NBA Notebook: Suns’ Kevin Durant’s Return to Nets Doesn’t Warrant Tribute Video, Highlighting Disconnect with Brooklyn Fans

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On Wednesday night, Kevin Durant will return to the Barclays Center for the first time since he was traded to the Suns last winter.

Of course, the trade was by his request, so it’s not surprising that relations are frosty between him and the fanbase he once looked destined to win a championship for.

Ahead of his Nets reunion, an X poll over the weekend of more than 15,000 fans determined by a 57-43 percent margin that Durant shouldn’t receive a tribute video from his former team.

Durant, never one to stay silent in online conversations, agreed. 

‘Please don’t, the night will be better without it,’ he wrote on X.

He later told AZCentral’s Duane Rankin, ‘I wasn’t there long enough. Me and the fans didn’t connect enough for me to feel like a part of them. That’s just my thoughts,’ he said, while adding that he was ‘excited’ to go back.

Kevin Durant's time with the Nets ended with one playoff series win and two trade requests

Kevin Durant’s time with the Nets ended with one playoff series win and two trade requests

Durant isn’t really wrong. The height of his Nets tenure (which began with him recovering from an Achilles tear) only saw him take the Nets to seven games vs. the eventual-champion Bucks in the second round of the 2021 playoffs, and things only got worse after his supernova performances of 49 and 48 points in Games 5 and 7.

Season three, in which Kyrie Irving barely played due to his unvaccinated status and James Harden got traded, saw the Nets embarrassingly swept by the Celtics in the first round.

And Durant’s fourth and final (partial) year in Brooklyn ended as it began – with a trade request. The second time, in February of last year, owner Joe Tsai relented.

So no, it’s not insane that Nets fans don’t want Durant to be specially honored, or that Durant himself thinks he’s undeserving of such treatment – even if he’s the most talented ever player to ever put on Nets colors.

Durant is now starring for the Suns, while the Nets are 19-27 and barely in the playoff picture

Durant is now starring for the Suns, while the Nets are 19-27 and barely in the playoff picture

But it’s certainly sad, and emblematic of how his career has played out.

He spent nine impressive years in Seattle/Oklahoma City blossoming into an MVP and bringing the team to the finals… but badly burned the fanbase when he left for the rival Warriors.

In Golden State, he finally captured two previously elusive rings but stayed just three years there as his relationships with his teammates – namely Draymond Green – frayed.

Now 35, he’s trying to deliver the Suns their first-ever title and what, in the eyes of many fans, would be his first title of consequence after he joined an already-great Warriors squad.

Durant will retire as one of the greatest talents the NBA has ever seen, and a top-10 scorer of all-time.

But for all of his plaudits, he likely won’t be revered by any single fanbase either – unless he can deliver the Suns a title. Will any franchise even retire his jersey?

There is something commendable about Durant beating to his own drum, and as he told The Athletic last year, not caring about the ‘legacy’ that fans will eventually anoint him with.

But there’s a cost of those decisions, too, and the boos ringing down in Barclays on Wednesday will be a telling reminder.

Embiid’s Nuggets absence is right to be scrutinized

A couple of weeks ago, on the back of consecutive 41-point performances vs. the Rockets and Nuggets – and before he had 70 points vs. the Spurs – I singled out Joel Embiid for praise in what has seemed like a silently brilliant season.

Well, last week showed why fans and media have at times been slow to buy in to the reigning MVP.

The NBA community was hotly anticipating a matchup on Saturday between Embiid and reigning finals MVP Nikola Jokic in Denver – where the Sixer has somehow not played since November 8, 2019.

Fans were hugely disappointed that Joel Embiid missed a marquee matchup with Nikola Jokic

Fans were hugely disappointed that Joel Embiid missed a marquee matchup with Nikola Jokic

And while the oft-inured Embiid was listed as available for the matchup minutes before tip-off, he wound up being a late scratch with knee issues.

The center also missed the following game vs. the Blazers, and ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported afterwards that he couldn’t even jump as he tried to warm up in Denver.

Nonetheless, this is not the first time Embiid has missed a would-be marquee matchup (he was inactive for a trip to current West leaders Minnesota in November), and his lack of availability certainly hurts his MVP prospects. He did return to the court Tuesday at the Warriors, and wound up leaving the game with an unrelated injury.

Embiid is one of the NBA’s greatest shows when he’s on the court. Unfortunately, that’s less often than he and the Sixers would like, and you can’t blame fans for growing tired of that trend.  

Clip of the week

Anthony Edwards hasn’t taken long in his young career to establish himself as one of the league’s more outspoken voices, and that was certainly on show Monday as he went out of his way to criticize that night’s referees.

Edwards’ Minnesota beat the Thunder 107-101 on the road to gain sole possession of the West’s No. 1 seed.

But after the game, Edwards had something to say about the contest’s officiating. 

‘Imma take the fine, because the refs did not give us no calls tonight,’ he said on Bally Sports. ‘We had to play through every bump, every grab. I don’t know, I don’t know how we won today,’

He was later seen referring to the officials as ‘cheating a** refs’ as he high-fived teammate Rudy Gobert.

Edwards will likely be fined by the league, as he predicted. But to many fans, his minor outburst will have actually been refreshing in an age of media training and sanitized answers.

Edwards, already one of the league’s best players at just 22, isn’t going anywhere – it will be interesting to see if he brings his joyful cockiness along for the ride.

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