It has been a week since Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher first reported that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were “plotting for weeks, if not months,” to play together, and the two days since their commitments to the Brooklyn Nets have seen multiple confirmations that their plan had indeed been hatched months ago, if not longer.
Irving himself told us on Instagram that his love for the Nets began in fourth grade.
“In my heart,” he said, “I always knew I wanted to play at home.”
Bucher’s colleague at Bleacher Report, Howard Beck, reported on Monday that Durant and Irving laid the groundwork last summer “over a series of conversations,” concocting “a vague plan” to join forces on a to-be-determined team, namely Irving’s Boston Celtics or one of the two New York teams — the Nets and Knicks.
Rewind to October, when Irving informed Celtics season-ticket holders, “I’ve shared it with some of my teammates as well as the organization as well as everyone else in Boston. If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here next year.”
Back to Monday, when The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson’s “sources have said for months” they planned this, with Durant preferring the Knicks and Irving the Nets.
Rewind to February, when the Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis to clear two max salary slots. That’s the day Irving walked back his commitment to Boston, saying in reference to his free agency, “Ask me July 1,” “At the end of the day, I’m going to do what I feel is best for my career,” and, of course, “I don’t owe anybody s---.”
It was then that Durant went media silent, and then railed against The Athletic’s Ethan Strauss for daring to ask why, all amid a growing concern around the Golden State Warriors that the two-time Finals MVP already had one foot out the door.
“I’m trying to play basketball,” Durant said. “Y’all come in here every day, ask me about free agency, ask my teammates, my coaches, rile up the fans about it. Let us play basketball. That’s all I’m saying. Now when I don’t want to talk to y’all, it’s a problem with me. C’mon man. Grow up. Grow up. Yeah, you, grow up. C’mon, bro.”
Kevin Durant upset with the media and the free agency talk pic.twitter.com/sv1atROacy
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) February 7, 2019
On Feb. 11, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne published a long-form feature on Durant, which included a nugget about him moving his business to New York. A week later, Irving took offense when reporters had the gall to ask him about a video that appeared to show him and Durant discussing two max slots at All-Star Weekend.
“This is the stuff that just doesn’t make the league fun,” Irving said. “It doesn’t make the league fun, nobody helps promote the league anymore by doing bulls--- like that, of just fictitious putting things on what we’re talking about. It’s just crazy.”
— gary washburn (@GwashburnGlobe) February 21, 2019
By mid-March, Knicks owner James Dolan conceded to ESPN Radio that players and their representatives had informed him that they want to play in New York.
Back to Tuesday, when The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported that a “shared desire to live in New York,” combined with a season-long Brooklyn recruiting pitch via Spencer Dinwiddie, had Durant and Irving “mentioning the Nets’ attractiveness as a free-agent alternative to the Knicks before the end of the regular season.”
Rewind to “the completion of the regular season,” when, according to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, the Celtics asked the entire team to sign a set of 100 basketballs for their charitable partners, and all reportedly obliged but Irving. “When pressed to do it,” MacMullan reported, citing team sources, “he was neither aggressive nor confrontational. He merely said, ‘No, I'm not interested in that.’"
Irving told reporters he was putting “a lot of bulls---” from the regular season behind him and “can’t wait” for the playoffs, when “we’ll be fine, because I’m here.” He reprimanded the media for causing distractions, turning his focus to the court.
By the second round, Irving had lost that focus, taking ill-advised shots on offense and playing worse on defense in an embarrassing series loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Not long afterward, in the week prior to rupturing his Achilles tendon, Durant told Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes during the Finals, “I can’t be recruited. Write that.”
Back to Monday, when Jay Williams, host of Durant’s ESPN show, “The Boardroom,” said on “The Lowe Post” podcast that Brooklyn “feels like home” to the superstar, who, like Irving, is from further down the Eastern seaboard.
“It was Kyrie,” Williams said of why Durant ultimately chose the Nets over the Knicks. “I think it was Kyrie. I think it was the franchise. I think it was [Brooklyn general manager] Sean Marks. I think it was the way they handled themselves throughout the process. I think it was the way that Sean has maneuvered different schemes from Day 1, when he traded Thaddeus Young and got Caris LeVert.”
Williams later added, “The Kyrie Irving-Kevin Durant relationship is so incredible. ... Him and Kyrie have something special. They have a bond. I can’t really explain it.”
In all the reports about the roots of this alliance over the past week, there was much discussion of when Durant switched his New York allegiance from the Knicks to the Nets, most of which settled on the idea that Brooklyn built a competitive team, and that Irving would need that roster to help build a contender after Durant’s injury.
What is less of an accepted explanation is when Irving’s allegiance switched to Brooklyn. If you hear him tell it on Instagram, it was 2002, just after the Nets got swept by the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals, which falls in line with what a league source told me back when Irving first asked out of Cleveland — that the draw of New York will always be real for him. That does not quite explain why he told season-ticket holders at TD Garden in October that he would stay in Boston.
It takes piecing together some clues from MacMullan’s autopsy of Boston’s season to come up with a better explanation. Irving’s tenure with the Celtics seemed to sour at some point between November, when he said they needed a veteran to steady the ship, and January, when he repeatedly criticized the younger teammates that led them to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals the season before. His relationship with Danny Ainge reportedly took a turn for the worse in the aftermath, when the Celtics president of basketball operations questioned his leadership style.
It was also January when, according to MacMullan, Irving took issue with his young teammates who spent a late night in South Beach between back-to-back losses to the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, the second of which ended with him showing up Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum on the court for not giving him the last shot.
Within weeks, Irving pulled his public commitment to the Celtics. He and Durant were chastising the media for asking about their intentions, all around the time they reportedly began seriously considering a joint move to New York. Then, before free agency began, they were Nets, never even giving the Knicks a meeting.
Durant gave everything he had to the Warriors, who may have won a third straight title had he not torn his Achilles. It is harder to say the same of Irving’s last few months in Boston. This is all fine. They are grown men who have earned the right to work wherever they want. As Irving said, they really “don’t owe anybody s---.”
But, if they want people to believe this narrative that Brooklyn is home — and perhaps even always has been — they might want to clarify this timeline a bit. Here’s hoping they both find with the Nets what they have reportedly been seeking together for weeks, if not months, if not last summer, if not since childhood.
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