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Shams: Grizzlies sniffing around Durant, Suns falling back in pack

The Phoenix Suns need the Brooklyn Nets asking price to drop.

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

According to the latest intel from NBA insider Shams Charania, the Phoenix Suns continue to lose ground in the race for Kevin Durant’s services.

The Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat remain among the most serious threats to land Durant because they have the types of pieces necessary to satisfy the Nets’ asking price in a deal for the two-time NBA Finals MVP. However, no one yet has met Brooklyn’s high price tag of an All-Star, other high-level players and draft picks — and conversations with those three front-runners have been non-existent recently. The Celtics offered All-Star Jaylen Brown, guard Derrick White and a first-round draft pick in July, according to league sources; the Raptors have refused to make Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes available; and Miami has yet to seriously engage with a package around All-Star Bam Adebayo.

Shams added a little more meat to the bone on the Suns efforts — but nothing we didn’t already know around these parts for weeks.

The Phoenix Suns similarly have dangled a package around All-Defensive wing Mikal Bridges and a handful of first-round draft picks, which has not picked up any steam with the Nets, league sources said. With Deandre Ayton signed to a four-year maximum contract and unable to be moved until January, Phoenix has attempted over the past month to make creative proposals to Brooklyn, possibly via three- or four-team trades where an All-Star-caliber player goes to the Nets. But the Suns have yet to find a suitable deal — and that is largely why they appear to be behind Boston, Toronto and Miami in the Durant sweepstakes.

I laid out last week how the market is shaping up for the best player the Nets could get for Durant in any deal, considering all the complications around acquiring a second designated-rookie-max guy next to Ben Simmons.

The Nets have no incentive to simply ‘dump’ Simmons in a Durant trade to get a guy like Donovan Mitchell or Bam Adebayo. Why? In the simplest possible terms: the Nets would be dumping two All-Stars to acquire one. Not happening.

So the Nets’ best possible targets are guys just below the ‘designated max’ level to put alongside Simmons going forward. I ranked them like this:

  1. Jaylen Brown (Celtics, one time All-Star)
  2. Brandon Ingram (Pelicans, one time All-Star)
  3. Scottie Barnes (Raptors, 2022 Rookie of the Year)
  4. Pascal Siakam (Raptors, one time All-Star)
  5. Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies)
  6. Mikal Bridges (Suns)
  7. Tyler Herro (Heat)
  8. Tyrese Maxey (76ers)

All of them make less than the designated max, and can be traded this summer.

If you think there’s better young-ish players who could be had for Durant, and are teams Durant would play for, please read my article for a detailed explanation why it doesn’t get any better than this list.

The Celtics have financial incentive to trade one-time All-Star Jaylen Brown, who is coming off an excellent Finals run, because he will hit the unrestricted free agent market in just two years and the Celtics could lose him for nothing (his contract is too low to all for a market-rate extension). Swapping Brown for Durant keeps the immediate title window open for up to four years instead of two.

The Pelicans and Raptors have reportedly not offered the next three names on the list yet, and it now appears the Grizzlies are sniffing around but not yet willing to discuss Jaren Jackson Jr., who I slotted just above the Phoenix Suns Mikal Bridges because his name recognition and All-Star path are a little better than Mikal’s.

Here’s Shams:

Recently, a new team has shown interest in Durant: the Memphis Grizzlies, league sources tell The Athletic. Fresh off a 56-win season, the Grizzlies have made new inquiries to the Nets about Durant, those sources added. Memphis has five first-round draft picks available (four unprotected selections of its own and one protected via Golden State in 2024) to theoretically utilize in a trade as well as young players like Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams, Brandon Clarke, Kennedy Chandler and David Roddy.

The problem here is that none of the available Grizzles meet the All-Star criteria the Nets are seeking. Yes, JJJ has the ceiling to get there but now he’s dealing with a stress fracture in the foot and will miss at least half of the upcoming season. And, foot injuries to uber-athletic seven-footers are no joke.

Would the Nets acquire another oft-injured guy to replace Durant? This is Jackson’s second major lower body injury after missing more than a year with a knee injury after the Bubble. I don’t know that the Nets would want to ‘team’ up Simmons and Jackson as a remedy for the constant absenteeism of Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Simmons the last two years.

Anyway, it appears the Grizzlies won’t even put Desmond Bane on the table, let alone Jackson...

Grizzlies executive vice president of basketball operations Zach Kleiman, the NBA’s reigning Executive of the Year, has done a masterful job building the team’s foundation around the All-NBA star Morant and a strong supporting cast while securing assets for the present and future. The Grizzlies will not include Jackson or Bane in a potential offer for Durant, sources said, but rather a package built around their bevy of draft picks.

We already talked about ‘bevy of draft picks’ here:

Among the contenders for Durant, I explained how the Suns and Raptors are the only teams with a full basket of draft picks over the next seven years, and that none of the leaders to acquire Durant had any extra picks to add to their own.

I did not include the Grizzlies in this analysis, so let’s do that now. The Grizzlies — like the Suns and Raptors — have all their future first round picks available AND they have an extra pick: Golden State’s 2024 pick (protected 1-4). So they can trade up to five first round picks to the Nets for Durant.

The problem here if I’m the Nets, though, is that I would see the Grizzlies future picks as worse assets than the Suns and Raptors’ picks over the next seven years. The Grizz are super young and were already a No. 2 seed before acquiring Durant. The Suns, on the other hand, needed the aging Chris Paul to get over the hump so they might regress in 2-3 years when Durant and Paul age out. And the Raptors without a superstar are a middling team.

Also, the Nets won’s be tanking for high picks because they don’t have any of their own picks from 2024 to 2028. So they are desperate to stay playoff-caliber with Ben Simmons and group of very good role players. That’s why they want good players, topped by an All-Star, back for Durant along with picks.

I still rank the ‘contenders’ for Kevin Durant’s services as:

  1. Boston Celtics, assuming they keep Brown available, add another high level player and more picks
  2. Toronto Raptors, assuming they include one or both of Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes plus picks
  3. Phoenix Suns, assuming they include Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson and lots of picks
  4. Memphis Grizzlies, assuming they include JJJ, Desmond Bane and lots of picks

So far, only the Celtics and Suns appear willing to include their best possible trade chip (Brown, Bridges). And on January 15, the Suns can improve the trade package by including Deandre Ayton without all the salary-matching complications they faced over the summer.

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UPDATE 50 minutes after the article went up: Meanwhile, Mikal Bridges gets all the same Shams info that we do... He tweeted these back to back this afternoon (maybe after reading this Bright Side post that went up at 1pm, well after Shams’ article that went up 7 hours ago?).

end of update

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I continue to distrust any sourcing that includes the Miami Heat as a contender in these discussions. I’ve explained above why they can’t include Bam Adebayo even if they wanted to (Ben Simmons), and they won’t trade Jimmy Butler, so their best available asset is...Tyler Herro? They don’t even have all their own draft picks to include. Nay, the Heat are out.

If the Celtics don’t meet the Nets asking price in the next few weeks (Brown, Marcus Smart and multiple first round picks), this trade demand could linger into the season.

Stay tuned and stay patient, Suns fans. Media Day, followed by training camp, is just over a month away.