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Split is inevitable

If there’s anything pro hoops fans now see that they didn’t seem to grasp at the start of free agency, it’s that the Nets will not be forced to make a decision on their two stars any second less than they deem fit. Kevin Durant’s trade request and Kyrie Irving’s overstayed welcome notwithstanding, the black and gray will take their time to assess the lay of the land in gauging the extent of the interest for their assets. They know how much others want their top dog; half the National Basketball Association has already contacted them, and they’ve signified their intent to insist on a bumper crop of warm bodies in exchange. Ditto their other marquee name, whose mercurial nature may have depressed his trade value, but who nonetheless counts among the 15 best in the league.

At this point, the Nets have put out the message that they will be patient throughout the process. It doesn’t matter that they themselves cannot wait to start the requisite rebuilding; inculcating a strong organizational culture takes time, and they know that the earlier they build the foundation, the better. That said, they have resolved not to be forced by circumstance to accept pennies to the dollar. And, to this end, historic trades of previous Hall of Famers are as instructive as that of Rudy Gobert this week. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year awardee is nowhere near Durant’s exclusive area code, and yet was exchanged for four rotation regulars and four first-round draft picks.

True, the Nets’ negotiating position has been eroded by their stars’ publicly stated desire to leave. Even as they insist they can keep Durant (signed for four more years) and Irving (who opted in for another season) on the roster, there’s cause to argue that they will no longer see their highest-paid players burning rubber for them. Meanwhile, those casting a moist eye on the generational talents can simply wait for the right time to pounce. The split is inevitable; it’s a matter of when, not if.

Make no mistake. The Nets are doing the right thing. They’ve reached the point of no return with Durant and Irving, but their standing is not helped by years of coddling they abetted. They’re compelled to operate in an environment where the real power lies with the very players they want to be rid of. So, yes, they’ll still be paying for their follies long after the smoke has cleared. And, yes, they need look no further than the mirror to see who to blame.

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.

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