The NBA’s free agency moratorium period ends at noon ET on Wednesday, but that seems unlikely to have much impact on the Kevin Durant sweepstakes.
Despite Durant’s trade request from Brooklyn—mere hours before free agency commenced on June 30—the Nets are not operating with any sense of urgency to move Durant, sources told B/R. After a flurry of trade chatter heading into the holiday weekend, league personnel have begun discussing the potential for Brooklyn to retain Durant—as well as Kyrie Irving—into the regular season, should a commensurate package for the two-time Finals MVP never emerge.
There is no pressure on Brooklyn. Durant has four more years remaining on his contract. And it will prove challenging, maybe even impossible, to find a trade partner that can meet Brooklyn’s lofty asking price for Durant, which is perceived to be at least one All-Star caliber talent and a surplus of draft capital, all while Durant’s new team still has enough firepower to support his championship aspirations. An All-NBA superstar requesting a trade, while still considered a top-five player in the league, is a virtually unprecedented event in league history.
Recent mega-hauls for All-Star guard Dejounte Murray and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert have influenced the market price for Durant.
When San Antonio moved Murray to Atlanta, the Spurs netted two unprotected first round picks, a third first rounder with protections, plus a pick-swap. Gobert brought back Utah a slew of players—veterans Malik Beasley and Patrick Beverley, plus upside prospects in Walker Kessler, Leandro Bolmaro, Jarred Vanderbilt—and a stash of three unprotected first-rounders’, an unprotected pick swap, plus a top-five protected pick in 2029. The Nets are acting far more motivated than the Jazz or Spurs to recoup a package that keeps the team’s title window ajar.
“Rudy Gobert getting traded for an arm, a leg and two mountains is helping their cause. There’s no way the Nets will ever trade Kevin Durant for anything less than what Rudy Gobert got Utah,” said one Western Conference executive. “If nothing comes, I can see them saying [to the players], ‘We just all have to come back.’ If I’m them, I just try to string this out as long as possible.”
Even with Phoenix and Miami, Durant’s two known destinations on his wish list, the Suns and Heat would struggle to surrender a requisite package for the Nets to part with Durant, while their remaining team still boasts a contending rotation. There does not seem to be any package from Miami that would entice the Nets without including Bam Adebayo. Phoenix could theoretically form a trio of Durant, Devin Booker and Chris Paul, but who else would be left?
“Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and five picks still isn’t enough to me for KD,” one general manager told a news reporter.
The Nets have continued making moves with the goal of competing for next year’s title. Trading a 2023 first-round pick for Royce O’Neale and adding T.J. Warren on a minimum salary are win-now transactions. In a world where Durant and Irving return to Barclays Center alongside a rehabilitated Simmons, Brooklyn would boast one of the more potent on-paper lineups in the Eastern Conference.
Ayton’s restricted free agency appears to be the offseason domino Durant’s trade limbo has most directly stalled. Toronto and Indiana have repeatedly been mentioned as looming landing spots for the talented young center, but Utah has been described to B/R as an unlikely destination for Ayton, despite the Jazz moving off Gobert.
There are still expected to be other suitors for Ayton, league sources said, and an offer sheet could come soon now that the moratorium is ending. When an NBA team signs a restricted free agent to an offer sheet, the two-day window in which the player’s incumbent team can match said offer could only begin once the moratorium period concludes. Signing a sheet before Wednesday afternoon would have locked the offering team into a difficult purgatory.
Only Indiana and San Antonio currently hold the cap space to give Ayton the payday he wants.
But even if an offer from the Pacers or Spurs emerges, it’s possible Ayton would prefer sign-and-trade outcomes to a playoff unit over two different rebuilding situations.
That is where Ayton’s offseason crashes into a Durant-sized roadblock. Any team interested in an Ayton sign-and-trade, especially a team loaded with the assets to potentially draw Durant; will hesitate to make a splurge for Ayton before Durant’s situation gets resolved.
The Raptors are the most obvious team fitting that description. For Toronto to land Ayton, the Raptors would need to sacrifice valuable players or picks in a sign-and-trade that could be used for Durant instead. Of important note regarding Toronto: Multiple sources with knowledge of the situation say the Raptors are unwilling to part with reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes.
If Ayton signs into Indiana’s cap space, that could actually impact Durant’s trade request. Even an Ayton sign-and-trade to Indiana would complicate the cleanest path for Phoenix to acquire Durant—Ayton’s free agency. In that scenario, it is unlikely that Phoenix and Indiana could create a combined package that would entice Brooklyn to part with Durant.
Pacers center Myles Turner has not generated significant traction on the trade market this offseason, sources said. A theoretical trade return of Turner, multiple Suns wings and draft capital still would not appear to satisfy the Nets, according to sources.
Irving’s status is of course connected to Durant’s trade outcome as well, but his number of possible outcomes seems far fewer than Ayton’s. While the Mavericks and Sixers have been discussed as theoretical destinations for Irving, league sources strongly discounted Dallas and Philadelphia’s interest in the All-Star guard.
The Lakers are the one team with an obvious desire to poach Irving from Brooklyn, but there is plenty of skepticism around the NBA that L.A. can acquire Irving in a direct two-team swap with the Nets. Brooklyn’s goal of contending already disqualifies a theoretical package of Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks from satisfying the Nets’ wishes for any Irving or Durant return.
Westbrook is also set to make $47 million in 2022-23, roughly $11 million more than Irving. This exercise is not apples to apples, but if Brooklyn essentially replaced Irving’s contract with Westbrook’s, the Nets would suffer over $50 million in tax penalties, according to salary projections.
As league personnel descend upon Las Vegas for the NBA’s Summer League this week, the Durant, Irving and Ayton situations all appear destined to hang over the annual event for the near future.