May 24, 2024

Kevin Durant has requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets, and his circumstances are somewhat unique. The trade market for superstars tends to be fairly small. They often use their status and contracts to exert an enormous amount of control over their destinations, and most of the time, they’ve settled on one or two preferred homes before negotiations even begin. A true bidding war through the entire NBA for a single star is exceedingly rarer. Even rarer is the sort of star who could genuinely fit onto any team.

But that’s what Durant is. On the court, he was malleable enough to join a 73-win team without missing a beat. Need him to run your offense for lengthy stretches? He can do that. Want him to be your late-game isolation killer? Right up his alley as well. If you just want him to run around screens and take 3s? You bet he can do that. Realistically, he’s going to be doing a combination of the three, scaling up or down in each area depending on who he’s playing with. If you can’t fit Kevin Durant into your offense, it’s your fault, not his. 

Players like that just don’t frequently become available. Durant himself has hit the market just twice in his career: once joining that 73-win Golden State Warriors team and eventually leaving it for the Brooklyn Nets. Both were completely his decision. That might not be the case this time around. Durant signed a four-year, $192 million extension last offseason. He’s under contract through the 2025-26 season, when he will be 37. While Durant could certainly wield some influence in a new home should the need arise, the only true leverage he holds is the threat of retirement. Almost anybody could try to trade for him.

So let’s take a look at his market through that lens. If all 29 non-Nets teams are theoretically in the mix here, let’s go through them one by one and determine which team has the best chance to land Durant.

K.D. wouldn’t be interested

29. Sacramento Kings

28. Indiana Pacers

27. Orlando Magic

26. San Antonio Spurs

25. Charlotte Hornets

I shouldn’t need to explain to you why Kevin Durant would not want to play for the Kings. The Pacers are much more stable, but they’re young, in a small market and not especially competitive. So are the Magic and Spurs, but they at least play in warm-weather cities without state income tax. Durant met with San Antonio in 2017 and the Spurs still have Gregg Popovich, so they edge out the Magic, but the Hornets top this group because of LaMelo Ball and Michael Jordan. Still, these are all teams Durant simply would not be interested in joining. They’re the easiest cross-offs. Why trade for a player who would have no interest in playing for you?

It’s not the right time

24. Detroit Pistons

23. Houston Rockets

22. Minnesota Timberwolves

Durant probably isn’t especially interested in playing for these teams either, but he’s enough of a hoops junkie to at least respect the talent. Cade Cunningham, Anthony Edwards and Jalen Green are all on All-Star trajectories. One day, they’d likely be wonderful partners for Durant. That day just isn’t today. He’s 34. By the time they’re ready to compete, his prime will likely be over. So Detroit and Houston can throw all of the picks they want at Brooklyn. The Wolves could even offer Karl-Anthony Towns. But the Pistons and Rockets just can’t win on Durant’s timetable. Minnesota probably could if it managed to keep Towns and Edwards, but at that point, what could it even offer Brooklyn? The Wolves’ picks wouldn’t be especially valuable with so much talent in tow, and their third-best trade chip is … D’Angelo Russell? These teams are positioned to contend a few years from now. No need to rock the boat for Durant now.

Don’t have enough to trade

21. Washington Wizards

20. Utah Jazz

19. Atlanta Hawks

18. Chicago Bulls

17. Dallas Mavericks

16. Philadelphia 76ers

Durant has never been all that interested in returning to his hometown of Washington D.C. He didn’t even grant the Wizards a meeting in 2016. Maybe Bradley Beal and the player he once dubbed a unicorn in Kristaps Porzingis could change that … but what do the Nets get out of that arrangement? Washington can’t trade a first-round pick until 2027 and its young players aren’t all that exciting. The Jazz are similarly encumbered from a draft perspective and have no youth to speak of. Maybe offering Donovan Mitchell could tempt Brooklyn, but why would Utah even bother? A Durant-Rudy Gobert team isn’t winning the West even if Durant would play in Utah. The Hawks were much higher on this list originally, but after trading most of their draft capital for Dejounte Murray, they just don’t have enough to offer unless the Nets really like De’Andre Hunter and Onyeka Okongwu.

Chicago is a bit more interesting, but the Bulls run into two major issues here. The first is that sign-and-trading Zach LaVine to Brooklyn would create some hard cap issues for one of the NBA’s more expensive teams if they take back salary in a Kyrie Irving trade. The other is that it would involve convincing LaVine to join the Nets without Durant and Irving in place. Dallas would probably interest Durant quite a bit, but a Jalen Brunson sign-and-trade presents those same hard cap issues, and Dallas has no more meaningful assets to dangle. The Mavericks can’t trade a first-round pick until 2027. Chicago can’t move any of its own picks until 2029, but has a lottery-protected future Blazers pick at its disposal.

And then there’s Philly. Tyrese Maxey is a nice start, but that’s about as far as the 76ers can go. Tobias Harris is negative salary, and after Matisse Thybulle’s playoff flameout, the cupboard is pretty bare. Plus … would Durant even want to reunite with James Harden? Philadelphia represents the cutoff line. The first 13 teams listed here are almost certainly out of the running. But all subsequent teams have a path into the derby if they want it. 

He wouldn’t … would he?

15. Oklahoma City Thunder

14. Golden State Warriors

In a vacuum, these might be the two top teams on the list. Durant knows, for a fact, that he can win championships with the Warriors. As badly as they want to continue competing after their current core retires, the opportunity to get Stephen Curry to five, six or even seven championships would be too tempting to pass up. The Warriors have plenty of youth to send the Nets. The Thunder have limitless youth to send the Nets in the form of draft picks. Oklahoma City’s first-round picks give it the flexibility to add virtually anyone. If the Thunder wanted to pivot into immediate contention, they could give up half of their draft capital for Durant right now and then use the other half on another star of their choosing. The moment the Thunder decide they want to win, they’re going to start winning. They couldn’t give him a championship roster early in his career. Now they can.

But nothing about Durant, the human being, suggests that he’d want to go the LeBron James route and return to a team he’s already played for. He said himself he doesn’t trust anybody in Oklahoma City. Whatever compelled him to leave Golden State in 2019 likely still exists. If Durant changes his mind? Push the Thunder and Warriors to the top of this list. Until then? Don’t expect either team to pursue a reunion.

Would they trade their established stars?

13. Milwaukee Bucks

12. Los Angeles Clippers

11. Los Angeles Lakers

It’s not in Milwaukee’s organizational DNA to swap Jrue Holiday and/or Khris Middleton for Durant … but oh boy, would a Durant-Giannis Antetokounmpo pairing be special. For years, it has been argued that Ben Simmons could emulate some of what makes Giannis so special if surrounded by the shooting he’s had. This would be a real-world test of that theory. This trade is more fun in theory than practice. The Bucks aren’t risking a roster that may have won back-to-back titles if healthy. The Clippers might be a bit more open-minded about Paul George. Kawhi Leonard tried to recruit Kevin Durant in 2019 but failed. Put the two of them together now with the depth the Clippers have assembled and they’d be very hard to deny as championship favorites. But George got the Clippers to the Western Conference finals for the first time in team history. Sentiment would probably get in the way of a deal. 

Spoiler alert: The Nets are not going to be interested in trading Durant for Russell Westbrook. Here’s where we get really funky … what about Anthony Davis? The Lakers are reportedly not willing to trade him under any circumstances … but what if they tried to land BOTH Nets stars? Davis goes to Brooklyn to pair with Simmons and the Nets’ endless array of shooters. Brooklyn gets Westbrook’s expiring contract to dangle along with the two Philadelphia first-round picks it got at the deadline along with the 2027 and 2029 Lakers picks it would surely demand in this deal for a perimeter scorer to put next to Simmons and Davis. If the Nets want to contend now, this isn’t the craziest thing in the world, and all indications suggest that Durant and Irving want to stay together. This isn’t actually going to happen. It’s too crazy even for the NBA. But there’s the tiniest shred of logic to it, and when players want a specific destination, they tend to be successful in getting there. 

Would they trade their young stars?

10. Cleveland Cavaliers

9. Toronto Raptors

8. New Orleans Pelicans

7. Denver Nuggets

6. Boston Celtics

Five teams. Five young stars. Any one of these teams could not only give the Nets a solid return for Durant, but could remain in contention afterward. The only question is whether or not they’d actually surrender that young star to make a deal happen. The teams below are ranked by a combination of that likely willingness, Durant’s possible interest in them and how good they’d be after such a trade.

  • I doubt Durant wants to spend his twilight in Cleveland, but Evan Mobley would be a dream get for Brooklyn here. A Durant-Darius Garland-Jarrett Allen core would be in the hunt right away. It’s perfectly balanced. But would you sacrifice 14 years of Mobley for four years of Durant? I suspect Cleveland wouldn’t.
  • Toronto loves nothing more than long, lanky wings. Durant is the best of them all. The Raptors already have one of the NBA’s most imposing defense. Durant could solve their half-court offensive issues in a snap. The questions here are the same as they are for Cleveland. Does Durant want to go north of the border? And are the Raptors willing to sacrifice Scottie Barnes’ whole career for a brief title window? Again, I think the answer is no.
  • Which young star are we talking about? Would Brooklyn prefer the proto-Durant in Brandon Ingram, or the interior dominator Zion Williamson? Ingram fits better with Simmons. Williamson is the better long-term prospect. Either would fit like a glove next to Durant on a team that has another high-end scorer (CJ McCollum) and plenty of young role players. 
  • The Nuggets have been turning away Jamal Murray suitors for years. Durant might be the player who could change their mind, especially given the injury risk Michael Porter Jr. poses both now and in the future. Durant and Nikola Jokic would immediately become the NBA’s best offensive duo. 
  • Jayson Tatum is out of the question for Boston. He just outplayed Durant in a four-game sweep. But Jaylen Brown’s ball-handling led to some of the turnover problems that doomed the Celtics in the playoffs. That’s not an issue for Durant. Boston could pair its league-best defense with an offense suddenly employing a second elite shot-maker. Boston might have won it all with Durant in Brown’s place, but somehow I doubt Irving has given Boston a particularly glowing review in private to Durant. Even if the Celtics would make this swap, who knows how interested Durant would be.

On the periphery

5. New York Knicks

The question facing the Knicks right now is this: do they have a centerpiece worth of Durant? RJ Barrett has a bright future ahead of him, but has he proven enough yet to be the main return of a Durant deal? Doubtful. The Knicks could send all of their picks Brooklyn’s way, and as a general rule, teams should want to acquire as many unprotected Knicks picks as possible. What puts New York ahead of so many other possible suitors is merely Durant’s expected preference. He’s already in New York. He’d like to play for a winner first and foremost, but staying in the same city would likely hold some appeal as well.

In this thing

4. Portland Trail Blazers

3. Phoenix Suns

2. Memphis Grizzlies

1. Miami Heat

You might be surprised to see Portland ranked this high after a lottery season, but the Blazers check almost every box here, assuming Durant is a fan of the Pacific Northwest. No. 7 overall pick Shaedon Sharpe and breakout star Anfernee Simons in a sign-and-trade aren’t viable centerpieces on their own, but together, they could form the basis of a deep and compelling package. Portland could add to that package by removing the protections on the first-round pick it owes to Chicago and throwing in more draft capital. Damian Lillard is a player that Durant has openly admired, and Jerami Grant would be a valuable role player next to them. It may take Portland a year to build up the rest of the roster, but the Blazers appear committed to winning now, while Lillard still can. There’s no better win-now move on the table than going all-in for Durant, who would immediately become by far the best teammate Lillard has ever had.

And then we move onto the contenders. Memphis and Phoenix are in a dead heat for the No. 2 spot, and Phoenix (along with our No. 1 ranked team) is reportedly among Durant’s preferred destinations. Phoenix would probably be Durant’s preference based on his well-known affection for Devin Booker. He considered linking up with Chris Paul in 2016, but better late than never. Mikal Bridges, DeAndre Ayton in a sign-and-trade and all of Phoenix’s picks (which are deceptively valuable on a roster suddenly built around a 37-year-old Paul and a soon-to-be 34-year-old Durant) would be the basis of a deal here. One possible hiccup: Ayton’s cooperation would be required. If he signs an offer sheet with another team? The Suns are out of the running here.

Memphis has a slightly better package to offer. Desmond Bane’s scoring is probably more valuable than Bridges’ defense for the long haul. Jaren Jackson is already locked into a reasonable contract. The Grizzlies have been hoarding picks for several years now, and while their own selections wouldn’t be as enticing as Phoenix’s, the sheer volume they could throw at Brooklyn would surely appeal to a Nets team that is without its own selections. 

And at the top of the heap, as is so often the case where superstars are concerned, are the Miami Heat. Tyler Herro has been tossed into plenty of hypothetical trades in recent weeks, but for a player of Durant’s caliber? Miami would likely at least consider building a package around him and Bam Adebayo. Here’s where we encounter our first slight hiccup: teams are not allowed to have multiple Designated Rookie max salaries that they traded for on their roster, and Ben Simmons already has one. That means that the Nets cannot acquire Adebayo without moving Simmons, but there are workarounds here. Maybe Simmons goes to a third team, or maybe Adebayo does. Brooklyn could get a strong package back for either, and with Adebayo locked into a long-term deal, he wouldn’t have any say over his destination.

The Heat created some more flexibility at the trade deadline by moving the protections on a first-round pick they owe to the Thunder. They’ll be able to trade their 2022 first-round pick, Nikola Jovic, along with their 2023 choice and one pick from either 2028 or 2029. If the Nets want Duncan Robinson? I can’t imagine he’d stand in the way of a deal. The end goal would be to pair Durant with Jimmy Butler. Hopefully Kyle Lowry would remain in place. The Heat would then use their mid-level exception or possibly another trade to add some size, and their remarkable track record of developing bench players in the G League would ensure robust depth. Add all of that up and you have a team that should not only appeal to Durant, but would be willing to give up what it would take to land him.

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