Kevin Durant still wants to be traded out of Brooklyn. Nets owner Joe Tsai backed his coach and GM over Durant-desired shake-up, continuing down a path of feeling he needs to take back control of his franchise culture.
In many ways, this leaves us exactly where we were before Tsai and Durant met in London: Durant’s trade request will be granted. Eventually. However, the market is not offering what the Nets see as a fair price for an MVP-level player (when healthy) under contract for four more years, especially considering where the Rudy Gobert trade set the market. Other teams see the asking price as too steep and have not gotten in a bidding war (and third teams aren’t jumping in to facilitate a deal). The Nets are being patient. With training camps not opening until Sept. 27, there is little pressure on either side to get a deal done today (or in the near future). There are questions about whether Durant will show up to training camp if not traded yet, but both sides are now clear about where this story arc is headed.
The big question now isn’t whether a team ups its offer or the Nets lower their demands to get a deal done (or, a little of both), but rather what team?
Boston, Miami, and Toronto are the three teams Shams Charania of The Athletic mentioned in the story that broke the Durant/Tsai meeting news. That’s not an accident. They are the three frontrunners, let’s break down their chances.
THE BOSTON CELTICS
If you connect the dots, this appears to be where Durant sees his best future now, even if Boston was not on his original two-team list of destinations (Miami and Phoenix). Every anonymously leaked story — as Charania’s story on the Durant/Tsai meeting was sourced — comes from someone talking to a reporter because they want to control the spin. I don’t know who Charania’s source (or sources) is, but reading it and looking at the phrasings, much of it clearly comes out of the Durant camp. This is where we start connecting the dots: 1) The phrasing “Boston’s package centering around All-Star forward Jaylen Brown is seen as a viable deal” suggests the Durant camp thinks offers are not getting much better than that; 2) A discussion of how well Durant gets along with Celtics coach Ime Udoka, going back to their Team USA days, was added at the end of the story.
Those aren’t just throw-away lines. That’s not how a well-sourced Charania writes, especially when he can’t just come out and say something directly. This sounds like the Durant camp recognizing the best offer on the table can land the star on a title contender in Boston.
The question is which Celtics offer is “viable.” The Nets reportedly offered Brown, Derrick White and a first-round pick. The Nets allegedly countered by asking for Brown, Marcus Smart and more picks — Brooklyn has said it wants to get every asset it can in this deal. There was some back-and-forth (we don’t know the Celtics’ final offer) but Smart proved to be more than the Celtics seemed willing to surrender.
Boston’s biggest question: Should they trade Brown for Durant at all? The Celtics are a top-tier contender already, an NBA Finalist last season who upgraded with the additions of Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari. On the one hand, if Durant is healthy, he is an upgrade over Brown, providing an elite scorer and shot creator next to Jayson Tatum, plus KD plays solid defense. With him, Boston is the clear title favorite.
On the other hand, Brown is 25 and Durant is 34 — this trade shrinks the Celtics’ title window from five-to-seven years down to two-or-three, but if KD is healthy it opens the window wider for those years. If the Boston front office believes last season’s Finals run was not a fluke, should they get older or go with the guys they drafted and developed themselves?
THE MIAMI HEAT
It’s not a superstar trade scenario unless Miami is involved — Pat Riley is the ultimate big game hunter.
Miami came within a Jimmy Butler 3 of returning to the Finals last season after having the best record in the East — they are contenders, and with Durant title favorites. The problem in trading for Durant is the offer Miami can put together. Right now, that offer is, at its core, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, another player or two, and up to three first-round picks (to get to three they would have to work out a deal with Oklahoma City to loosen conditions on a 2025 first-rounder, but that is doable). Sources have told NBC Sports for a while the Nets are lukewarm on that Herro-based package. The Heat have hunted for other first-round picks to sweeten their offer,
Bam Adebayo is the wildcard. He would be the best player Brooklyn could get back in a Durant trade, but two things stand in the way. First, Miami hasn’t included him in any trade talks (and may never do so — they see Adebayo at the core of their post-Butler teams). Second, due to the Designated Rookie rule in the CBA — stating a team can’t have two players that they traded for on max extensions of their rookie contracts at the same time — Ben Simmons and Adebayo can’t both be on the Nets. The same Simmons who hasn’t stepped on the court in a year and forced his way out of Philly. If the Heat became willing to put Adebayo in a trade (and they may never go there), they would either need to take Simmons back in the deal, or find a third team that would welcome him.
Adebayo being offered in a deal is highly unlikely, which brings us back to the Herro/Robinson trade package and the Nets shrugging.
THE TORONTO RAPTORS
Toronto can put together a serious trade offer based around Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and multiple first-round picks. One can argue that Siakam is an upgrade over Brown (he has an All-NBA season averaging 22.8 points and 8.5 rebounds a game), but Siakam is also three years older. Still, that is a substantial offer.
What the Nets have wanted is reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes back in a Durant trade. Masai Ujiri and the Raptors have shot that down and kept him out of trade talks. So far. If that changes the Raptors can jump to the top of the Durant sweepstakes.
Toronto has been down this road before, trading fan favorite DeMar DeRozan to rent Kawhi Leonard — and it paid off with a banner. Would the Raptors try to catch lightning like that again? How long would Durant be happy in Toronto? The Raptors have a legitimate offer.
Not included in the big three above was the other team on Durant’s initial wish list, the Phoenix Suns. Since they matched the offer sheet and kept Deandre Ayton (who now can’t be traded until Jan. 15), they took themselves out of the Durant running. Technically, Phoenix can offer Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, and a couple of other young players for KD, but that package is far below the others on the table. The Suns are out.
No, a Warriors reunion with Durant is not happening. It’s not even worth discussing.
New Orleans lurks in the shadows of the Durant trade talks, and if they included Brandon Ingram in an offer they could get serious consideration. So far, the Pelicans have not offered up Ingram. There are likely two reasons for that. First, they want to see how good they can be with Ingram, CJ McCollum, and a healthy Zion Williamson. This is a well-built roster without KD and the Pelicans would like to see just what they have. Second, and maybe the more significant concern in the Big Easy: Even if they traded for Durant, how long could they keep him? Is Durant going to be happy in New Orleans? Even with the argument of a good basketball fit, it feels like this would end poorly and quickly. The Pels recognize that.