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Nets draft pick conundrum complicates Durant deal

The Brooklyn Nets want a crazy haul for Kevin Durant, but cannot take the full boat of picks and swaps

Brooklyn Nets v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

The rumor mill spun back up into third gear this week when Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant reiterated his trade demand while giving Nets owner Joe Tsai only one alternative: that he’d stay if Tsai replaced both the general manager, Sean Marks, and head coach, Steve Nash. Presumably, that would mean a clean sweep of their staffs as well, leaving only Durant and friend Kyrie Irving standing.

As soon as the news broke of Durant’s ultimatum — trade him or replace everyone above him — Tsai fired back on social media.

So now it’s up to Marks to drum up the best offer possible — at the very least, better than Jazz got for Rudy Gobert last month or the Rockets got (from the Nets) for James Harden just 18 months ago.

Word is that the Nets want at least a young All-Star and a bevy of draft picks. Gobert got five clean first round picks (including the already-taken-but-not-yet-signed Walker Kessler from the 2022 Draft) and Harden got seven (three clean, four swaps). Neither of those trades got an All-Star in return.

Let’s break down the Nets’ wants.

Bevy of Draft Picks

There’s a problem with that plan of maximizing draft picks, and the Nets know it. They are not in a position to take the maximum four firsts and three swaps from a single team acquiring Durant.

The NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) sets limits on a team including their own draft picks in a trade: a team cannot send out future picks in consecutive year, and a team cannot send out a pick more than seven years out.

So the maximum number of picks a single team can send out is four — in this case: 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029.

In the alternate years, teams can agree to give away ‘swap’ rights, where they end up with the lesser of each team’s picks that year — in this case: 2024, 2026 and 2028.

Problem is, the Nets don’t have any picks to swap in 2024 and 2026.

When the Brooklyn Nets acquired Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the same summer in 2019, they did not have to give up any real assets.

The core of the surprising 42-40 Nets of 2018-19 was relatively young and cheap, allowing them to sacrifice only one important player, leading scorer De’Angelo Russell, to make the magic of KD and Kyrie happen. All of Joe Harris, Caris Levert, Jarrett Allen and Spencer Dinwiddie (their 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th lading scorers) could stay behind to help KD and Kyrie lead the Nets to multiple championships.

They first embarked on what you’d call a gap year. Durant would already be out the whole season, so Kyrie started doing Kyrie things (he played only 20 games all season) and the Nets treaded water during to a pressure-less 35-37 finish.

2020-21 was supposed to be the year of the Nets, with Durant and Irving back healthy and their young core even more developed.

But then the Nets got greedy. They decided that forming a Big Three would make them unstoppable.

But that Big Third was the true team killer. What it cost to acquire James Harden from the Rockets was crazy high: two young core players (Caris Levert, Jarrett Allen), and SEVEN first round picks (three clean picks and four pick swaps).

This for a guy who was already showing bad signs of age, and had never led his team to a Conference title let alone an NBA Finals win.

Levert and Allen have both since signed long-term extensions with their new teams, Allen made the 2022 All-Star team, and so far Tari Eason (17th, 2022) has been added by the Rockets with one of those Nets picks. That 2021 swap did not convey because the Rockets picked much higher than the Nets.

Going forward, the Nets current first round picks are:

  • 2023 – convoluted with swap action, but will have a mid-to-low pick
  • 2024 – 0 picks (goes to Houston)
  • 2025 – 1 pick (worst of theirs or Houston)
  • 2026 – 0 picks (goes to Houston)
  • 2027 – 1 pick (worst of theirs or Houston)

Considering Houston doesn’t look contender-y any time in the near to mid-term future, Brooklyn is probably looking at keeping their picks in 2023, 2025 and 2027, or at worst swapping them for similar picks.

The absolute worst case is if they completely bottom out. If they bottom out — like they did after promising all those swaps to Boston that turned into Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown! — they won’t be able to pull themselves out of the muck with high draft picks.

But the Rockets don’t seem quite as interested in staying relevant as the Celtics were. And since the lottery odds were flattened a few years ago, it’s less likely the Nets have to sacrifice a Top-4 pick than ever. Could it happen? Sure. But the Rockets are almost certain to be in that same lotto each year too.

What the Nets really need to do is find a way to recover those 2024 and 2026 picks, at the least, while acquiring picks in other years that could possibly end up higher than their own. To acquire 2024 and 2026 picks outright from a single team, they can then only acquire swap rights in the odd years.

To wrap up, the best the Nets can do from any one team acquiring Durant is:

  • Option A: four clean firsts in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029, and a single swap in 2028
  • Option B: three clean firsts in 2024, 2026 and 2028, with four swaps in the odd years of 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029*

*Including their already-swap-encumbered 2023, 2025 and 2027 picks requires approval from the Rockets, but presumably the Rockets are okay with it as long they still get the best of theirs or the Nets’ picks in those years. The Nets would then get the best of what’s left between the three teams.

The Phoenix Suns have all of their own picks going forward, so they can meet either of those demand packages if necessary. And if the Suns cannot include an All-Star in return, the picks are going to be key.

Contrast that with the other teams reportedly in the mix for Durant: Heat, Celtics and Raptors

The Celtics have already traded their 2023 pick (top-12 protected) to the Pacers for Malcolm Brogdon and given swap rights on their 2028 pick (swap rights) to the Spurs for Derrick White. So the best they can do for the Nets, matching up pick years: three firsts (2025, 2027 and 2029) and no swaps.

The Heat have already traded their 2025 pick (lottery protected, converting to 2026 unprotected) to Oklahoma City. That encumbers both the 2025 and 2026 years. So the best they can do for the Nets is, matching up the pick years: three firsts (2023, 2027, 2029) and one swap (2028).

The Raptors have all of their own picks, so they can conceivably send the Nets the same pick package that the Suns can.

None of the Suns, Heat, Celtics or Raptors have any extra picks incoming from other trades that could sweeten the pot further.

Now you know the draft pick limitations of the Nets in these Durant discussions.

The Suns and the Raptors are at the top of the list, of those teams reportedly interested in Durant, in terms of available draft picks.

Coming tomorrow: The other half of the Nets’ demands, a young All-Star.

There’s a lot to unpack with that demand, largely limited by the presence of Ben Simmons but also limited by the number of teams willing to sacrifice a young All-Star in a Durant trade.

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