Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant (7) looks to drive against Chicago...

Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant (7) looks to drive against Chicago Bulls' Coby White (0) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in Chicago. Credit: AP/Paul Beaty

The Nets took their shot, and it was an air ball.

After 3 1⁄2 years filled with hope and hype, their bold gambit to create a superteam in Brooklyn came apart once and for all on Thursday.

The Nets announced shortly before their 116-105 home victory over the Bulls that they had traded Kevin Durant to the Suns.

So the Big 3 of Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden have taken their talents elsewhere.

“It didn’t work, let’s be honest there,” general manager Sean Marks said. “We did not reach the full potential of where we thought we could get to, our hopes and honestly beliefs.”

Irving was traded to the Mavericks on Monday. Harden was traded to the 76ers last February.

Net result for the Nets: One playoff series victory — over Boston in the first round in 2021 — and a roller coaster of injuries and angst.

The Nets did get real assets back for Durant and T.J. Warren, including first-round Suns draft picks in 2023, ’25, ’27 and ’29. (The teams also will swap picks in 2028.)

The Nets also got a solid two-way player in Mikal Bridges, plus Jae Crowder, whom they quickly flipped to the Bucks, and Cam Johnson.

As part of what technically was a four-way trade, the Nets got second-round picks from the Bucks in 2028 and ’29 and draft rights to guard Juan Pablo Vaulet from the Pacers.

“Had a chance to coach one of the greatest players to ever play the game of basketball,” coach Jacque Vaughn said after the Nets’ victory in their first game post-Durant. “To see his love for the game, to see the way he worked every single day on his game, pretty impressive.”

Spencer Dinwiddie, who arrived in the trade for Irving, scored 25 points in his first game back with the Nets. Cam Thomas scored 20, shooting 3-for-16 after three straight ames with at least 43. The Nets (33-22) outscored the Bulls (26-29) by 16 points (37-21) in the fourth quarter.

Asked about the end of the Durant/Irving era, Dinwiddie said, “I don’t think you have any regrets because you go all-in on a championship.”

The Nets now must rebuild, using their draft assets and some quality young talent that Marks said could be the foundation of a bright near future.

“This is not a total retool,” he said.

The Nets still have the enigmatic Ben Simmons, obtained in the trade for Harden.

Marks took the high road in discussing Durant and Irving and wished them well. He didn’t go into specifics about the timing of Durant’s wish to leave or if it was tied to Irving’s departure.

He did say that when the deal with the Suns came together in the wee hours of Thursday morning, “I’ll be honest, last night I was sad.”

He added, “Look, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s always difficult when you’re trading a player of that stature and that ilk. It’s very difficult.

“My job as a GM and our job as a front office is to try and bring in that caliber of talent. Those decisions are not easy.”

When Durant and Irving came to Brooklyn in the summer of 2019, it seemed as if they were destined for greatness — even more so when Harden joined them in January 2021.

It never worked, in part because of injuries to all three of the Big 3 at various points, in part because of the drama that forever hovered around Irving.

The three played in 16 games together, going 13-3.

Durant and Irving seemed to be on their ways out of town last summer, but absent viable alternatives, both stayed in Brooklyn.

The Nets played well at times this season, at one point winning 18 of 20 games and peaking at 14 games over .500.

Then Durant hurt his knee in Miami on Jan. 8 and Irving later got hurt feelings when he and the Nets could not agree on a long-term contract extension.

The Suns were one of the teams that Durant pondered leaving for last summer.

“We felt this was the right time, and Kevin agreed, too,” Marks said.

Even though he expressed optimism about the team, Marks said it is “tough” when asked what he would tell fans who bought tickets expecting more.

Irving made his debut for the Mavericks on Wednesday night, after which he was told of the Durant trade. “I’m just glad that he got out of there,” Irving said.

Asked about Irving’s assertion that he had wanted out of Brooklyn since after his first Nets season, Marks simply said there were things all concerned could have done better.

The Durant trade came hours after new Suns majority owner Mat Ishbia was introduced. He did not waste time making a splash.

With Durant, Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton on board, the Suns figure to make a run at their first NBA championship.

The closest the Nets came to glory in the Durant/Irving era was an overtime loss to the Bucks in Game 7 of the second round of the ’21 playoffs.

Durant nearly won that game in regulation but his foot barely crossed the three-point line, forcing him to settle for a two-point basket and the Nets to settle for an extra period before losing.

Pressed on why he did not simply wait until summer to trade Durant, Marks said, “More important is to realize what Kevin did for this franchise and to thank him. Without a doubt, he’ll be missed.”


Nets get: 

F Mikal Bridges

F Cam Johnson

F Jae Crowder*

Four first-round picks ('23, '25, '27 and '29) and 2028 pick swap

Suns get:

Kevin Durant

T.J. Warren

*Traded to Bucks for two second-round picks

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