BROOKLYN — It was 4:16 a.m. on July 1, free agency’s witching hour, when Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan made their decision. Intent on joining forces and given several options, with the smell of cap space still fresh from coast to coast, the three free agents conferenced over FaceTime, Durant and Irving from the East Coast and Jordan three hours behind in Los Angeles. That call would shift the landscape of the NBA, with Brooklyn the eventual destination—and it brought all three players together in the public sphere for the first time Friday, as the Nets held a crowded media day at their facility in Sunset Park. But as the star trio took turns at the podium, each asked about this summer’s revelatory moment, the matter took on a surprising air of been-there-done-that.
“I mean, it wasn’t as exciting as being locked in my house a few years ago,” Jordan noted. “We just kind of did it, man. It wasn’t anything special. It was just us coming together.” Objectively, it was the opposite of the now-historic online abduction the Clippers executed to retain his services some years back. Here were free agents—two of them max-level talents, one notably less so—taking control of their careers, packaging themselves together, picking a team, and moving forward. “They were begging me to come,” Jordan added, dryly, with a hard roll of his eyes.
The decision itself had several mitigating factors. Durant, of course, was facing extensive rehab for the Achilles injury that ended his Finals as a member of the Warriors, and was ready for a change of pace. Irving, coming off a trying year in Boston, had done some soul-searching, a matter he spoke candidly about on Friday. Jordan, who’d long been close with both players, was along for the ride.
“We just had to be honest with each other. That morning, the morning of free agency, we still had no idea what we were doing,” Irving explained. “We didn’t know the rules, what the things were going forward to make it happen, we just want to care for one another in a way where we can build for the next four years and on. We want to build our careers together, we want to do this as a team. And what better place to do it than Brooklyn, with all these guys who had worked their tails off?”
Those guys—Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, along with D’Angelo Russell, who would later be signed-and-traded back to Golden State for Durant—formed the core of a 42-win team that had evolved together organically. Irving and Durant had taken notice, forming relationships with Dinwiddie and LeVert, respectively, over the past couple years. On Friday, those players lined the room around the new trio of stars, all optimistic about new expectations. “As a team we still have the same mindset, same principles, same goals,” LeVert emphasized. “We’re still a gritty team, selfless, a team who likes to scrap. Our identity’s not going to change.”
“It was easy to see what these guys brought to the table. It’s not like I had to do any deep analysis on any player,” Durant said. He did admit to doing extensive YouTube research on Kenny Atkinson’s mannerisms and schemes, and feeling at ease about what he’d be walking into despite having never had a conversation with the coach. “I thought about it for a couple seconds, how my life would look in all those [other] places, and ultimately I wanted to be here.”
As is the case on any media day in any corner of the league, there’s a vast difference between talking points and actual execution, and points of discussion varied. Irving talked at length about his mindset, appearing visibly refreshed, and attempting to explain away what he deemed a personal leadership failure in Boston. At one point, Durant called Irving his best friend, though on whole his responses were more measured and often curt—understandable given the fact he may be an entire year away from game action, as general manager Sean Marks emphasized earlier in the week.
While big-picture playoff talk ought to be tempered until his return, there’s little question that the organization expects progression and results. Atkinson reiterated that there’s no intention to stray from the workmanlike attitude that moved Brooklyn to this particular competitive precipice. But as laid-back as the vibe might seem, Durant or no Durant, it’s obvious the stakes have shifted. “We don’t want to wait,” Jordan said. “We want to go now. This isn’t a practice season or a trial season. We want to go. And I think any other player here will tell you the same thing.”