Just when you thought the 2022 free agency period was going to be an Ambien pill, the Brooklyn Nets soap opera returned to inject an adrenaline needle to the vein.
Just three days after Kyrie Irving defused his own ticking time bomb by opting to remain a Net, Kevin Durant chose to smooth his own exit path. The latest Nets soap opera episode began Thursday with a mundane throwaway storyline in which the Nets acquired Utah Jazz defensive stopper Royce O’Neal. However, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Nets are in the process of acquiescing a trade demand Durant made to owner Joseph Tsai.
The news shook the earth just days after Kyrie Irving decided to opt-in and commit to the Nets for one more season. In retrospect, the vow to fulfill his four-year commitment to the Nets may have been a passive-aggressive elbow in Durant’s direction.
When Durant chose to link up with Irving in Brooklyn, Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck published a column that explained Durant’s decision.
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“Durant had grown weary of the perpetual drama in Golden State, even while leading the Warriors to two straight championships. What some found refreshing about the Warriors — their big personalities, their outspokenness on both on- and off-court issues — Durant found distracting. He wanted a team that placed basketball above all else.”
The optimistic outlook back then was that Irving and Durant’s genuine friendship would temper their destructive tendencies. Any realist understood this was always how it was going to end for these two. Once they were on the court together, sparks flew. In 2021, they conducted one of the most efficient offenses in NBA history.
But off the court, they repeatedly came dangerously close to detonating. Irving’s focus on basketball was always tenuous. One moment, his focus was solely on basketball and the next, he was burned out, taking two-week sabbaticals, taking a rigid stance against the COVID vaccine even if it meant leaving his teammates on the hook. The shocker is that Durant was the one who pulled the pin on the Nets grenade.
When Durant is traded, it will be his fourth team in six years. So where will Durant’s travels take him next? The landscape being so fertile for Durant makes that difficult to pin down, although Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes has reported that Durant’s preferred destination would be the Phoenix Suns.
Durant’s interest makes restricted free agent Deandre Ayton a prime sign-and-trade candidate. Phoenix needed a lifeline this offseason. Their reluctance to sign Ayton to a five-year $177 million extension or match the four-year $131 million contract that other teams can sign him to put them in a tricky position. Given their tight championship window, Phoenix would do whatever it takes to slot Durant between Devin Booker, perimeter defensive pincer Mikal Bridges and Chris Paul as soon as possible. The Nets may demand Bridges as a sacrifice, but it’s one the Suns would make in a hot second.
The Portland Trail Blazers have been lobbying hard for Durant. Don’t be surprised if Mayor Ted Wheeler hosts a live press conference to woo KD to their title-starved hoops-obsessed city. Portland has the best formula of picks and young talent to sacrifice to the Altar of Durant while maintaining a roster deep enough to contend. They could throw multiple firsts, Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe in Brooklyn’s direction and both teams could be content. The Blazers might fight to keep Simons, but if it becomes a dealbreaker, his bags will be packed for him.
The Lakers makes sense on paper. Durant joining LeBron would be the ultimate mashup. For years, they duked it out as the top-2 players in the league. They’ve both stumbled from their peaks, but their apex is so high, that they’re still consistently top-five players when they’re at their worst. From the Brooklyn Nets’ angle, Anthony Davis, 29, may have enough juice left in his tank to be an All-NBA big for another five years. His porcelain bones will always be a concern but when he’s healthy, he’s an elite, two-way velociraptor.
Miami got the cold shoulder from Jalen Brunson today after he signed a four-year $110M deal with the Knicks, but re-inserted themselves into the Durant discussions.
However, the Heat don’t own a first-round pick until 2024 and can’t give up consecutive firsts because of The Stepien Rule, which prevents teams from being without first-round picks in consecutive drafts. For Brooklyn to surrender a player of Durant’s caliber they’d likely ask for Bam Adebayo. The Nets would be precluded from swapping Durant for Adebayo because of an obscure rule that prevents teams from having two players who were acquired via trades while they’re on Designated Rookie Extension contracts. After trading for Ben Simmons at the trade deadline, the only way Adebayo could wind up on the Nets is if Simmons were traded. That’s not outside the realm of possibilities, but unlikely because his trade stock is in the basement.
Yet, where there’s a will there’s a way. NBA execs have written the book on twisting through corporate loopholes, but just because they can doesn’t mean they should.
Two point-centers as the focal point of the Nets lineup for the next few years is as problematic as Embiid and Simmons plodding through the rush hour traffic in the paint. However, a three-team trade in which Durant is whisked off to Miami, Bam shipped to another team, who traded their superstar to Brooklyn would be amenable to Miami and Brooklyn. Finding that third team is easier said than done.
The Nets will have a pile of options to review. Ultimately, wherever Durant ends up will upend the league.