Opinion: Kevin Durant makes risky move with Nets, but has chance to lead young team to top

In the span of a few hours Sunday, an Instagram account linked to Kevin Durant’s sports business-themed channel went from about 30,000 followers to nearly 200,000. When word got out that Durant’s free agent decision would be announced there, it seemed Durant was going to use his platform of “The Boardroom” to reveal something unique. 

Instead, it was just … weird. And probably fitting. 

Surely, Durant will explain at some point soon why he left the Golden State Warriors after a year of speculation that he would do exactly that. But for now, there’s no big The Players’ Tribune piece like we had three summers ago when he initially signed with the Warriors, no video message thanking his fans or celebrating a new beginning — just a matter-of-fact Instagram post that confirmed he has chosen the Brooklyn Nets. 

Maybe it speaks for itself. 

Durant’s aggressive restlessness has led him to a new frontier in the NBA, to a franchise that was very recently among the league’s worst and to the New York borough that wasn’t supposed to measure up to the allure of Manhattan and Madison Square Garden. 


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Instead, with his buddy Kyrie Irving riding shotgun, they’ve left two iconic franchises in their wake and teamed to bring relevance to one of the league’s lesser lights. Even if we won’t see them on the court together until 2020-21 while Durant rehabs his Achilles tear, never has an NBA team so transformed itself within the span of a few minutes. 

And you know what? For Durant, who obviously never felt his greatness was validated by going to an established championship team in Golden State, this makes perfect sense. 

For all Durant did to help the Warriors secure back-to-back titles — he was hands-down the best player for two straight playoff runs in 2017 and 2018 — he never shook the narrative that he was a luxury item until the Warriors fell apart without him this year against the Toronto Raptors. Durant won championships playing alongside Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, but he never won hearts and minds. You could see by this season it wasn’t enough. 

We all knew from the moment he left Oklahoma City that winning big with Golden State was a slam dunk. This? This is a risk. 

Kevin Durant will play for his third team when he joins the Brooklyn Nets in 2019-20. (Photo: Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports)

It’s a risk because a nice little team built by Sean Marks and developed by Kenny Atkinson is now one of the most high-profile outfits in the NBA. It’s a risk because Irving, as brilliant of a scorer and shot-maker as he’s been during his eight seasons, has left frayed relationships in Cleveland and Boston and will eventually have to co-exist with Durant, who isn’t exactly a low-maintenance personality. 

But it’s also a huge opportunity for Durant, if he can come back as good as he was before the injury, to take a team that wasn’t particularly close to winning a championship and transforming it in his image. 

It’s also unconventional, in that he and Irving chose to make this move with the Nets and not the brand-name New York Knicks, who had been the focus of Durant speculation all season. 

Durant probably chose wisely. Going to the Knicks, who are at the very beginning of a rebuild, would have been awkward from a basketball standpoint. Durant will be 32 when he gets back on the court, and it’s crucial that the team around him is built to maximize the end of his prime. 

Story continues below video:

SportsPulse: The move everyone has been anticipating finally happened: Kyrie Irving is a Brooklyn Net. As Jeff Zillgitt puts it, that will come with some pros and cons for the Nets.

The Nets are further along in that process, with several currently productive young players on favorable contracts and some assets that can help them improve even more in 2020-21. 

Which is crazy to think about given how hopeless things seemed for Brooklyn when Marks took over as general manager in 2016. After the previous regime traded assets and spent big on past-their-prime stars, Brooklyn found itself in salary cap hell with no clear way to rebuild because all its good draft picks were going to Boston. The Nets looked like a bigger mess than the Knicks, if that’s possible.

Now look at them. 

Of course, it’s possible Durant won’t be the same guy after the Achilles tear, a brutal injury with a long rehab that leaves no guarantees of returning to 100 percent. It’s possible Irving will pull his malcontent act again in a third city and destroy the locker room. It’s possible this ultimately won’t work as well as the Nets hope.  

But taking this risk, using this moment of opportunity, is a no-brainer for Brooklyn. Durant will come back in 2020-21 season with something to prove and a goal to lift a formerly irrelevant franchise to a title. 

For now, this looks like a perfect match. 

Follow USA TODAY Sports' columnist Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken

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