Kevin Durant still “wants the best for” the Nets.
In an interview with The Athletic, Durant — who forced a trade from Brooklyn to the Phoenix Suns at the trade deadline following Kyrie Irving’s unexpected trade from the Nets to the Dallas Mavericks — suggested there is no bad blood between himself and the Nets front office, even though his tumultuous time in Brooklyn ended without a deep playoff run.
“I hated it had to go down like that. I wasn’t trying to prove the Nets is a s—– organization. I was trying to prove that the Nets are a great organization, that they care about their players, want the best for their players,” the Suns star said as he returned to the court after an ankle injury on Wednesday. “Certain s— just didn’t work out. I understand that. I’m not here trying to prove that the Nets was wrong, I think they did amazing by me the whole time I was there, not just with the trade.
“Coming off the Achilles injury, get back into playing — they made sure they were there for me every step of the way. And I appreciate that for life. I feel like we’ll be tied as family members for life regardless of how it finished.”
Durant also reiterated that once Irving’s deal to the Dallas Mavericks was complete, he was unclear what direction the Nets were headed as an organization.
“Once I had no understanding of what direction we’re going in, I tried to make the best decision for me,” he said.
The Nets traded Durant to the Suns for Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, four first-round picks and swap rights to an additional future first-round pick. The Suns immediately jumped to the forefront of the NBA championship conversation with a legitimate Big 4 of Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton.
Durant scored 16 points in 29 minutes in Phoenix’s victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. It was his first game played since March 5 and just his fourth in a Suns jersey. He arrived in Phoenix while nursing an MCL sprain he sustained on Jan. 8 as a member of the Nets.
“I feel pretty good,” Durant said. “I know we gotta bring it every night now. We got a target on our back. So it’s still somewhat … a little anxious, a little anxiety coming into each game. Just because you want to be at your best, and you know everybody is targeting us. I’m looking forward to the challenge. We all are.”
The Suns owned a 30-27 record the day they traded for Durant. Their win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday moved them six games above .500 into the Western Conference’s fourth seed. The Suns haven’t yet clinched one of the six guaranteed playoff seeds and — with only 3.5 games separating themselves from the 10th-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder — Phoenix likely has to win out to avoid the sudden-death play-in tournament.
Irving’s Mavericks, on the other hand, could miss the playoffs altogether.
The Mavericks have an 8-14 record since trading for Irving and find themselves 11th in the Western Conference. Dallas has lost five of its last six and nine of its last 12 games.
Early returns on Irving and Luka Doncic as a duo haven’t been promising, though the Mavericks — who traded their two-most capable remaining defenders (Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie) to Brooklyn to acquire Irving in the first place — had issues that predated the star guard’s arrival.
Irving was asked what it was like to be traded midseason for the first time in his career on Wednesday.
“The big question: Why they traded for me? And what does it look like for the future? What does our future look like? That’s the big question,” he said. “I think that now, just where we are in the season, and where other teams are positioned already, it kind of looks a bit like a clusterf— to be honest, because we’re 37-40 and we’re trying to fight for the play-in game. It’s not the expectations I don’t think any of us had in that locker room.”
Then Irving addressed the question at hand.
“And me getting traded midseason… I didn’t expect to ask for a trade at that point in the season,” he said. “So I wanted to finish out with Brooklyn, finish out the season that we had going, and I didn’t get a chance to do that. So some of the goals that I had previously had to be shifted.”
Irving is set to enter unrestricted free agency where he can sign with any team that makes an offer. The Mavericks can offer Irving a two-year, $83M extension before the season is over or a four-year, $220.6M extension in free agency.
The Mavericks can also offer a five-year max deal worth $272M, but that is believed to be unrealistic given Irving’s history of missing games.