It’s not often that a surefire MVP candidate comes on the trade market with four years left on his contract. That’s what might be happening with Kevin Durant as it appears increasingly likely that relations have broken down with the Brooklyn Nets. Kyrie Irving’s negotiations on an extension have reportedly not gone well and Durant is reportedly “considering his options” based on the possibility that Irving doesn’t come to an agreement with the Nets.
Of course, the Irving situation with Brooklyn could still be resolved, and that is probably Durant’s preferred outcome. But there is a growing possibility that Durant comes on the market. Every single team should at least think about it. Durant will be 34 this season, but he remains one of the best players in the league and projects to age very well.
Let’s rank all of the teams that might be in the race, based on what kind of offer they could assemble and how willing they’d be to enter the proceedings.
Hesitant to trade their young stars
11. Denver Nuggets
10. Cleveland Cavaliers
9. Boston Celtics
There are two types of offers that Brooklyn will receive: the “centerpiece” offer, with a young star player who projects as a building block. And then there is the draft picks to offer, built around basically a team’s entire future draft capital. It’s similar to the decision Houston faced in James Harden talks. It came down to either Ben Simmons, the centerpiece, or the Nets’ offer of primarily draft picks. The Rockets chose the picks and that decision looks better every day as the Nets have unexpectedly imploded.
Denver will have to ask themselves how willing they’d be to trade Jamal Murray. We’ve seen Murray be an outstanding playoff performer and co-star for Nikola Jokić, and he’s still just 25. But he’s coming off a long-term injury, and Denver doesn’t have many draft picks in their locker to add to a deal. A Nuggets offer might not be all that enticing to either team.
The Cavaliers might very well balk at the idea of trading Evan Mobley for Durant. Mobley just won Rookie of the Year and projects to be a great contributor to a winning team for more than a decade. Would Cleveland trade Darius Garland and picks instead, and is that even remotely enough? Garland just made an All-Star team. As exciting as the prospect of grabbing Durant is, I’m not sure that the Cavs should blow up their young core.
Boston just made the Finals, so obviously they should be hesitant to do anything rash. But they would have a solid chance at Durant with an offer based around Jaylen Brown. Imagine a lineup of Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant, Al Horford, and Robert Williams III. That’s a championship.
The draft pick offers
8. Atlanta Hawks
7. New York Knicks
6. Portland Trail Blazers
There is something to be said for Brooklyn to focus on replenishing its draft capital in any Durant trade. These teams can offer picks and lesser building blocks.
The Hawks have all of their future first-rounders, plus a 2023 lottery-protected Hornets pick available to trade. A John Collins and DeAndre Hunter offer alongside multiple picks isn’t too bad for Brooklyn. Can they find a way to make it work with the salary cap?
The Knicks spent the draft forfeiting lottery picks in order to clear cap space and add future picks to their trade capital. In classic Knicks fashion, their main goal is to overpay Jalen Brunson in order to scrap for the eighth seed. But if Durant (or Irving, which is a different discussion) is available, then they’d surely love to spend their future picks and cap space on a star.
New York can offer all sorts of draft picks, and RJ Barrett is a promising player to add-in. The Knicks are also flush with useful young players: Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Cam Reddish, and the restricted free agent Mitchell Robinson. Julius Randle equalizes salary, though I’d be hesitant to take his contract on if I were the Nets. Overall, the Nets should be able to find a better Durant offer, but the Knicks can definitely put together a package.
Damian Lillard posted a photoshop of him and Durant together in Blazers uniforms on Saturday. Portland has already acquired Jerami Grant, and with Jusuf Nurkic and Josh Hart, the rough outline of a competitive team exists. Their offer would center on the promising young guard Anfernee Simons (who I really like, although his defense is anemic) and tons of draft picks. Portland desperately wants to contend right now with Lillard. They’ll have to be willing to mortgage their whole future if they want Durant.
Get on the phone
5. Toronto Raptors
4. Miami Heat
3. Memphis Grizzlies
2. New Orleans Pelicans
1. Phoenix Suns
These teams have the assets to entice Brooklyn while also keeping an instant contender for Durant.
The Raptors have Scottie Barnes, who nearly won Rookie of the Year. Like Cleveland with Mobley, they might hesitate at giving away Barnes. Perhaps they would try to offer Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby alongside draft picks instead. But imagine they deal Barnes and Gary Trent Jr. for Durant. They could have a core of VanVleet, Durant, Pascal Siakam, and Anunoby. As much as giving away Barnes might be a non-starter, the Raptors could assemble an instant championship contender. It’s like the 2019 team with Kawhi Leonard, except Siakam and VanVleet are bona fide All-Stars and All-NBA players now, and Durant has four years on his contract. It is something to think about.
The Heat could make a pretty competitive offer built around Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson. They might back away at the thought of giving away Adebayo, who will turn 25 in July and improves every year but a Durant-Jimmy Butler duo, alongside Miami’s stable and versatile supporting cast, is very intriguing. The Heat’s problem is that Herro is not good enough to be the foundation of a trade if Adebayo is off the table.
Memphis has all of its future draft picks and two enticing young talents: Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. They have a need for a player like Durant, an apex scorer, and a big wing. Their free-flowing, egalitarian offense would be perfect for Durant. How willing are they to deal one or both of Bane and Jackson? The Grizzlies are on a longer timeline and might want to stay on their path rather than blowing things up for a 34-year-old superstar.
(I will suggest something crazy: What if they dealt Ja Morant for Durant? The Nets would surely jump at the chance. The Grizzlies have an amazing team without Morant. It is hard to build a championship team around a small guard who doesn’t play defense, and Morant is an uber-athletic player with an injury history and a rocky three-point shot; guards with that profile don’t always stay great for decades. It would never happen and I admit that the Grizzlies might be crazy to deal a 22-year-old potential future MVP.)
The Pelicans can offer either Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram. I imagine the Nets would be happy to have either. Williamson, for whatever injury concerns there are, was a surefire All-NBA player in the minutes he played as a rookie. He is a generational talent. New Orleans has CJ McCollum and role players (Jonas Valanciunas, Herb Jones, Trey Murphy III) to form a great team around Durant and Ingram if they offered up Zion. It would be a risk, but winning a championship requires some risk.
Perhaps more than any team, the Suns have the players to make this an interesting deal. Their package is easy to come up with: Deandre Ayton (in a sign-and-trade), Mikal Bridges, and Cam Johnson. They’d probably give up a couple of future firsts, too. Those three are winning players with playoff-ready skillsets and many years of prime basketball left. Durant could form a big three with Devin Booker and Chris Paul. It makes a lot of sense.
It’s hard to know how many of these trades are realistic. Unexpected teams with young players and draft picks could enter the proceedings (I, uh, chose not to mention OKC and Golden State.) Maybe Durant never gets traded and he stays with Irving and Ben Simmons in Brooklyn. But if he does, it will dramatically shake up the league.