. It's been fun trying to leverage myself to help everybody else get better. I'm learning the game more and seeing all types of crazy defenses every night. I never know how a team is going to guard me. This is all helping me mentally as a player to see things a little slower, playing a little slower."