It will be a miracle if the Brooklyn Nets salvage the Kevin Durant situation.
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Kevin Durant’s trade request has been stuck in limbo from the moment he asked out from the Brooklyn Nets. Durant’s request coincided with the start of free agency on June 30, but at this point every meaningful free agent save for Collin Sexton is off the board while Durant lingers on Brooklyn’s roster.
There has never really been any positive momentum building towards a Durant deal, but that may potentially start to change after two updates on Monday. First, Durant met with Nets owner Joe Tsai in London and reaffirmed his trade request, per Shams Charania of The Athletic. This is big considering the most likely outcome in recent weeks has felt like Durant returning to Brooklyn as he starts a new four-year, $198 million contract extension. Per Charania, Durant told Tsai it’s him or Brooklyn’s braintrust of top exec Sean Marks and head coach Steve Nash.
The next big piece of news came hours later, when Tsai decided to publicly comment on the report. Durant gave the organization an ultimatum, and now Tsai has picked his side.
Our front office and coaching staff have my support. We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.
Joe Tsai broke the golden rule: never tweet. In doing so, he may have just lost leverage for the Nets in trade talks and made life a lot harder for the people he was trying to back.
Completing a Durant trade was never going to be easy for a variety of obvious reasons. Durant will be 34 years old this season. He tore his Achilles in 2019 and has only played 90 games over the two seasons as he’s battled other injuries. The fact that he’s locked up for four years should make him more enticing to other teams, but he’s also owed the league’s fourth biggest salary. The Timberwolves’ trade for Rudy Gobert — where they dealt three unprotected first rounders, one top-five protected pick, and rookie first rounder Walker Kessler — also made a KD deal even harder. The Nets can’t possibly accept less for Durant than the Jazz got for Gobert … but in the near future, they might not have a choice.
Plenty of superstar trade requests have fallen through in years past, from Kobe Bryant to Scottie Pippen to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Could Durant still return to Brooklyn and finish the season there? It’s possible, but it doesn’t feel likely after everything that happened on Monday.
When Anthony Davis wanted out of New Orleans, he got his wish. When James Harden wanted out of Houston, he got his wish. Heck, even Ben Simmons got his wish after sitting out half the year. Yes, Durant is under contract for the next four years with Brooklyn, but that shouldn’t kill the leverage for a top-15 player of all-time.
Are the Nets really going to keep an unhappy Durant in tow for the next four years? Will Steve Nash — an extremely rich 48-year-old — really want to coach an unhappy Durant? Kyrie Irving is on a one-year contract, and the Nets are mostly in this mess because they refused to give him a long-term deal. The Nets’ lone hope is that both superstars return, and the team is good enough is want to stick together. Of course, that also only happens if Irving’s market elsewhere remains small, Durant’s loyalty to Irving remains strong, and Simmons and Joe Harris each return to form coming off back and ankle surgeries, respectively.
When you remember that Brooklyn was the preseason favorite entering last year and couldn’t even win a single playoff game, it makes the optimistic scenario even hard to envision.
Whether he’s traded before training camp, or midway through the season like Harden and Simmons, it just doesn’t feel like the Nets are operating from a position of strength after their owner publicly chose a side following Durant’s ultimatum. The Nets will get decent offers for KD, but none of them will be the ‘greatest trade haul ever’ like many suspected when Durant first asked out.
We know Durant wanted to play for the Phoenix Suns alongside Devin Booker, but that doesn’t seem realistic anymore after Deandre Ayton signed. Charania reported three teams as the main suitors: the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, and Miami Heat.
Boston offered Jaylen Brown, Derrick White, and a pick. Brooklyn reportedly wants Marcus Smart, and probably more picks. Toronto has refused to put Scottie Barnes on the table, and likely starts its trade offer with OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. (it wouldn’t surprise me if Pascal Siakam’s name eventually comes up, too). The Heat can only offer Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, which just isn’t good enough.
We came up with some other trade packages for Durant last month. Every team should be calling Brooklyn right now. You just might get one of the greatest players ever locked down for four years.
The Nets don’t own any of their own future draft picks because they traded them all to Houston for Harden. Ben Simmons — their big return for trading Harden to Philly in Feb. — is coming back from a serious back surgery and hasn’t played at all since his humiliating second round series in the 2021 playoffs. Irving is the league’s ultimate wild card even if he has all the incentive in the world to have a big year. Even if the Nets do force KD to come back next season, it’s hard to see how Brooklyn can contend with Boston and Milwaukee, and they will likely have trouble with Philadelphia, Miami, and possibly Toronto, Chicago, and Cleveland, too.
Joe Tsai picked his side. He’s backing Marks. If Durant is really as dug in as he reported to be, there’s no easy way out of this situation for the Nets.