The specter of a handful of high-profile trades will not allow this offseason to rest.
Even with the draft done and free agency mostly in the rear view, potential moves for Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and Donovan Mitchell are looming.
And in the wee hours of Monday morning, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski stirred things up with a report on another team seemingly entering the fray for KD.
Despite a run to the Finals with 24-year-old Jayson Tatum and 25-year-old Jaylen Brown, the Boston Celtics may be willing to part with the latter for the 33-year-old Durant.
“The Celtics offered Brown, guard Derrick White and a draft pick to the Nets for Durant,” Shams Charania wrote for The Athletic. “The proposal was rejected, and Brooklyn has asked Boston—in any proposal to include Brown, Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, draft picks and potentially one more rotation player.”
Is it worth scrapping the timeline for a superstar entering his mid-30s and coming off three injury-plagued seasons? For the right price, perhaps.
A package that works for both of those teams, as well as trades for the other stars mentioned up top:
Celtics Speed Things Up for Kevin Durant
The Trade: Kevin Durant for Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, a 2025 first-round pick, a 2027 first-round pick swap and a 2029 first-round pick swap
There are some glaring issues on the optics front here. Durant is eight years older than Brown. He has played in only 90 games over the last three seasons and has an Achilles rupture in his history.
And perhaps most difficult to overcome, we’re only three months removed from Durant’s Nets being swept by Brown’s Celtics.
After enduring years of meme treatment for joining the 73-win Golden State Warriors in 2016, being traded to a team that just beat his team will draw ruthless mocking and criticism.
Of course, this one is less in his hands than the free-agency decision he made six years ago. Any trade will likely have some level of approval from KD, but Boston was not among his earlier reported preferred destinations.
And assuming he can stay on the floor, he and Tatum would be among the game’s most dangerous offensive duos.
The age gap between Durant and Brown is a significant concern, but the former is almost certainly the better player in the short term.
Is that difference big enough to justify giving up on the future, though?
Boston was already sitting in pole position (or at least close to it) in the East, just by bringing everyone back. And with Tatum and Brown as your top two, you have the potential to contend for around a decade. Swapping Brown for Durant opens the window wider, but it shortens the amount of time it will stay that way.
The Celtics have certainly considered all of that already, though. Pushing their chips in for KD would make the Milwaukee Bucks less of a worry. Ditto for the Philadelphia 76ers. And it’d probably eliminate the Nets from the analysis for the foreseeable future.
Losing Smart is a big deal too, but the addition of Malcolm Brogdon for a pick and fringe rotation players softens that blow. And Boston could probably get away with adding fewer picks than most teams, since its package includes a 25-year-old All-Star.
Utah Relents on Donovan Mitchell
The Trade: Donovan Mitchell for Evan Fournier, Quentin Grimes, Cam Reddish, a 2023 first-round pick, a 2025 first-round pick, a 2027 first-round pick and a 2029 first-round pick
This isn’t the monster return that the Utah Jazz asked for (reportedly Quentin Grimes, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, Miles McBride and a whopping six picks), but it’s also pretty hard to imagine any other suitors beating it.
According to Charania, “several other teams have expressed interest to the Jazz when it comes to Mitchell, such as Washington, Miami, Toronto, Charlotte, Sacramento and Atlanta.”
Among those, the Toronto Raptors might have the only piece that could trump a four-pick deal from New York, but Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported that the Raptors “are unwilling to part with reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes.” Understandably so.
Once Utah canvasses the league and realizes the biggest trade package of all time may not be a gimme for a player ranked in the 15 to 25 range, it should return to New York to extract as much as it can.
And if it’s something in the neighborhood of what’s laid out above, that’s a heck of a deal for the Jazz.
On top of the first-round picks, Grimes has shown some potential as a positionless wing. He shot 38.1 percent from three as a rookie in 2021-22, and he followed that up with 22.6 points in this year’s Las Vegas Summer League.
Cam Reddish still has upside as a potential three-and-D wing too. Prior to his trade to the Knicks last season, he was hitting 37.9 percent of these threes.
They are certainly not Brown and Tatum right now, but they are at least closer to that mold of position-less wings that Danny Ainge used to build the Celtics. He appears to be after something similar in Utah.
As for Evan Fournier, he is in there for salary-matching purposes. Perhaps if he shows enough in 2022-23, the Jazz can flip him for something down the line.
On New York’s side of the deal, there is no doubt this is a steep price to pay. Some Knicks fans would likely balk at the inclusion of so much for an undersized two with major defensive limitations.
However, Mitchell is a star the likes of which New York has not had since Carmelo Anthony. His offensive ceiling is among the highest in the league, and he would at least make the Knicks exciting, something that has been exceptionally rare over the last 20-plus years.
None of those draft picks represents a sure thing. Mitchell is a 25-year-old multi-time All-Star who will post an average in the mid-to-high 20s for points per game, and he gets even better in the playoffs.
Lakers Send Russell Westbrook Somewhere Other Than Brooklyn
The Trade: Russell Westbrook, a 2027 first-round pick and two second-round picks for Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic
The Indiana Pacers were interested in a trade that would have sent Buddy Hield and Myles Turner to the Los Angeles Lakers for Russell Westbrook, but they understandably wanted L.A. to kick in two first-round picks to get it done.
With those negotiations seemingly on the rocks, the Lakers should pivot to another team entering a rebuild for a similar package.
Taking on the $47.1 million owed to Westbrook for 2022-23, only to buy him out, is no small thing. Therefore, the Jazz might insist on a second first-round pick too. However, if L.A. is willing to pay that, it should just send the package to Indiana for the younger (and probably better-fitting) return.
If L.A. is dead set on only sending out one first and Utah feels content in basking in the massive hauls it got for Gobert and (presumably) Mitchell, this deal makes sense.
Again, Utah would likely just buy Westbrook out and allow him to enter free agency. Its primary concern right now is asset accumulation, and Russ probably does not have much interest in putting up empty-calorie numbers on a tanking team.
In addition, if you think about paying that buyout in the context of the greater teardown, it is easier to stomach.
For the Lakers, this trade undoubtedly makes them better.
Mike Conley has spent the last three years getting comfortable as more of an off-ball point guard alongside Donovan Mitchell. During his time in Utah, he has hit 40.1 percent of his threes. Being that kind of catch-and-shoot threat makes him a great fit alongside LeBron James, even if his defense is not what it was with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Adding Bojan Bogdanovic serves a similar function. He is a career 39.2 percent three-point shooter. Though he is no lockdown defender, he has the size and willingness necessary to survive in switch-heavy schemes.
Even if the Lakers had to include two firsts, getting two starting-quality shooters to space the floor for LeBron and Anthony Davis would probably be a win (though again, if willing to part with both picks, they should go back to Indiana).
Nets Look for a Long-Term Point Guard in D’Angelo Russell
The Trade: Kyrie Irving for D’Angelo Russell
This trade is weird, and it can probably only exist in the world in which Durant has already been traded somewhere.
In terms of talent, Brooklyn is not getting equal value by swapping Kyrie for D’Angelo Russell, but everything else that comes along with the enigmatic star is driving his value down.
Any team (other than maybe the Lakers) is taking on something of a risk by giving anything up for Irving, but the Minnesota Timberwolves are already all-in on the present (the Gobert trade signaled that).
One more move to raise their short-term ceiling might make sense, especially if they are unsure on whether they want to re-sign Russell next season.
For Brooklyn, again, this probably only makes sense if KD is gone and someone like Brown is in his place. Who knows? Maybe Brown and Irving would get along, but there is little doubt the Nets would be further from a championship without Durant. That could make Irving even antsier to leave.
And if that’s the case, a one-year test drive with a former Net who actually made an All-Star team in Brooklyn might be worth it.
It would be an older rebuild, but a 1-2-3 of Russell, Smart and Brown would not be a terrible place to start.