Previously, Kevin Durant requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday.
His desire to get out of town is reportedly so serious that he delivered the news directly to Team Governor Joe Tsai, along with a list of preferred landing spots headlined by the Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns.
Kevin Durant chose chaos to open 2022 NBA free agency—and pretty much everyone around the league is about to feel the ramifications.
This is an extraordinary saga playing out in Brooklyn right now. Durant is not only one of the greatest NBA players of all time, but he has a full four years left on his current contract—with no early opt-outs.
How negotiations unfold from here will be fascinating. Do the Nets take into consideration where KD wants to land? Alternatively, do they disregard his whims knowing his next team need not worry about his entering free agency anytime soon? Are we about to see one of the richest trade packages in NBA history? On the other hand, does a 33-year-old who has appeared in fewer regular season and playoff games since 2016-17 than Joel Embiid actually not command the king’s ransom we would expect?
This all says nothing of the prospective fallout elsewhere, both in Brooklyn and around the league. Who is best positioned to get KD? What does this mean for Kyrie Irving? And Ben Simmons?
In an attempt to make sense of the bedlam in Brooklyn, let us once again bust out the Immediate Reactionizer 3000 to parse through the biggest potential winners and losers from the NBA’s most unpredictable and ubiquitous dramedy.
Loser: Brooklyn Nets
As the Nets might pin their subsidence on Kyrie Irving’s denial to get the COVID-19 vaccine this past season, they are far from blameless.
Nobody forced them to tie any part of their livelihood to Kyrie, who had already left the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics under, at best, mercurial circumstances when Brooklyn signed him. More than that, the Nets are choosing an inopportune, if not superficial, time to suddenly grow a spine.
Brooklyn’s front-office members turned the organization over to KD and Kyrie in 2019 when they paid DeAndre Jordan and played him in front of Jarrett Allen, and again when they let Kenny Atkinson leave in March 2020. Again, when they hired Steve Nash, and yet again when they mortgaged depth, draft picks and flexibility to acquire James Harden, and again still when they allowed Kyrie to rejoin the team as a part-time player.
Drawing the line now, in contentious Kyrie extension talks that ended with him picking up his player option, is weird, hollow, and pointless. And it’s costing them Kevin Durant.
As for what, exactly? It certainly is not to springboard yourself into a brighter future. The cupboard is not barren, but it is not exactly half-full or the least bit clarifying,..
The Houston Rockets control your next five first-round picks, all of them unprotected! (Swaps in 2023, 2025 and 2027. Two outright goners in 2024 and 2026.) You are essentially starting from scratch, armed only with whatever assets you can extract from Kyrie and KD trades and inevitable deals for Seth Curry, Joe Harris and the recently acquired Royce O’Neale. Your new building blocks are Ben “Hasn’t Played Basketball in Over a Year and Is Coming Off Back Surgery” Simmons, the newly re-signed Nicolas Claxton, Cameron Thomas and the Philadelphia 76ers’ 2027 pick (top-eight protection).
Winner: Kevin Durant’s Next Team
Miami and Phoenix get a nice self-esteem boost just for topping Kevin Durant’s list of preferred destinations. They can both, incidentally, cobble together reasonably aggressive offers for the two-time Finals MVP.
Established, the Nets must return to reality first. Sources told Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer Brooklyn would not move KD to Phoenix without getting back Devin Booker. That is not happening, for a multitude of reasons. Booker just signed a maximum extension with the Suns, according to report, and cannot be traded for a year.
Even without that allowance, Booker would still be on a designated rookie deal. Teams cannot have more than one of those contracts on their cap sheet, so the Nets would need to reroute Ben Simmons as part of any trade. In addition, that is assuming the Suns would even consider sending out Booker. (Spoiler: They would not.) Identical issues apply with Bam Adebayo in Miami, who is also on a designated rookie deal.
Just so, we are clear: This is not only a Suns-or-Heat sweepstakes. Other teams can and will come out of the woodwork. With four years left on his contract, Durant only has advantage inasmuch as the Nets care to factor in his preferences. Any team with a bunch of assets can, and will, and should, seek to enter the fold.
The Toronto Raptors can cook up a bunch of interesting packages, even if none of them includes Scottie Barnes. Ditto for the New Orleans Pelicans, even if they will not give up Zion Williamson. And for the Memphis Grizzlies, even if Jaren Jackson Jr. (who just had right foot surgery) and Ja Morant are out of bounds.
Boston could put Jaylen Brown (and more) on the table. The Denver Nuggets could party-crash negotiations if the Nets are enamored with Jamal Murray and/or Michael Porter Jr., as well as Bones Hyland. Would the Golden State Warriors put Jonathan Kuminga and a bunch of picks on the table to facilitate a reunion?
Theoretically, the possibilities are endless. Such is the impact of Durant’s contract. Regardless, wherever he lands, and however much it costs, that team will be immediately better off—a certified title contender, if not one of the absolute favorites.
Loser: Non-KD Suitors in the West
We may not know where Kevin Durant is going, but the thought of him shoring up—or creating an entirely new—championship contender should not sit well with anyone inside the Western Conference.
Best-case scenario for those who do not land KD: He ends up on an Eastern Conference team; in which case there is still another league superpower to potentially grapple with, when you reach the NBA Finals.
Worst-case scenario and perhaps the most likely one should the Nets wish to send KD as far away as possible: A suitor in the West bags him, in which case an already hellacious conference gets impossibly bloodier.
Just consider the prospective layout of the West next year. The Warriors, Suns and Grizzlies should not be going anywhere. Probably losing Jalen Brunson will sting the Dallas Mavericks, but they still have Luka Doncic.
A frisky Pelicans squad is getting back Zion Williamson. At least one of the Nuggets and L.A. Clippers, if not both, should enjoy better health. The Portland Trail Blazers will presumably be at full strength—and no longer drowning in as many non-defenders.
The Utah Jazz have not traded Rudy Gobert or Donovan Mitchell (yet). The Minnesota Timberwolves have one of the NBA’s most promising duos in Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards. What if LeBron James and Anthony Davis both stay healthy and the Lakers do not suck.
Plop KD onto any one of these teams, and all the others are worse for wear by default.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
Please remember these are tentative winners and losers and TBDs, folks. And with that in mind: Congrats to the Lakers!
Los Angeles’ path to seizing Kyrie Irving never felt realistic. He was never going to leave $30 million on the table next season to sign for the mini mid-level exception, and Brooklyn had no reason to accept a package built around Russell Westbrook’s expiring contract. (Note: The Nets also need to include another player or sass out third-party participants to make the money work.)
The end may no longer be true.
Apparently, Kyrie is dead set on “forcing” his way to the Lakers after opting into the final year of his contract, according to a report. No, Los Angeles’ best potential trade offer—Westbrook, a 2027 first rounder, a 2029 first rounder and whatever else Brooklyn wants—has not changed. Nevertheless, the Nets’ trajectory is unrecognizable from just a few days ago.
Taking on Westbrook’s expiring salary is far more palatable if you are ushering in a rebuild. And whether they admit it or not, this is exactly what the Nets are doing. You do not trade Kevin Durant and see your title window survive. (Unless you have Stephen Curry. However, even the Warriors fell off a cliff for a minute.)
Brooklyn would ideally get more than two distant firsts and, like, Austin Reaves or whatever. Of course, this presupposes Kyrie has a robust trade market. He may not.
Suitors should not be any hotter for Kyrie now. Giving up assets for a player who could walk is a huge risk—particularly when it comes to teams that have the assets Brooklyn would most covet. Kyrie can always promise his next squad that he will stick around to facilitate a move. Ask the Celtics how they feel about that, though.
Moral of the story: Armed with scant few enticing assets, the Lakers now have an actually plausible path to Kyrie Irving—proving yet again that you can, in fact, fall upwards.
Losers: Nets Fans / Season Ticket Holders
Imagine being a Nets fan right now—like, an OG Nets fan, not someone who boarded the bandwagon in 2019.
First, you had the feel-good, no-expectations era in which Caris LeVert, D’Angelo Russell, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and many others became success stories. Then-head coach Kenny Atkinson was deemed a developmental wizard. General manager Sean Marks oversaw a cultural shift that prioritized players and their families. Your team was plucky. Ascendant.
That upward trajectory then caught the attention of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant—which, great! Who cares if Atkinson eventually left? On the other hand, DeAndre Jordan led the league in MBFs (Megastar Best Friends). You had Kyrie and KD. Then, while you gave up a lot, you tacked on James Harden!
Since then, though, you have seen Kyrie miss a majority of home games for refusing to be vaccinated and running Harden out of town. Grabbing Ben Simmons as part of Harden’s exit was massive, and your team just scooped up a highly useful player in Royce O’Neale. But you’re also about to lose Durant. And probably Kyrie. And then, probably a bunch of others.
On top of that, anyone who purchased season tickets for the 2022-23 campaign thinking they would get to see Kyrie, KD and Ben will now see a Collection of Players To Be Determined Later. And if that’s not bad enough, the Brooklyn Fyre Festivals won’t be issuing any refunds or credits for said season tickets.
To be Determined…
Yes, KD is initiating his divorce from the Nets. And sure, he’ll land somewhere cushy, even if it’s not his first or second option. But talking heads have already tried to poke holes in his legacy, first for joining the Warriors, now for spurning them and hitching his wagon to Kyrie Irving.
Perhaps KD is actually a winner. Not only is he on track to get out of Brooklyn, but would he really risk the backlash of a trade from a team he chose and formed if he wasn’t totally secure in his resume and reputation?
Kyrie could perhaps get his way and wind up with the Lakers. That matters. Nevertheless, this is now the third title contender he has submarines.
Indeed, the Nets are fully capable. They were complicit in creating this mess. However, perception of Kyrie has fallen so far that the New York Knicks, of all teams, preferred to focus on clearing cap space for a nine-figure run at Jalen Brunson rather than pursue one of the superstars they were supposed to sign in 2019?
This “L” will be very light to hold if Kyrie is traded to the Lakers and they give him the full boat next summer. Anecdotally, it will cost him, both immediately and in future legacy debates. And if he for some reason tries to sign elsewhere in free agency next summer—be it because he’s bolting the Nets, the Lakers or another team—it may cost him then, too.
Ben Simmons just missed an entire season of basketball and is now coming off back surgery. A Nets team headlined by KD and Kyrie gave him a soft landing spot.
Will Brooklyn trade him, too? In addition, will he be set up to succeed wherever he goes? Do the Nets actually consider soldiering onward while building their team around him? That is a potential win, but it also exacerbates the pressure he already faces following his unflattering end to the 2021 postseason and drawn-out exit from the Sixers.