Tsai on Durant desire

It didn’t take long for Nets owner Joe Tsai to show where he stood in the Kevin Durant soap opera. Following the future Hall of Famer’s me-or-them declaration, he disclosed in a tweet the other day that “[o]ur front office and coaching staff have my support. We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.” Which is to say he firmly stands behind general manager Sean Marks and head coach Steve Nash, his erstwhile top draw’s ultimatum notwithstanding.

Not that Tsai needed to say anything. After all, Durant is just about to enter the first of a four-year contract that will pay him a whopping $193 million. He wasn’t under the gun when he signed it last year. In fact, he declared himself fortunate to have latched on to a franchise that allowed him to recover from an Achilles injury for an entire season on its dime, and was then only too willing to be its face for the foreseeable future.

From Tsai’s perspective, the fact that the Nets are already actively seeking trade partners to grant Durant’s desire to change addresses is in and of itself a major concession. The only non-negotiable component of their extraordinary accommodation is the need for them to recoup at least part of their investment in him; so far, they have stuck to their refusal to accept pennies to the dollar for him.

The Nets’ position on any deal may change, of course, and not simply because nothing in pro hoops is etched in stone. That said, Tsai has made clear that retaining Durant cannot come at the expense of others. Marks is highly respected around the league, while Nash — for all the evident frailties — came on board sans any sideline experience precisely because of the 12-time All-Star’s support.

Even on a fundamental level, Tsai has no reason to accede to Durant’s latest demands. Were he to do so, he would effectively be signaling that the bank is open; there would then be no limit to the litany of commands coming his way. The absence of any incentive to bend backwards becomes more pronounced under the circumstances.

True, Tsai is taking a gamble by keeping Durant — and, yes, the similarly disgruntled Kyrie Irving — in the fold. There is considerable risk for any institution to continue tapping personalities who no longer want to stay, let alone be vital cogs. Even as he will have to cut cleanly at some point, the effectiveness and effectivity of the message he has sent cannot be discounted. Divorce may be imminent, but it will be on his terms, and in a manner least detrimental to the Nets.

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.