For three years, the Nets let Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving run the show in Brooklyn: Giving their friend DeAndre Jordan an oversized contract, then starting Jordan over a far superior at the time Jarrett Allen, pushing Kenny Atkinson out the door because Irving, in particular, was not a fan, trading away a container ship full of future picks to Houston for James Harden so they could have a big three, going back on their “no vaccine, no play” policy and bringing Irving in as a part-time player in part due to Durant’s wishes.
Then this summer, owner Joseph Tsai and GM Sean Marks suddenly decided that was too much and drew a somewhat arbitrary line in the sand. After three years. They did not give Irving the max extension he wanted, there were no trade options, so Irving opted in…
Durant has long had the confidence to take control of his career and steer it where he thought best, ignoring what the rest of the world said and thought (but occasionally getting feisty on Twitter about it). KD was blasted for going to the 73-win Warriors, was blasted for leaving the Warriors, and will get blasted for leaving the Nets. And he doesn’t really care. He’s doing what he sees as best for him.
What is next for Durant? He gave the Nets a list of a couple of teams where he would like to be traded, but with four years left on his contract, the Nets have leverage to find the best deal and send him there regardless. Every other team, all 29, should have a meeting about acquiring Durant. Well, make that 28. There is zero chance the Nets would send KD to the Knicks. But there will be offers from everywhere. Would the Laker offer Anthony Davis? The Clippers Paul George? The Timberwolves Karl-Anthony Towns? What about Utah and Donovan Mitchell (Rudy Gobert will not get it done)?
Where might Durant land? Here are five potential trade options for the Nets.
1) Phoenix Suns
The Suns have to be considered the frontrunners for two reasons: 1) Durant wants to go there, making the “will he be disruptive” question moot; 2) The Suns can send quality players back to help the Nets stay competitive — the Nets can’t just tank, they sent so many of their picks to Houston in the Harden trade there’s no value in tanking.
(As a side note: Houston may be the biggest winner in this Durant trade saga. Those Nets’ first-round picks from the Harden deal are far, far more valuable now than they were days ago, either as trade chips or picks the Rockets keep. With Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Houston has already set up a nice young core, one the Brooklyn picks are just going to add to.)
The baseline of a Suns trade is pretty straightforward: A sign-and-trade of Deandre Ayton, packaged with Mikal Bridges and two or three future first-round picks (the Suns own all their picks). That keeps the Nets competitive and gives them a foundation to build on (Ayton and Ben Simmons together means there will never be enough shooting on the court, but deal with that another day).
It’s not that simple a deal because a sign-and-trade for Ayton hard caps the Nets just above the luxury tax line, plus Ayton has base year compensation rules going out the door (his salary only counts for half in the trade what it will be on the books). It makes things more complex, but it can be worked out if the Nets shed some other salary and other players are added to the deal (Royce O’Neal, you didn’t think you were going to stay a Net, did you?). This can work.
The Suns are the most logical trade for Durant. KD is on a contender with Devin Booker and Chris Paul, the Nets are still pretty good with a base to build from, and the trade lines up fairly smoothly. But, of course, nothing with the Nets follows logic, and Robert Sarver could Robert Sarver this thing, so we’ll keep looking at other options.
2) Miami Heat
The other team on Durant’s two-team trade list, but this trade forces the Heat to ask themselves a hard question:
Would they trade Jimmy Butler for Durant?
The Nets can’t trade for Bam Adebayo because the CBA prevents them from having two “designated rookies” (guys on max five-year extensions of their rookie contracts) acquired via trade. The Nets already have Ben Simmons, so to get Adebayo they would need to deal Simmons, and good luck trading Simmons right now. If the Heat want to hold on to Butler and Adebayo, then it is a Tyler Herro-based package, and that’s not good enough.
It comes back to Butler, the guy who is the embodiment of the Heat culture but who also is older and, because of his style of play, is prone to physically break down at points. (For the record, Durant is 34 and had an Achilles tear; how much he can play during a season is also up for debate.) The bottom line is Durant is a better player than Butler, but would the Heat do it? With Butler in the trade, it’s not that hard to construct with picks and other players.
3) Toronto Raptors
You don’t think the Raptors would trade a chunk of their future to bring in a superstar who doesn’t really want to be there and will force his way out, just to make a run at a ring? We’d like you to meet Kawhi Leonard.
The Raptors have maybe the best trade packages to keep the Nets competitive and they can do it a couple of ways: Do they send out Rookie of the year Scottie Barnes or All-NBA Pascal Siakam with OG Anunoby and a series of first-round picks? Gary Trent Jr. can be subbed out for Anunoby if the Nets prefer. Other players would be part of this trade, but the bottom line is the Nets would get versatile, long, two-way players to pair with Ben Simmons and still be competitive.
The Raptors would have Durant, Fred VanVleet, Siakam or Barnes (whoever they don’t trade) and a group of good role players, with the most creative coach in the league in Nick Nurse. They would be title contenders. At least until Durant forced his way out in a year or two.
4) New Orleans Pelicans
Would the Nets be open to Brandon Ingram, Devonte' Graham, and a lot of picks (maybe Herbert Jones and his defense gets thrown in), or do they want newly maxed-out Zion Williamson in the trade? Would the Pelicans be willing to put Zion in the trade? While New Orleans hasn’t gotten a lot out of Zion yet, there is a Joel Embiid entering his second contract potential there — when he plays he’s otherworldly. The sense here is the Pels would want to keep Zion.
CJ McCollum with Durant and Zion — plus role players such as Larry Nance Jr., Jonas Valanciunas and others — is a threat to come out of the West. There would be a big bet on the New Orleans training staff keeping everyone healthy (especially if it’s Zion and Durant together) but it’s interesting.
For the Nets, this trade only makes sense if they are willing to make a bet on Zion, but if they are a Zion and Ben Simmons core is interesting (no floor spacing, but still interesting). If the deal is Ingram, does he fit well with Simmons? I don’t see this working out.
5) Memphis Grizzlies
Ja Morant and Kevin Durant together? Yes please.
There is zero chance the Grizzlies put Morant on the table, making the deal something like Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, three future firsts, and some pick swaps. Maybe if the Grizzlies say that Nets management can eat free at Rendezvous Ribs for the rest of their lives this deal gets closer. Maybe.
This is a long shot, it isn’t a great deal for the Nets, but the potential of Morant and Durant together means the Grizzlies have to try.