This is why you don’t trade Kevin Durant

    To which, given how this NBA season has unfolded, especially over the past month, we should now add: Sometimes the best trade requests are the ones you don’t honour.After Kevin Durant asked to be traded this off-season, the Nets responded with the equivalent of the “We’ll look into it and circle back to you” email, setting a super-steep asking price (which was their right!) and essentially playing four corners until reaching a co-branded truce with their superstar. The team then spent the early portions of the season in various modes of embarrassment over the firing of Steve Nash as head coach, their flirtation with the disgraced Ime Udoka as his potential replacement and, most prominently, the whole Kyrie Irving balagan. All while playing sub-.500 basketball.Now they’re the hottest team in the NBA, and quietly — because sometimes it feels as if the Nets are least relevant when they’re playing actual basketball, even if they’re playing it very well — beginning to resemble the title contender they were rumoured to be.The Nets have won nine games in a row. They’re up to third in the Eastern Conference standings (a 3-6 subway series against the Knicks? We can dream). They’re up to seventh in the league in net rating, outscoring opponents by 3.2 points per 100 possessions, with the No.5 offence and the No.12 defence. Since Jacque Vaughn took over as coach on Nov. 1, they’re third in the league in net rating. Since Irving returned on Nov. 20 from being told [stern voice] to go off and think long and hard about what you’ve done, they’re 15-3 and likewise third in the NBA in net rating over that span.And Durant is making it happen by not sulking and by playing wondrous basketball. He’s averaging 30 points and shooting a career-best 56.3 per cent from the field, including 62.6 per cent on 2-point attempts. He’s adding 6.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.5 blocks per night while having played the fourth-most minutes in the NBA. At 34 years old, with a reattached Achilles. Durant’s true shooting percentage — adjusted for 3-pointers and free throws — of 67.3 is the 37th-best single-season mark in NBA history, behind a bunch of big men who didn’t shoot (including this season’s version on Nic Claxton) and one-off campaigns from Kyle Korver marksman types, and is unprecedented from a 30-a-night scorer. Again, he’s 34 years old.Durant’s superlative play amid this climb up the standings and the Nets’ relatively long ongoing stretch without needing to reset the days-since-last-controversy counter allows them to recite a comforting talking point about benefiting from a “focus on basketball.” The subtext of which is: See, our jobs are much easier without all the questions about our second-best player’s refusal to disavow anti-Semitism.But it’s not just the Nets who have emerged the better for not caving to Durant’s initial request and winning a round for The Man in the struggle against “player empowerment.”The Celtics and the Pelicans, two of the teams mentioned most frequently as possible destinations for Durant and therefore two teams that ultimately decided not to trade for him, are potential Finals teams enjoying excellent vibes. (The less said about the Raptors and Scottie Barnes, the better.)The Celtics are the consensus top team in the NBA, with a league-leading 25-10 record and advanced metrics that back it up. Jayson Tatum is the MVP of the world in which we forget about Nikola Jokic (maybe even one where we don’t), and Jaylen Brown — who would have been the centrepiece of the Nets’ return — is scoring 27 per night as his wingman.The Pelicans are the surprise of the league, vaulting to one game out of first place in the Western Conference and putting together a top-six offence and defence. Zion Williamson is mashing people. They’re deep, they’re young and they’re fun. And one of the draft picks they surely would have had to raid from their cupboard in a Durant deal? The Lakers’ 2023 unprotected first-round pick, which is currently seeded seventh in the lottery.– New York Post

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