The NBA star questioned the owner, called out a fellow player, forced the firing of a coach and general manager he once helped hire, and repeated a high-profile trade request to put the whole thing in a dirty public conversation.
Kevin Durant in Brooklyn unhappy in the summer of 2022?
It was Shaquille O’Neal in 2004. That’s why Miami Heat president Pat Riley can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t let go of what has become an ugly standoff inside the Brooklyn organization and an uncomfortable stalemate outside of it.
You ride that potential deal to see where it goes if you want a championship, and Riley has always stuck to that mandate.
It’s embarrassing for everyone, this holding scheme for Durant, especially for the likes of Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. Adebayo was a consummate professional and tireless performer, and now his name is being called an entitled star and he’s acting like a thin-skinned loser.
But then again, Durant today was O’Neal yesterday. Adebayo and Era could be a good bridge to tomorrow. The Heat should get the extremely talented Durant, as Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and an aging Brian Grant once did for O’Neal.
Riley asked a lot of questions about this trade at the time. Odom was one of those asking until Riley reminded him of the rare talent he received in return.
“I realized he had to do it,” Odom said.
O’Neal helped orchestrate the Heat’s first championship to end any questions about how it happened. But this is a question that every franchise must answer in one form or another:
Are you going to embrace the good with the hope that tomorrow will be great? Or are you going to grab the chance to be great today?
The Miami Dolphins have spent the past three seasons rebuilding for the upcoming season. It can be good. But do you see the problem with living too long tomorrow?
The latest five-year rebuild of the Florida Marlins is complete. How did it happen?
The Florida Panthers made a trade for Matthew Tkachuk that says they’re living in the moment next season. You can appreciate it. It only took two decades to reach this open window of opportunity.
The beauty of the Heat is that they try to win every season. Their philosophy is that if they don’t win — unless, say, they hit a Jimmy Butler three-pointer before the NBA Finals, like they did this year — they’ll figure it out next summer.
They are not alone in this. The Los Angeles Lakers just paid LeBron James $97 million over two years. The message was to trade draft picks and try to win now, tomorrow, hell.
Durant figures somewhere in this idea. There are all sorts of salary cap and contract issues here, but they start with this: Brooklyn doesn’t need to trade him before the season starts. So it’s quiet, very quiet around Durant, but there’s no reason for the Heat to leave this game.
Durant is 34 years old and could team up with Butler to provide the kind of firepower that fuels championships. Riley has filled the cracks on such lists before. Spoelstra devised a plan to make things work.
Maybe the Heat will stick around and not get Durant. Maybe the cost is too high or the contracts don’t work. But you don’t fold your cards when you’re Riley. You play the hand with such talent in the game.
The big picture is unclear because everyone is waiting, but that’s okay. There are no games this month. Or next month. You might want to wait to see where it goes because it might just go all the way to the championship.
Riley was so confident in O’Neal’s talent in 2004 that he offered to return to the Lakers and broker a peace between him and Kobe Bryant. Team owner Jerry Buss said that moment has passed.
So Riley brought O’Neal to Miami, and the result is a banner hanging from the rafters. That’s why if you’re Riley, you stick to Durant discussions.
You may not like him. Maybe you dream that this trade can work too. The question is, are you living in the moment to be great now, or are you just hoping that things will work out tomorrow?