Celtics, Heat, Raptors: Breaking down three leading Durant trade options

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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.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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.

Presumptive No.1 pick Wembanyama set to make stateside debut

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson have been linked constantly over the last couple years, with just about every prognosticator anointing them as the top two picks in the 2023 NBA draft.

Thing is, they don’t know each other.

That’s about to change. Wembanyama – officially listed at 7-foot-2 but scouts often say more like 7-foot-4 – and the Paris-based club Metropolitans 92 are in Las Vegas to take on Henderson and the G League Ignite in a pair of exhibitions, the first on Tuesday and the second on Thursday.

“We’re playing against an NBA team, with NBA rules, on an NBA court,” Wembanyama said Monday. “This is really going to be a first for me. I’m curious to know how it’s going to go. I know it’s going to go well, but I’m still curious.”

Victor vs. Scoot. Scoot vs. Victor. They’re not playing 1-on-1, but they are the clear headliners and the reasons why these first-of-their-kind games were put together.

Wembanyama is listed as a center but plays all over the floor with guard skills in a big-man frame; Henderson is a point guard who has been getting tons of attention for years.

“Out of all the prospects I’ve heard about in our class, I think he’s my favorite one,” Wembanyama said. “I think he’s the most reliable that I’ve seen. He’s really a great player. If I was never born, I think he would deserve the first spot.”

Henderson – a five-star recruit from Georgia who signed with the Ignite last year and played in 10 games – sees these two games as an opportunity, downplaying the 1-on-1 storyline.

“People always try to compare and contrast whoever. I don’t look at it like that,” Henderson said. “I look at it as two good ballplayers.”

The Ignite program exists to develop young prospects in preparation for the NBA Draft, mixing them with veteran talent to help guide them along the way. It has featured three eventual top-10 picks – Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga last year, Dyson Daniels this year – in its first two seasons.

Henderson is a huge draw for the Ignite this year. The Ignite also have Shareef O'Neal, the son of Shaquille O’Neal. But much of what the Ignite would ordinarily be doing right now would be barely noticed nationally; hence, the games against Wembanyama were put together.

The Los Angeles Lakers are playing in Las Vegas this week, a pair of preseason matchups against Phoenix and Minnesota. Wembanyama is going to those as a fan; he’ll have a slightly different view of NBA games next season.

“He’s one of those type of players, honestly, where you say like there’ll never be like another Shaq or there’ll never be another that,” Ignite coach Jason Hart said. “He’s that. You’ll never see another one of those. The scouting report on him is tough. … I’m honored that I’m getting to play him at 18, because at 24, he’s going to be something different.”

Wembanyama has been a pro for three seasons already, spending last season with ASVEL in France – a club owned by San Antonio Spurs legend Tony Parker. He made the decision this year to join Metropolitans in part to be coached by Vincent Collet, who also coaches the French national team.

Collet is welcoming the chance.

“I think he’s the best prospect we’ve ever had in our league,” Collet said. “He’s amazing, not only by his size, but incredible skills. Despite that, he still needs to learn the game. He’s very young. … We will try to give him this experience. That’s the deal we have together, him and me. We want to give him the experience before he gets to the league. It’s most important to get him ready for what will follow next year.”

Watch Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard score first buckets in returns

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It’s only preseason. But if you’ve sat out an entire season with an ACL injury,  just getting on the court feels like a milestone.

And getting your first bucket back feels memorable.

That happened for the Nuggets Jamal Murray and the Clippers Kawhi Leonard on Monday night.

For Murray, the bucket came on a corner 3 in transition.

Murray also showed flashes he’s getting his handle and wiggle back, something that made him a great fit with Nikola Jokic.

Leonard wasted no time, scoring the Clippers’ first bucket by lulling his defender to sleep and then shooting the pull-up 3.

I feel we’re going to see a lot more of that this season.

The NBA is just better with these two back on the court.

 

Cavaliers Evan Mobley out 1-2 weeks with sprained ankle

2022-23 Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
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The Cleveland Cavaliers might have the best frontcourt in the East this season with All-Star Jarrett Allen and the emerging star Evan Mobley, but it may be a few weeks before we see them together.

Mobley is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right ankle, the Cavaliers announced a couple of days before their preseason opener. Mobley stepped on a teammate’s foot and rolled his ankle during practice, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Mobley, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in his first campaign, but his more significant impact was on the defensive end. Mobley earned All-Defensive Team consideration as a rookie — an incredibly rare feat — and with Allen formed an impressive backstop for teams trying to drive the paint.

Reports out of Cavaliers training camp rave about the improvements made in Mobley’s offensive game, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see that for ourselves now. Mobley, with a more consistent face-up game and jumper, has the potential to develop into a top 15, maybe even top-10 player in the league. The Cavaliers are banking on the young core of Mobley, Allen, Darius Garland and the just acquired Donovan Mitchell to be able to take the team far in the next few years, with Mobley’s improvement key to just how far they can go.

It sounds like Mobley will be good to go for the start of the season.

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

Karl-Anthony Towns Offseaon Workout
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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that, there were not a lot of details other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about whatever illness he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time, and it is his call to talk about.

Towns has been sidelined before by illness, including COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.