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Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game Three

Nets desire for an All-Star complicates any Durant deal

We break down all the possible, and available, targets for the Nets

Today, we have part two of breaking down the Brooklyn Nets stated requirements — at least one All-Star AND a bevy of first round picks — in return for perennial MVP candidate, and two-time Finals MVP, Kevin Durant.

Before you read any further, let’s agree on one big point: the Nets will never get equal value for Kevin Durant in any trade. They just won’t. Durant is a top-five player in the league. Possible Top-10 All Time. The Nets are right to ask for multiple All-Stars and lots of unprotected picks, but that’s never going to happen. So it’s up to the Nets to get the most they can, without burning any more bridges with superstar players along the way.

Earlier this week, I detailed how the Nets simply don’t have the resources on hand to even accept the ‘four picks and three swaps’ the national media thinks they are demanding. After they traded everything for James Harden without fully recouping it when they re-traded him, they simply don’t have enough of their own picks in the right years to do the even-year swaps.

Read more here:

The most they can take from any one team is four clean firsts, beginning in 2023, and one swap OR three clean firsts, beginning in 2024, and three swaps. That’s still a lot of picks, but definitely not the full boat of seven unless the team getting Durant can acquire and include more than their own picks.

For the record, none of the Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat or the recently-included Philadelphia 76ers have any extra picks besides their own to throw into a trade.

And among those teams, only the Suns and Raptors even have all their own picks going forward.

Hilariously, the Sixers — ‘added’ to Durant’s list recently, according to Ian Begley — have literally NO first round picks available to trade! None. Zero. Zilch. They’ve already tied up their 2023 pick in a swap with (cough) the Nets, then traded a lottery-protected 2025 to OKC that, due to protections, ties up their picks till up to 2027. And THEN, they’ve promised their first-available-tradable post-OKC pick to... you guessed it... the Nets, as long as it conveys by 2028. Considering picks can only be traded through 2029, and there must be two years between picks in trades, the Sixers are completely out of tradable picks.

Oh and, by spending the full MLE on P.J. Tucker this summer as well as the bi-annual exception on Danuel House Jr., they have hard-capped themselves this year not to cross the Tax Apron of just under $157 million. So, acquiring Durant simply for salaries would require a really close match. They are currently just four million below the now-implemented hard cap.

With no draft picks and a requirement to match salaries almost 100%, Philly seems very unlikely to truly enter the Kevin Durant mix. Plus, I question the ‘Durant sees Philly as a good landing spot’ intel, considering Durant was clearly frustrated with Harden’s play last year in Brooklyn, leading to the Harden trade to Philly in the first place. Why would Durant want to re-join a fading Harden?

Still, let’s include Philly in the discussion of the best possible players the Nets could acquire in return for Kevin Durant.

Can the Nets get a young All-Star back for Durant?

First, let’s agree to some rules.

  1. The Nets are trading Durant. After he gave ultimatum to owner Joe Tsai, and Tsai responded by backing the other side (coach/GM), it seems that Durant’s happy days in Brooklyn are long over.
  2. Durant will go to a contender. Possible landing spots must be Finals contenders after replacing Durant with the outgoing player(s). You have accept that Durant’s camp will have a lot of say in where he goes because teams won’t give up great assets to acquire an immediate malcontent if he gets shipped to a loser.
  3. Nets want at least one All-Star back for Durant. They can’t afford to tank, having given all their high pick potential to the Rockets for the next five years.
  4. The Nets are not getting any contender’s best player back for Durant, even if they are trade-eligible. For example, Philly is not getting Miami’s Jimmy Butler for Durant, and the Celtics are not trading Jayson Tatum. Leading to rule 2...
  5. The Nets cannot acquire a second designated-rookie-max player via trade, because they already have the only one they’re allowed to acquire via trade in Ben Simmons.
  6. Nets are not going to just dump Ben Simmons in a Durant trade. Simmons is a young, three-time All-Star, one-time All-NBA who’s now all they got left from the Rockets trade that cost them all their draft picks.

Tough to line up these dots huh? Nets want an All-Star back. Durant wants a contender. And contenders won’t — and in many cases can’t — trade their best player back to the Nets.

Nets have a real complication in any deal: by having already acquired ‘designated max rookie extension’ recipient Ben Simmons several months ago, they cannot acquire a second player with that same designation UNLESS they send away Simmons in the trade (or beforehand, without getting another one).

Who does that take out of the picture? A ton of young multi-time All-Stars.

That’s a lot of players off the table for the Nets unless they jettison Ben Simmons, which, why would they do that? I outlined earlier this week, the Nets have NO incentive to tank because they’ve given all their best picks for five years to the Rockets (either clean or swaps), so they want to field the best possible team. One article out this week, from CBSSports.com, ranks four of the picks the Nets owe the Rockets among the 11 highest-value picks owed across the league. Trading Durant AND Simmons would be dumping two All-Stars to acquire... one? No thanks. Remember that Simmons is a three-time All-Star, one-time All-NBA, and two-time All-Defense. You don’t just dump him.

It’s funny to me that they can’t even acquire non-All-Stars De’Aaron Fox, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. or Andrew Wiggins (give this one to me) because of the Simmons issue.

Let’s keep looking.

This is a list of young players with MAX-money contracts, but do not fit the criteria of ‘designated’ because they did not get extended before their fourth season on a first-round pick rookie contract. So these young max players CAN be added to Simmons.

Strike Ayton and Jokic off the list, though. They’ve both just signed a max contract/extension, taking them off the market.

D’Angelo Russell and Kristaps Porzingis technically fit the ‘recent All-Star criteria’ but have not played at that level since right before their extensions. I don’t think the Nets would see these two as any better than other up and coming non-All-Stars.

The most interesting names on that list, I’m sure, are Pascal Siakam and Brandon Ingram. Both have only made one All-Star team, and not even in 2022, but had very good seasons this past year and showed well — Ingram especially — in the playoffs.

The Raps are holding rookie Scottie Barnes out of trade talks, but there’s no mention of Pascal yet. Like the Suns, the Raps are waiting on the sidelines to see the market shake out before putting their best trade offer on the table. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri is not averse to making a bold move, as shown when he acquired one-year-rental Kawhi Leonard in 2019 and got a ring for it, but Durant has not listed the Raps among his preferred destinations and that probably counts for something.

Regarding the Pelicans, Ingram looked great in the playoffs against the Suns and has made an All-Star team, but his fit with a healthy Zion Williamson is a real question mark. The Nets might really like the idea of Ingram, considering he plays a lot like Durant does and could distract the fan base while pairing with pass-first Ben Simmons. The question with the Pels is: do they want to acquire another possible malcontent in Durant after dealing with Anthony Davis just three years ago? Durant has not listed the Pelicans as a desired destination.

Let’s delve into the Durant dilemma for a moment. Ever since he bolted OKC after a WCF run, he’s created a track record of discontent after a year or two and now he’s giving his owner an ultimatum to fire the GM and coach if they want to keep him. What GM is going to want to add Durant to their team, given the chance he might turn on you in a year or two? Some GMs won’t care. Ujiri won’t care. Pat Riley won’t care. The Suns’ James Jones won’t care. They are only really looking at 2023 and 2024. If Durant wants out in a year or two, the team is okay with that anyway. But how many others? I really doubt Pelicans GM David Griffin wants to take that chance.

Let’s widen the lens a bit. Here are some players on big money extensions who are making less than max, and could be added to Ben Simmons.

Except, like above, we need to subtract a few.

Subtract Dejounte Murray (Atlanta has to wait 60 days to aggregate him in another trade AND already traded away their picks to the Spurs), and subtract Jalen Brunson (cannot be traded until January 15). You can also take Jaren Jackson Jr. off the list because he’s currently injured and could miss a chunk of the season. I suppose the Nets could acquire him anyway (like they did with injured Ben Simmons), but it’s probably unlikely the Grizzlies would do that. And while we’re at it, take John Collins off the list too, because the Hawks don’t have any picks left to trade along with Collins. Zach LaVine is off the list too, after signing a five-year veteran max extension, and so cannot be traded for a year.

Updated list...

Notice there’s no OG Anunoby on this particular list. That’s my own random rules of looking just for guys who could fill close to half of the salary-matching rules by themselves and/or made an ‘All Star’ team. OG makes only $17 million a year (Durant makes $44 million) and never made All-Star yet.

Note: By now I have now given you ALL of the All-Stars, plus some, who joined the league since 2014, meaning they are just now in their prime or approaching. I feel like that’s who the Nets are targeting. They don’t want Kyle Lowry, for example. They want a Jaylen Brown type.

So you can see just how short the list of acquirable young All-Stars is, once you consider the Ben Simmons complication.

Among those mentioned so far who can he had in a deal, who is CLEARLY a better player than Mikal Bridges?

This is my list, though again the value is in the eye of the beholder:

  1. Jaylen Brown
  2. Brandon Ingram
  3. Pascal Siakam
  4. Mikal Bridges

If I’m the Nets, I think there are three better ‘acquirable’ targets on market-rate contracts than the Phoenix Suns’ Mikal Bridges, among those discussed so far in this article, who can be paired with Ben Simmons to help them continue to be playoff contenders, if not perennial deep playoff contenders.

The problem is that none of them are Kevin Durant, or even close.

Durant is a superstar in his prime, who is a former league MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP, 12-time All-Star and just finished a season where he posted 29.9 points (3rd in the NBA), 7.7 rebounds, and a career-high 6.4 assists per game. He will turn 34 soon, but his ultra-smooth jump-shooting game should age well. He’s clearly among the top five players in the entire NBA.

Given this, and their dearth of high picks going forward, the Nets either have to demand max picks OR pivot to acquiring an even younger player with superstar talent. They might want to get their potential superstar rookie-contract talent NOW, before being subject to low picks going forward.

There’s lots of recent (2020 Draft and later) great talent still on their rookie contracts who theoretically could help the Nets build toward a great future.

Problem is, most of those are rebuilding teams who will have no interest in pissing off Kevin Durant. Can you imagine Durant getting sent to Orlando? Or OKC? Or the Rockets? Sure, as a joke. But reality would not be kind. Not at all.

So, now we have to go back to the rules, listed above, and just replace #3 with ‘young potential superstar’.

That means the acquiring team needs to be a contender that Kevin Durant wants to join. What contender has a rookie-contract potential superstar on their hands who ALSO has the salary-matching means to make a deal work?

First, who are the contenders, or who would be contenders after a Durant swap, and their best rookie-scale talent (in no particular order):

  • Warriors — Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga
  • Suns — Cameron Johnson
  • Clippers — Brandon Boston Jr.
  • Nuggets — Bones Hyland
  • Grizzlies — Zaire Williams, Desmond Bane, Brandon Clarke
  • Celtics — Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard
  • Bucks — Marjon Beauchamp (R)
  • Sixers — Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle
  • Heat — Omer Yurtseven, Max Strus, Tyler Herro
  • Raptors — Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa

None of these guys are All-Stars yet, but a few of them could be.

That’s why you see the Nets asking the Raptors for Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes. The Raps turned one bad year and some lotto luck into Barnes, who just might grow into that superstar. The problem for the Nets is that the Raps feel the same way about Barnes, and don’t (yet) want to sacrifice him for a 34-year old.

What other contender has a high-level, potential superstar on a rookie deal?

Depends on what you think of Jordan Poole, but then Golden State has MASSIVE salary and luxury tax concerns, and frankly have already been down the Durant road. I don’t see them jumping in here.

Do you think Tyrese Maxey is a superstar waiting to happen? Maybe you do, but I already talked about Philly earlier in this article. They have no draft picks to add to the deal, and are almost at their hard-cap mark. No way Nets take Maxey as the headliner without a single first round pick coming in too. Strike Philly off here.

Maybe the Grizzlies jump in? Imagine Ja Morant and KD in a lineup together! The Grizzlies could offer Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane and other young players. The problem is that Jaren Jackson Jr. (stress fracture, foot) will be out at least half the season, and none of those guys is a for-sure All-Star some day. None is a No. 1 option. And, adding 34-year old Durant to such a young team might disrupt their clean timeline of ascendancy.

Let’s expand the list now to include these rookie-scale guys on contenders:

  1. Jaylen Brown (one time All-Star)
  2. Brandon Ingram (one time All-Star)
  3. Scottie Barnes (2022 Rookie of the Year)
  4. Pascal Siakam (one time All-Star)
  5. Jaren Jackson Jr.
  6. Mikal Bridges
  7. Tyler Herro
  8. Tyrese Maxey

Conclusion

Now you understand why the names being floated around most for Kevin Durant in a trade are Jaylen Brown of the Celtics and Scottie Barnes of the Raptors.

The Raptors actually have a lot of interesting assets to include in a trade for Durant. Beyond Barnes, you’ve got one-time All-Star Pascal Siakam, a lesser Mikal in OG Anunoby, a young rookie-scale dynamo in Precious Achiuwa, and quality salary-fillers like Gary Trent Jr. Plus they have ALL their draft picks to use in the deal.

The Celtics are quite interesting too. You wouldn’t think they would trade one of the best players on a Finals team, but Jaylen Brown becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2024 and the cap is expected to jump SO high that Brown won’t want to agree to an extension because of the current limits on those being only a 20% raise. Brown could be looking at 50+% raise in 2024-25, but that could not come from his incumbent team until after he becomes an unrestricted free agent. So he might actually be on the block now, to stave off losing him for nothing. The Celtics have a few picks to trade (not all), and can include helpful guys like Grant Williams in the trade.

The Pelicans have one of the best acquirable players too, in Brandon Ingram, and lots of assets. But like I wrote earlier, I’m not sure KD makes them a contender, and I don’t think they would want to risk their foundation and the future of Zion at the hands of a potential malcontent.

The Suns are lurking, of course. We know they are. KD wants to join the Suns, loves Monty Williams, loves Devin Booker and loves Chris Paul. The Suns can include Mikal Bridges, a potential Defensive Player of the Year, and Cameron Johnson, a potential $20-million player himself, and they’ve got all their picks available too.

Could the Heat dangle Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro? And even if they did, would the Nets truly think he’s a great centerpiece? Never count out Miami.

This might all come down to where Kevin Durant most wants to play, and which of these teams is the most interested in giving up really good young player(s) and picks for a two-year run at a title or two.

Stay tuned, Suns fans. The Suns aren’t out of the water yet.

But you can understand how the Nets might prefer Jaylen Brown, Scottie Barnes or some other guys over Mikal Bridges as a headliner.

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