A tribute video, ovations and boos: Kevin Durant leaves his Nets legacy behind


NEW YORK — Kevin Durant got the tribute video he didn’t want. He got the ovation from the crowd, at first. Then he got the boos. He got the return back to the arena he called home for nearly four seasons and 129 games. He got the hero’s welcome and the deserter’s embrace. He got it all in his first time back to Brooklyn since he demanded a trade out of the organization last February, in his first time back as a member of the Phoenix Suns.

Durant got nearly everything on the night when he asked for nothing. And what did it mean? That’s even harder to say.

That’s how he wanted it, too. His time in Brooklyn was complicated. He may well be the most talented player to ever wear a Brooklyn Nets uniform — he did not have the best career with the franchise — but there was little to show for it. One long run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and lots of regrets.

He does not care about his legacy with the Nets, or to define it. Don’t believe it? He told you so himself.

“I want you to figure out what it is on your own,” he said. “It’s your own experience when you come watch us play. I’m not here to sway anybody’s experience or manipulate how they think or feel about the game. Whatever you take from it, you take from it. It’s on me to just go out there and do me.”

Durant does that spectacularly. He did it again Wednesday night. He scored 33 points and had eight assists in a 136-120 victory at the Barclays Center. He is, at 35, still a marvel.

That’s what made his exit so painful for the Nets. They surely miss him but there is little scorn for him here.

He’s paired up now with Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, chasing success in a new location. The Suns are 28-20 and surging. They have won eight of their last 10 games and are desperately trying to lock in a top-6 seed. Finally, everyone is healthy; finally, everyone is together on the court.

That was fleeting in Brooklyn. The Nets built a Big Three of their own. It seemed titanic at times, but then it went down like the Titanic.

Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden played just 16 games together and it was just not enough. Harden asked out. Irving refused a vaccine, then refused to apologize for sending a link to an antisemitic film, and then wanted to leave, too. Steve Nash got fired. The organization could never stabilize itself through the chaos. Durant had enough.

But he does not want to rehash or reconsider. He’s content with the memories, even if the results were unwelcome.

“It’s just a pointless exercise in my opinion (to) think about what could have been,” he said. “What happened? That’s what I thought about. What actually happened, the reality of it. We didn’t have enough time together. That’s just it. Guys wanted to go their separate ways. We tried our hardest to salvage everything and bring everything together. We had three or four different teams when I signed here until I left. But at the end of the day, I enjoyed coming to work, playing for and being a part of this community, and representing Brooklyn. Regardless of what went on and was said or how I felt I still came to work.”

It was clear Durant still likes Brooklyn and New York. He came to love the city. He enjoyed seeing the faces around the arena Wednesday night, the ushers, fans, and team employees he grew to recognize and familiarized himself with.

He toyed with the crowd. He took the heckling in stride and talked smack right back. When he scored a bucket and drew an and-one in the third quarter, he put the forefingers together on his right hand and eyed a fan as he told him he was too small.

“I love to shut the crowd up,” he said. “Even though I love these people here I love to shut them up. There was some annoying people trying to get my attention. ‘I hate you KD.’ But I look over, ‘I love you, man.’ They got my jersey on. It’s all good for the game, that relationship you got with the crowd.”


Kevin Durant leaves the court after the Suns defeated the Nets. (Brad Penner / USA Today)

Durant seems to remain in good standing in Brooklyn. It’s almost irrational. He asked for a trade twice and when the Nets dealt him to Phoenix it finally broke apart the dream the franchise launched in June 2019, even if Mikal Bridges and the picks the Nets drew in the trade might help them start over one day.

But he was so likable and so good, when he was healthy, that he left behind mostly fond feelings. Irving will likely get a different response when he returns for the first time next week.

It gets to the complicated nature of Durant’s time in Brooklyn. There was little team success to speak for; with just one playoff series won. Durant missed so much time but when he played he was so magnificent.

Durant has his explanation. The Nets may have lacked the team success he had in Oklahoma City and Golden State but he made the case for his growth. Success, he said, began with his own play.

“As an individual, I was All-Star every year, I was leading vote-getter every year … sold a lot of jerseys, 50-40-90 (shooting percentages for FG-3pt-FT), averaged 30, All-NBA. Was that successful?” he said. “But team success is different. How the team does, you like to put that on one of the best players and call it a failure. But if you want to talk about me individually you just look at the work I put in here. I think I have grown as a player. I think I am on my way to mastering the game. Coming here pushed me closer to that. That’s what I tried to take from my time here.”

In the end that may be all there is to take from it. Other franchises may scratch out their lessons in team building. The Nets are still left to recover from the construction and destruction of their superteam. They are 19-28 and trying to get back into the Play-In Tournament. What they do ahead of next week’s trade deadline is uncertain. They have several players who could fetch help for the future, for their next stage, but it would not be a surprise if they made an addition of their own.

The Suns are more resolute. They have built what they hope is a title contender, second apron be damned. Durant is at the center of that plan; they mortgaged their future for him.

When he returned here Wednesday night, there was just a quick look back at the past. Durant’s tribute video was over by tipoff. The game was a better symbol of what he left behind.

(Top photo: Nathaniel S. Butler / NBAE via Getty Images)





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