After six weeks of hot air, we’re right back where we started. Kevin Durant isn’t getting traded this summer. Move along, nothing to see here.
So, uh… now what? And by the way, how did we end up here again?
In the end, I don’t think the Rudy Gobert trade was what made it so hard for Brooklyn to move Durant. Yes, the fact that Minnesota was willing to (over)pay so much for Gobert was a complicating factor, one that stoked the Nets to start negotiations by asking for the moon.
But ultimately, the real issue was that the Nets weren’t willing to rebuild. Trading Durant would have been relatively uncomplicated if the Nets had similar goals to the Jazz, looking to max out on draft equity while sacrificing short-term wins. Alas, with Houston owning the Nets’ next five drafts, that option was never realistic. Even a one-year tank, which I alluded to earlier this summer, would have been a difficult dance step to execute.
Instead, Brooklyn wanted to remain competitive, and how exactly do you do that while trading a 33-year-old All-Star at the same time? As it turns out, you don’t. The only way was to ask for somebody almost as good as Durant plus a whole bunch of other goodies on top, and nobody came close to meeting that price. Forget teams trading their best player for Durant. The only team we know of that was willing to trade its second best player was boston. Once the Nets deemed Jaylen Brown an insufficient return, there was no chance of a trade.
With no clear pathway to joining another contending team and a holdout looming as his only leverage point, Durant made peace with the Nets in a not-awkward-at-all meeting with the coach and GM whose firing he recently demanded. He’ll be a Brooklyn Net this year after all…
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) August 23, 2022
… Or will he? This isn’t necessarily over, of course; we’ve seen too many Dwightmares rekindle from embers to declare this fire extinguished. But for the purposes of the 2022 offseason, the biggest domino just fell. There will be no Durant trade, at least until Deandre Ayton is trade-eligible in January (ducks).
In turn, that means a lot of NBA business that had been locked in a holding pattern until a Durant trade can now be completed. Several teams had pressed pause on any potential move while they waited to see how the Durant saga played out, including the Nets. With that out of the way, some of the rest of the summer’s unfinished business may regain momentum between now and the opening of training camps in five weeks.
Here are a few things to keep your eye on as the days get shorter:
The Kyrie Irving non situation
The biggest knock-on consequence of Durant burying the hatchet (after first removing it from his GM’s back) is that Irving is now all but certain to remain a Net as well. There had been consistent speculation that a Durant trade would also result in the Nets looking to move Irving, especially if they could get two unprotected first-round picks from the Lakers as part of the deal. That no longer appears to be on the table.
Irving’s long-term situation remains unsettled. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and while the Nets could potentially sign him to an extension to take that possibility off the table, they’ll likely want to see some tangible evidence of improved reliability from Irving before cutting that check . (For his part, Irving could make more money if he has an All-Star season and waits until summer.) As much as the Durant situation dominates the present, the Irving situation could become much more prominent for Brooklyn in the near future.
The Lakers’ Westbrook scenario
LA’s desperate attempt to move on from Russell Westbrook just got a lot more complicated. The price the market has demanded in virtually any Westbrook deal is the Lakers’ unprotected first-round picks in both 2027 and 2029. That was perhaps acceptable if Irving was coming back in return to reunite with LeBron James. For a non-All-Star, though, that’s a bitter pill to swallow.
Now, alas, the Lakers are looking at a field of available players who are much less scintillating than Irving. Does a combination of Buddy Hield and Myles Turner move the needle enough to justify the price of two unprotected firsts? (Narrator voice: No.) Is there some way to split the baby so that the Lakers only surrender one of those picks? Not likely with the paucity of assets on the rest of the roster.
It may be hard to stay patient with the candle burning out on LeBron James’ prime. However, it still seems from this corner that the Lakers’ best option is to ride with Russ until the trade deadline, as uncomfortable as that may be. By then, his expiring contract will likely be seen as less toxic, and thus the cost of moving it less onerous.
Nonetheless, expect the conversations to heat up in the coming days. Irving being off the table just put a lot of other options back on it.
Indiana and Utah fire sales
Speaking of the Pacers, the subtraction of the Durant endgame should kick a lot more spice into the trade action for the remaining quality veterans on their roster, as well as the Jazz’s. While Utah’s biggest domino (Donovan Mitchell) remains something of an obstacle in the case of the Jazz, there is no reason they should wait on his endgame before moving on deals to send out vets such as Bojan Bogdanović, Jordan Clarkson, Malik Beasley and Mike Conley.
Or … say, Patrick Beverley, whose name was in my first draft of this column before he was traded to the Lakers late Wednesday. That trade, for Talen Horton-Tucker and Stanley Johnson, was the first post-Durant domino to fall but seems like it might just be the beginning.
For instance, the Lakers might consider scenarios where they surrender something less than the two first-round picks noted above, along with Westbrook, to take back a package such as Bogdanović and Conley.
Miami’s quest for a power forward
As long as Durant mentioned Miami as a hoped-for landing spot, the Heat were at least going to keep their options open to acquire him. Durant also would have filled the most glaring hole on the roster, an empty spot at the four now that PJ Tucker left in free agency.
Subtracting Durant scenarios makes it more plausible the Heat might address this spot in another way, especially with the Duncan Robinson or Kyle Lowry contracts that would have been key to any Durant swap. It’s not hard to see the Heat and Jazz getting on the phone, for instance, to discuss Robinson for either Bogdanović or Beasley. The likely cost would be Miami’s 2023 first-round pick, which the Heat might be more willing to relinquish once Durant (and, um, Mitchell) possibilities vanish from their board.
Toronto’s apron dance
When I questioned on Twitter a week ago why the Raptors hadn’t yet signed second-round pick Christian Koloko, reader Anil Gogna made a good point. Signing Koloko for more than two years or more than the minimum would come out of the Raptors’ midlevel exception money, which, when combined with the $6 million already spent on Otto Porter, would then trigger the luxury-tax apron. That apron is irrelevant to the Raptors at the moment but could quickly become a problem if they were taking back more salary than they sent out in a Durant trade.
Well, scratch that concern from the list. Toronto can go ahead and sign Koloko and not worry about potential KD ramifications because there aren’t any. (The Raptors can use their biannual exception too if there’s anybody left on the free-agent market who’s worth it.)
More generally, minus Durant scenarios, the Raps can perhaps more readily dip into their asset pool — one that includes all their own future first-round picks — to shore up some of their other weaknesses.
For instance, Thaddeus Young and Khem Birch are trade-eligible, and pairing either with Svi Mykhailiuk and Malachi Flynn (and a future pick, of course) lets the Raptors take back most middle-class salaries. Could Clarkson be a fit here behind Fred VanVleet? Beasley, perhaps? Or could they pivot from “Project 6-8” and take the plunge on a rim-protecting center in Turner, gambling they can re-sign him next summer? Without Durant-maybes lurking in the background, it’s much easier to envision these alternate endgames.
Brooklyn’s own roster
Last but not least, the Durant resolution allows Brooklyn to continue attacking its own offseason, something that basically ground to a halt in early July with his trade demand. Aside from that wee bit of drama, the Nets actually had a decent offseason. They traded for 3-and-D wing Royce O’Neale, nabbed TJ Warren as a high-upside reclamation project and re-signed Patty Mills, Nic Claxton and Kessler Edwards.
They’re not done, though, not with at least two open roster spots. In particular, now that Durant and Irving are staying around, the Nets can figure out what to do about their paucity of options in the middle. With Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo looming as potential playoff opponents, Brooklyn lines up with a center combo of (gulp) … Claxton and Day’Ron Sharpe.
Playing Ben Simmons as a small-ball five is one possible option to soak up center minutes, but the Nets need some real beef too. Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge remain unsigned, and the Nets might also look at bruising plodders such as DeMarcus Cousins, Tristan Thompson, Dwight Howard or Embiid’s BFF Hassan Whiteside.
Bigger picture, you wonder if this is an area that requires the Nets to do some in-season work to get a more playoff-valuable upgrade. Mills and Seth Curry, most notably, seem somewhat redundant, so it’s easy to imagine one being packaged for a big.
Amick: Durant-Net’s reconciliation was always the right call
Skipper: Five things to watch going forward in Brooklyn
Harper: Winners and losers of Durant-Nets saga
(Top photo: Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)