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Kevin Durant’s demands leave Nets looking like NBA joke once again

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The Brooklyn Nets absolutely deserve this no-ring circus, and every absurd sideshow that defines it. They deserve to be universally mocked after Kevin Durant followed up his trade demand with a vicious put-back dunk — one call for the firing of the general manager who hired him, and another for the head coach he got hired.

In May, Sean Marks and Steve Nash announced in a news conference that it was time to dump their culture of superstar appeasement in favor of the old one, under deposed coach Kenny Atkinson, of player development and organic team-centric growth. Over the weekend, The Athletic reported, Durant announced in a London meeting with Nets owner Joe Tsai that it was time to dump Marks and Nash in favor of replacements capable of driving a championship-level roster to a more desirable postseason location than a first-round sweep.

Durant has reportedly made these terminations the terms of his re-engagement, his only road back to Brooklyn, and on a certain level Tsai might feel tempted  — despite tweeting out his support for the front office and coaching staff — to give him what he wants. After all, KD is better at his job than Marks and Nash are at theirs, and in a cold, cold business, a question needs to be asked: Who gives you a better chance to finally win a championship, Durant with a new head coach and GM, or Marks/Nash with whatever assets the Nets acquire in a KD deal?

They call the NBA a players league for a reason. Basketball has fewer players in the arena than football, baseball, and hockey, adding more value to the individual juggernaut who can control the ball on nearly every possession. Durant will go down among the top dozen or so all-time NBA greats, and even with his injury history at an opening-night age of 34, there really is no replacing him.

Nets
Steve Nash and Kevin Durant
Corey Sipkin

On the other hand, Durant has proved to be a less effective GM than Marks and one who shouldn’t be making personnel decisions. As we’ve written before, KD executed one of the worst trades in league history when he exchanged Steph Curry and Golden State’s winning DNA for Kyrie Irving and a whole lot of problems to be named later. Had Durant stayed with Curry and the Warriors, he ultimately would’ve won more rings than LeBron James’ four and climbed another step or three on the legacy ladder.

But Durant wanted to prove he could build his own winner, with Irving by his side, and what a colossal miscalculation it’s been. Nobody blames the Nets for doing what they had to do to beat the Knicks and others in the free-agent race for Durant and Irving in the summer of 2019. Smart people do blame them for taking on DeAndre Jordan at $40 million, for axing Atkinson, and for shipping out nearly their entire development system for 13 high-maintenance months of James Harden as part of the price of doing business with KD and Kyrie.

“The Nets should be fined by the league if they ever use the word ‘culture’ again,” said one prominent NBA source.

Of course, the Nets had already exposed their soulless core when they caved on their initial COVID stance with the unvaccinated Irving, all in pursuit of on-court victories that wouldn’t come.

Tsai and Marks have found out the hard way that once you turn over your business to the talent, there’s no getting it back. Durant hadn’t even started playing on his four-year extension worth nearly $200 million before he told the Nets he wanted to be somewhere else. Right after Irving opted in, Durant opted out. Though he pushed for his buddy Nash, a man with no coaching experience, to get the Nets job two years ago, KD now believes Nash has little idea what he’s doing. Beautiful.

After the Celtics swept his team in April, Durant was asked if he believed Nash was still “the right guy to lead this group.” With a dose of incredulity he responded, “I mean, come on man. Like, yeah, Steve has been dealt a crazy hand the last two years, when he’s had to deal with so much stuff as a head coach, a first-time coach. Trades, injuries, COVID, just a lot of stuff he had to deal with, and I’m proud of how he just focused on his passion for us. And we’ll all continue to keep developing over the summer and see what happens.”

Nets
Sean Marks
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

We all know what happened since that response. The Warriors won another championship, beating the same team in the Finals that had embarrassed the Nets, and Durant decided to lash out. He realized that Brooklyn was a million miles away from legitimate title contention — in large part because of deals and hires he notarized — and he wanted to get to a team that could cut off Golden State’s advance on more rings. No, he needed to get to a team that could cut off Golden State’s advance on more rings.

Durant eventually realized the Nets’ asking price in a trade is so high, any team that lands him will be too depleted to win it all. So in a brutally hot summer, he turned up the heat on Tsai by telling him he’d return if the owner makes Marks and Nash disappear.

Durant is trying to will a trade into existence. In the process, he has left the Nets looking like the kind of league-wide joke they often were in the bad ol’ days in Jersey.

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Rangers blow another multi-goal lead in alarming loss to Devils

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Devils fans showed up in numbers to Madison Square Garden on Monday night to see it. 

Their flourishing, Metropolitan-leading Devils marched into enemy territory, winners of 15 of their last 16 games, to take on the slipping Rangers in a battle for power after years of simmering in their shadow. Their team did not disappoint, but the Rangers did, as they allowed another multi-goal lead to vanish in an alarm-bell-sounding 5-3 loss — their third in a row. 

The Rangers had won nine of their last 10 games against the Devils dating back to March 4, 2021, and had gone 14-6 since 2018-19. This was a Devils team that the Rangers finished 47 points ahead of last season, when they reached the Eastern Conference final while their counterparts across the Hudson watched the postseason from afar for a fourth straight year. 

Two things are for certain after this game: The Devils are no joke and the Rangers are in a predicament. 

The Devils rallied from two goals down to beat the Rangers on Monday.
Robert Sabo

“We’ve got to turn it around,” head coach Gerard Gallant said. “Tonight was a good night to try and turn it around with the team that we were playing: a young team but they play hard, they play fast. I wouldn’t say that they’re the surprise team of the year, but they look really good and they play hard. 

“[Devils head coach] Lindy [Ruff] has done a good job with that team. They’ve got a lot of confidence and they’re playing the right way.” 

It’s not just the Rangers’ turnovers, which there have been plenty of in recent games, but how those mistakes always seem to end up in the back of the net one way or another. The Rangers are paying for it almost every time. That may be a testament to some bad puck luck, but also to goalie Igor Shesterkin’s drop-off from supernatural goaltender to just a good goaltender. 

Rangers
Devils center Michael McLeod (20) reacts after he rebounds the puck and scores a goal pass New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin.
Robert Sabo

Shesterkin put all of the blame on himself after the loss, saying that he played “a s–t game” and that he’s “ashamed.” The Russian netminder stopped 33 of the 37 shots he faced, but it’s the goals the reigning Vezina Trophy-winner never surrendered last season that are likely weighing on his mind. 

“Every goal is [an] easy play for me,” he said without the help of translator. “I have to stop those. If our team wants to win the game, I have to play better.” 

The Rangers blew their second multi-goal lead in as many games, but it all went down in the opening 20 minutes instead of the final frame — as was the case in their third-period collapse against the Oilers on Saturday. 

After Artemi Panarin snapped a 12-game streak without a goal off an odd-man rush with Filip Chytil less than a minute and a half into the game, Devils goalie Vitek Vanecek fumbled a Jacob Trouba shot and Mika Zibanejad jammed home the rebound to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead roughly three minutes after the initial puck dropped. 

A two-goal deficit didn’t faze the Devils in the slightest. Their confidence with the puck never wavered, and the visitors finessed their way back into the game even before the first period ended on goals from Tomas Tatar and Yegor Sharangovich. 

Rangers
Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) celebrates with Rangers center Filip Chytill after he scores a goal.
Robert Sabo

Fans in red chirped their signature ‘Woo’s!’, which multiply when a game is leaning heavily in their favor, as their team ripped the game away from the Rangers. 

“It feels great to beat the Rangers,” Devils captain Nico Hischier told reporters. 

It wasn’t until there was 6:42 left in regulation that Vincent Trocheck made it a one-goal game for the Rangers, who failed to capitalize on any of their four man-advantage opportunities in the final 20 minutes. The Devils still closed them out — with Sharangovich adding an empty-netter for good measure — despite getting outshot 17-5 in the final frame. 

There was a shift that unfolded on the Garden ice Monday night. The Rangers were on the wrong end of it.

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Joe Harris provides Nets with Kevin Durant backup in win over Magic

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The Nets have gotten huge nights from Kevin Durant before this season. 

This time, they didn’t squander it and pulled out a 109-102 escape against woebegone Orlando before a crowd of 15,704 at Barclays Center that serenaded Durant with chants of ‘M-V-P!’ 

And who was to argue? Certainly not the Magic, beaten by his brilliance and machine-like efficiency. 

Durant poured in a season-high 45 points Monday, doing it on 19-for-24 shooting. But after the Nets had lost his two 37-point outings against Memphis and Dallas, this time they got some timely stops and a breakout from struggling Joe Harris. 

“Just keep playing within the flow, because — respectfully — I feel like I’m always on. I feel like I always, even if I’m not making shots that night, I feel like my jump shot is always sharp,” Durant said. “So I just got to see how the game has been played, see how the defense is being played, what my teammates are doing as well. It’s a lot to think about out there, but it’s a fun mental game that I play.” 

Durant out-thought and outwitted Orlando (5-16) all night. 

Joe Harris came into Monday night ice cold, but broke out to the tune of a season-high 17 points against the Magic.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST Photo

Kyrie Irving added 20 points, and Nic Claxton had 17 with 13 rebounds. But the biggest help may have come from Harris, who’d been mired in an awful 3-for-24 shooting skid the prior four games but broke out with 17 points. 

All were left suitably awed by Durant — not for the first time. 

“Oh yeah, all the time,” Irving said. “All the time. I think it’s a natural reaction when you’re seeing something special occur in front of you. You do your best to still be engaged, but it’s hard not to just stare and just watch somebody that special and talented. We know what he’s capable of, but when he shows his talent … it’s definitely an honor to be a part of. Grateful to be his teammate. 

“Super efficient, bailing us out a lot of times on possessions. And when he’s got it going like that, we don’t want to force him the ball, but we definitely want to let him work. … I feel like we still could do more as teammates, but he carried us.” 

The Nets trailed by double digits, down 28-18 with 3:14 left in the first on a 3-pointer by spindly Bol Bol. But they clawed back into it, leading by one at the break. 

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) drives against Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner
The Nets didn’t let Kevin Durant go at it alone against Orlando.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST Photo

Durant poured in 19 points in a third quarter that saw the Nets outscore the Magic 35-25, shooting 60 percent and 5 of 9 from behind the arc. 

“That’s not my first time, it won’t be my last. He’s arguably the best player in the world. Brings it night in and night out, competes on both ends. And [this] was special performance,” said Harris. 

Trailing 53-52 after a Gary Harris finger roll, Durant edged the Nets ahead. 

The Nets were clinging to a 77-76 lead with 2:53 left in the third, before Durant punctuated a 10-0 run. His midrange pull-up padded the cushion to 11 with 38 seconds left in the third, and they managed to hold Orlando at bay in the fourth to reach 11-11 on the season. 

“We got so close and we ended up falling two games under .500,” Durant said. “So just wanted to … it’s a little milestone we wanted to achieve in the early season, and definitely was motivated to come out here on our home floor and get back to .500. 

“Every game we play at home is so important because we want to keep our friends engaged and keep them supporting us through just having a good product out on the court, which is playing hard, playing together. We want guys to feel comfortable in our home arena when they take shots. So it’s a lot on the line when we play at home. And we want to take advantage of those opportunities.”

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Igor Shesterkin ashamed of his play in latest Rangers loss: ‘S–t game again’

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The Rangers’ mistakes have been costly — exasperating even — given the fact that they aren’t getting the same otherworldly saves from Igor Shesterkin as they did a season ago.

There’s no question the Russian netminder is still at the heart of this team, but it is not to the degree that it was during his Vezina Trophy-winning season of 2021-22. Such has been apparent for much of the Rangers’ start to the season, and even more so in their disheartening 5-3 loss to the scalding Devils, who erased a two-goal deficit and hung four goals on Shesterkin to pick up their 16th win in their last 17 games.

“The goalie played a s–t game again,” Shesterkin said, referring to himself, without the help of a translator. “I’m ashamed.”

Devils fans in attendance Monday night at Madison Square Garden even felt confident enough to taunt Shesterkin, echoing his name throughout the lower bowl as he gave up three goals on 15 shots at one point before ultimately allowing four on 37. Shesterkin insinuated that he felt he should’ve had every goal he yielded, saying they were “easy plays for me.”

The Devils’ Jack Hughes scores a goal past New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin.
Robert Sabo

“I feel so bad,” Shesterkin said. “I’m playing so bad, so I’m ashamed. If our team wants to win the game, I have to play better.”

This is a player who is not only the reigning goalie of the year, but a Hart Trophy finalist from last season. If the Rangers can’t get the same results without Shesterkin playing up to those standards, it could be detrimental for the club.

Gerard Gallant and the rest of the Rangers obviously aren’t letting Shesterkin take all of the heat — especially after how important he was to all their success last season. When asked if he sees Shesterkin as part of the Rangers’ problem, the Rangers head coach assumed the blame on the entire team.

“The team is the problem,” he said bluntly. “The whole group of us. Coaches, the whole group. We’ve got to turn it around.”

Rangers
Devils center Michael McLeod (20) scores a goal past New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin.
Robert Sabo

The Rangers lined up against the Devils the same way as they did in practice on Sunday, with Jimmy Vesey slotting back onto the top line alongside Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. Filip Chytil stepped in as the No. 2 center next to Artemi Panarin with Kaapo Kakko on the right side.

Vincent Trocheck dropped down to the third line in between Alexis Lafreniere and Barclay Goodrow, while the fourth line of Sammy Blais, Ryan Carpenter and Julien Gauthier remained intact.

The only change on defense was, once again, Zac Jones replacing Libor Hajek on the left side of the bottom pair next to Braden Schneider. The two young blueliners have alternated the last three games.

Vitali Kravtsov was also scratched for the eighth consecutive game. The Russian winger hasn’t played in 18 days, partially due to the tooth infection/stomach bug that came about after his last appearance on Nov. 10 in Detroit.


The Devils were without Nathan Bastian, who was knocked out of the team’s previous game against the Capitals in the first period after absorbing a hard hit from T.J. Oshie. The 24-year-old winger sustained an upper-body injury and was sidelined for just the second game this season.

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