'I wish it was different': Kevin Durant talks James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Nets' troubled season

·7-min read

NEW YORK — Kevin Durant was tired, not broken.

Discouraged, but still confident about his personal future with the Brooklyn Nets and his friendship with Kyrie Irving.

The Nets were swept by the more cohesive and determined Boston Celtics, a sweep that registered as the first in Durant’s 14 NBA seasons. The same is the case for Irving, who missed a huge chunk of the season due to being unvaccinated against COVID-19.

Irving told the media he has no plans on leaving Brooklyn, as he can opt out of his contract and go into free agency this summer.

Durant didn’t hesitate when asked by Yahoo Sports following his news conference whether he wants to continue to have Irving as a teammate.

“Of course,” Durant said. “I would love for him to play more. Life is way more important to me than that. I can’t be pissed off. I can’t end the friendship based on something like that. Our friendship is based off who we are as human beings. The basketball adds to it. If we don’t get along on the basketball court, we can easily talk it out as friends.”

He yelled a demonstrative “hell, no” when asked if the season put a strain on his friendship with Irving, but admitted it went through some tough moments as Durant had to carry a heavy load. Initially, the Nets banished Irving, not allowing him to play road games until attrition hit the team around the new year.

“Yeah, yeah. Him not being around, wanting to be around,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “Having conversations, missing games, missing playing together. It was not much more I could do. It was out of my control. The best I could do was come to work and be me and make sure the situation in the building was right for everybody.”

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant reacts during Game 4 of the Nets' first-round NBA playoffs series against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center on April 25, 2022. The Celtics swept the Nets. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)
Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant reacts during Game 4 of the Nets' first-round playoffs series against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center on Monday. The Celtics swept the Nets. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

He knew he couldn’t force Irving to get vaccinated, so he said his frustration was contained to just the immediate period after tough nights.

“I would be mad after a game, not having him out there,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “Being triple-teamed or whatever, like Kai would definitely help tonight, but [mad at] him individually? Nah.”

There was only so much Durant could control, like James Harden coming into training camp out of shape and acting up a bit behind the scenes, leading to his deadline-day trade to Philadelphia for Ben Simmons — who went an entire year without playing.

As diminished as Harden has looked, it seemed like he would’ve at least helped compared to Simmons being inactive for the entire series.

“James? Him leaving? I wish things would’ve been different,” Durant confessed to Yahoo Sports. “Being mad? I wish it was different. I can’t say I was that emotional.

“They’re grown-assed men. I can’t control how they feel. They might change their minds. Everybody gets that grace. Life is too amazing for me to be that upset. I get that people want me to feel a way.”

Durant is the reason Brooklyn is relevant in the NBA ecosystem. He understands that and knows the perception is he runs the organization, from Irving being around to Steve Nash being selected as a head coach.

He bites back against that, putting “franchise player” in air quotes, calling himself another part of the machine. Durant, LeBron James and former teammate Steph Curry are the biggest names in the sport. James’ influence with the Lakers has been widely speculated, and the Lakers flopped — not too dissimilar from the Nets underperforming this season with speculation of Durant having similar sway.

“I feel like that’s a narrative that [media created]. I don’t even think LeBron does that,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “He might have input or know some information. But him saying [pointing left], ‘This is who you should get.’ [Points right.] ‘That’s who you should get,’ I don’t think it works like that.

“I’ve been around Steph, he doesn’t work like that. Let people do their jobs. It’s not on me to overstep what they do. I’m just here to support. If they need me to text or call somebody that may come, of course.”

Durant said he aided in the recruitment of Goran Dragic when Dragic was bought out and released by San Antonio in February.

“I’m not, ‘This is the list of guys,’ ” Durant said. “Sean [Marks, Nets general manager] will hit me, like, ‘Goran is interested, what you think?’ I [contacted] him. That’s always who I’ve been since I got here. I’ve never had control. I don’t want it.

“I don’t want to know because I’m the ‘franchise player,’ it’s just the fact I want to know who my teammates are. It’s disrespectful for me to come and try to override what they do because of my status in the league. That’s not fair to them. Everybody has a career. I just want to know.”

Durant turns 34 in September and will be coming off a playoff performance he’d like to forget as the years become more precious.

His best showing was a 39-point performance in Game 4, but shot just 38.5% this series and had a tough time with Boston’s swarming defense, turning the ball over more than in any playoff run through his career.

It’s a far cry from last summer, when his playoff performance earned him a level of acclaim in defeat that Finals wins in Golden State didn’t from a decent segment of folks.

Unfair as it seemed, this was supposed to be the year a Durant-led team stomped its way to the top. And while he played up to MVP standards before injuring his knee in January, that reputation takes a hit with the sweep.

“It’s objective. Whoever played well that night is the best player,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “I never really believed in that [stuff]. That’s not my mentality as a player.”

Brooklyn's Kevin Durant embraces and congratulates Boston's Jayson Tatum after the Celtics swept the Nets in the first round of the NBA playoffs on April 25, 2022. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Brooklyn's Kevin Durant embraces and congratulates Boston's Jayson Tatum after the Celtics swept the Nets in the first round of the NBA playoffs on April 25, 2022. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Being knocked out so early and definitively could register this as a lost season as nobody knows how long he still has playing at this high of a level.

“I’m maxing my years out by how I get up and approach my craft. It ain’t always about the result of the game,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “I do this because I genuinely [enjoy] getting up and enjoy going to work. It’s simple for me. Winning championships and averaging a certain amount of points, All-Star Games, don’t get me wrong. I want all of that. But if I don’t get that, I’m still excited I get to be in the NBA.”

All the principles have acknowledged the Eastern Conference is getting stronger, as evidenced by the Celtics’ performance. Durant was matched up against Jayson Tatum at times — although Tatum had the benefit of the Celtics’ infrastructure and defense Durant did not — but he was impressed nonetheless.

“I told Jayson when he was in high school, he gonna sell shoes, he gonna be an All-Star,” Durant said. “So for him to do this? I expect him to do this; it’s no surprise to me. I expect him to be a Hall of Famer, 30,000 points, three-time Olympian. I expect that out of him because that’s how talented he is. That’s how great he is.”

Durant now becomes a fan of the game as opposed to a participant, a feeling that seems odd considering his standing — but a feeling he can change, whether he admits to having the influence or not.