Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant defend trade requests: Good for NBA

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Sunday, February 19, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY -- Just a couple of weeks after their individual trade demands brought an end to a tantalizing era ofBrooklyn Netsbasketball,Kevin DurantandKyrie Irvingdefended their decisions.

And according to Durant, the roster upheaval they initiated actually benefits the NBA.

"I don't think it's bad for the league," Durant said Saturday during his All-Star news conference. "It's bringing more eyes to the league, more people are more excited. The tweets that I get; the news hits that we got from me being traded, Kyrie being traded; it just brings more attention to the league and that's really what rakes the money in, when you get more attention. So, I think it's great for the league, to be honest."

Irving was making $38.9 million in the final year of his contract with the Nets and seeking a long-term extension when contract talks broke down and he asked to be traded. Brooklyn found a willing trade partner in the Dallas Mavericks in a matter of days and made the deal to send Irving out.

Durant, who was in the midst of a four-year, $198 million contract with the Nets, asked to be traded next -- revisiting a request he initially voiced in the offseason. The night before the trade deadline, Brooklyn brokered a deal with the Phoenix Suns to send the former MVP to the Western Conference.

Irving balked at the backlash that he and Durant received for taking matters into their own hands.

"It's a bad situation," Irving said Saturday. "Why doesn't anyone have the ability to ask for trades? That's my question. When did it become terrible to make great business decisions for yourself and your happiness and peace of mind? Not every employer you're going to get along with, so if you have the chance to go somewhere else and you're doing it legally, I don't think there's a problem with it."

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, speaking at his annual All-Star news conference on Saturday night, estimated that 10% of the league's players changed teams around the recent trade deadline and framed the stat as an "interesting" development.

When asked about Durant's comments suggesting player trade demands helping to generate interest, Silver pointed to the stipulation in the collective bargaining agreement that prohibits public trade demands. He called trade demands that play out in public, "corrosive to the system."

However, he recognized the value in teams and players -- no matter which side first broaches the subject -- coming to the conclusion behind the scenes that making a trade will be the best course of action.

"You want teams to be in a position with smart management where they can rebuild or make smart moves or, frankly, with both teams and players, work themselves out of bad relationships," Silver said. "You want to find the right balance. You want, obviously, players to honor their contracts, and at the same time a certain amount of player movement is good."

Irving's and Durant's demands followed a recent trend of high-profile NBA players asking to be traded, from Jimmy Butler with the Minnesota Timberwolvesto Anthony Davis with the New Orleans Pelicans, to Paul George with the Oklahoma City Thunder, to Russell Westbrook with the Washington Wizards, to Irving doing it once before with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017. Not to mention James Harden with the Brooklyn Nets just last season, putting the first crack in the foundation of Brooklyn's supposed superteam that never fully formed.

While those players' commitments to honoring the contracts they originally agreed to could be called into question, Durant pointed out that team front offices had for years held all the control with roster maneuvers.

"Teams have been trading players and making acquisitions for a long time," Durant said. "Now when a player can kind of dictate where he wants to go and leave in free agency and demand a trade, it's just part of the game now. So I don't think it's a bad thing. It's bringing more and more excitement to the game."

Irving said the business of professional sports puts undue pressure on players' career decisions that doesn't exist for employees in other industries.

"Speculation and narratives is what makes this entertainment kind of seem a little bit more important or more of a priority than it actually is," Irving said. "Like, it's my life. It's not just a dream that everybody can gossip about. ... When you work as hard as I do or anyone else in a specific profession, I feel like you should have the liberty and the freedom to go where you're wanted, where you're celebrated and where you feel comfortable."

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