The Nets have, no doubt, played better in recent days, going 4-2 in their last six games as they’ve shored up what was the worst defense in the NBA to start the year. And despite the many disasters—self-inflicted, for the most part—that have befallen the team, Brooklyn has not given an indication that it’s looking to make personnel moves or, at least, not yet.
Chatter about potential moves involving star forward Kevin Durant, then, is just chatter at this point.
“There has not been a lot going on there for trade stuff,” one Eastern Conference executive told Heavy Sports. “It makes sense for them to wait until when more guys will be trade-eligible (on December 15 or January 15, depending on their contracts) and it’s too early to give up on your roster, anyway. If they’re going to do anything, they’re going to wait it out a little longer, just like everyone will.”
That includes any potential move involving Kyrie Irving, who again stirred controversy by using social media to promote a movie that features anti-Semitic tropes. Irving has been solid offensively, averaging 26.9 points per game, and though he has struggled with his 3-point shot, it’s reasonable to expect he will get that turned around.
His defense, though, has been rough.
“He just has no trade value right now, even if you take out the off-floor stuff,” the executive said. “They’re a better team with him off the floor than on it. Everyone can see that right now. So, what do you think you’re going to get for him? He is a free agent, too. You add the other stuff and there is just no way you can do a deal there. No way. There’s no value there.”
Durant, of course, will have trade value, and if the Nets do eventually come to a raise-the-white-flag moment during this season, it is possible that will mean Durant hits the trade market. He was there over the summer with no real results, though many have argued that the Nets were never sincere in their attempts to find him a new home. Maybe that changes in the next two months or so.
So, where could he land? Well, there will be rumors, of course. We asked the East exec and a Western Conference executive about it.
Bring Back the Celtics?
The Celtics sure wouldn’t. The firmest rumor that emerged over the summer about a Durant destination was a potential deal with Boston that centered on Jaylen Brown going to Brooklyn. But that was only a very preliminary discussion, and no firm offers were on the table. A resuscitation of that framework could come up again, except it’s virtually certain that Boston would not engage on a Brown-centered deal.
“Oh, it would be zero interest from the Celtics, that would be a non-starter,” the East exec said. “Brown’s an All-Star and he’s eight years younger than KD (who is 34). The team’s playing well, they’re not going to touch that. I am sure it will be talked about again, and maybe the Celtics will struggle and things can change. But that would be shocking.”
The Lakers sure would. L.A. is 2-9 and while it has been suggested, by NBA great Paul Pierce among others, that the Lakers could swap Durant straight up for Anthony Davis, the Nets would have to be reluctant to kick off a restart of the franchise with a guy who can be a free agent in 2024 and can’t stay healthy.
“AD is 29, he will be 30 later this year (in March),” the Western Conference executive said. “You’re going to have him and Ben Simmons together? Good luck. There’s a better chance they would do a deal for the two picks (Lakers first-rounders in 2027 and 2029) and a swap and get some assets back.”
The Lakers have been stubbornly protective of those two first-rounders, to the frustration of many. But if they were to get Durant, they could offer up a pick swap in 2028 as well as the two available picks. The Nets would have to take back Russell Westbrook to match salaries and can maybe pluck rookie second-rounder Max Christie and second-year wing Austin Reaves.
It could prove to be as good as the Nets can do on the Durant market, but the assets will be three years away from coming to fruition. Brooklyn GM Sean Marks might not have that much time.
Could the Knicks do better? New York could offer a raft of draft picks, a couple of players who could help the Nets stay competitive if they want (Evan Fournier and Julius Randle) as well as young players like Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley.
The problem with the Knicks’ picks is that the ones they are getting from other teams are protected. Dallas’ pick (Top-10 protected this year) certainly will transfer in 2023, and probably will be in the 20s. The Bucks’ 2025 pick is protected for the Top 4, nd probably will land in the 20s, anyway.
The pick from Detroit is Top-18 protected for the next two years, dropping to Top 13 in 2025, Top 11 in 2026 and Top 9 in 2027 before converting to two second-rounders. It will never be better than 10th.
It’s similar for the pick from Washington, which is protected for the Top-14 in 2023 and becomes two second-rounders if not conveyed by 2026. It will never be better than ninth. The Knicks can add their own picks, unprotected—giving the Nets a potential package of the Mavs, Pistons and Wizards picks, plus the Knicks’ own picks in 2023, 2025 and 2027.
“Well, they value those picks a lot and that’s why they don’t have Donovan Mitchell,” the East exec said. “But if you are trading a star, especially a guy like Durant, you usually want a chance at a Top-5 pick. There is not much of a guarantee with the Knicks that their picks are going to be at the top of the draft.”
Suns, Warriors Best Possibilities?
Watch the Suns. DeAndre Ayton finally settled on a four-year, $133 million deal as a restricted free agent (first with the Pacers, but the Suns matched) and he can’t be traded until January 15—he also has a one-year no-trade clause but he could waive it to get to Brooklyn. Around the league, Ayton is seen as the most proven young piece the Nets could get in a Durant deal. Phoenix would be a great team with Durant on board, and perhaps willing to sell out the future a bit for two or three more chances at the NBA Finals.
“Ayton always made the most sense as a return piece for (the Nets),” the West exec said. “There might have been more to the talks between those teams in the summer if his contract situation wasn’t what it was. But, what else would Phoenix give up?”
From the Suns’ perspective, a Durant deal for Ayton and exiled forward Jae Crowder, with a first-round pick, would be reasonable. For the Nets, it would be more like Ayton and second-leading scorer Mikal Bridges, who’s also a defensive ace.
A compromise, though: Ayton, injured forward Cam Johnson and Crowder for Durant.
Forget the Nuggets and the Heat (unless …). At the core of any offer for Durant from Denver or Miami would have to be Michael Porter Jr. of the Nuggets and Bam Adebayo of the Heat. The Nets can’t do a deal involving either one as long as Ben Simmons is on the roster, because Simmons (like Adebayo and Porter) is on a rookie supermax contract, and a team can only have one such player at a time.
But if the Nets go into blow-it-up mode, they could find a new home for Simmons as a precursor to a Durant deal, though Simmons’ value is low because he has struggled in his eight games with the Nets. Durant getting traded at all is a longshot but both Simmons and Durant heading out is an even longer shot.
Never forget the Warriors. There were indications over the summer that Golden State would be open to a reunion with Durant despite his disappointing 2019 departure. It would take a radical move to make that happen, but it is something that can’t be counted out—not with the Draymond Green controversy, the Warriors’ poor start, and the underperformance of the Dubs’ young players, especially Jonathan Kuminga and James Wiseman.
“It’s a nice idea, having the stars that they have and then thinking that a wave of young guys behind them will step in and be a championship kind of group, too,” the West executive said. “But that was always a best-case scenario kind of thing. It happens a lot more that these guys are just too young and might not reach the potential they think they have. If you want to win another (championship) with Steph (Curry), you have to be open to making the mega-blockbuster kind of deal. That’s what getting Durant back would be.”
The Warriors are in as good a position as anyone to make the kind of mega-deal, starting with sending out Green to Brooklyn. The Nets might not much want to keep Green, who can be a free agent in the summer, but the Warriors could add Wiseman and Kuminga to the deal, and either a future first-rounder (2026 could be valuable) or Patrick Baldwin Jr.
Such a deal—and any deal for Durant, period—is a longshot at this point. But the Nets could easily descend back into chaos, putting the Durant-stakes back into play.