When Kyrie Irving exercised his player option to remain in Brooklyn for the 2022-23 NBA season, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that Irving picked it not only because it guaranteed him a cool $36.5 million for next season, but also because he wanted “to fulfill his four-year commitment to the Nets and Kevin Durant.” As it turns out, though, Irving needn’t have worried about holding up his end of what remains of that bargain; as it turns out, effective Thursday, there’s nothing left to hold up.
Durant, who with all due respect to Julius Erving, Jason Kidd, and Lucious Harris became the greatest player in franchise history the second he put on a Nets uniform, has made it known he wants out of Brooklyn on the next thing smokin’. After reportedly not communicating with the franchise for weeks, Durant went straight to owner Joe Tsai—who had reportedly supported GM Sean Marks holding a firm line on not granting Irving a long-term maximum-salaried extension—and requested a trade, three years to the day after he and Irving first decided to take their talents to Brooklyn. Life comes at you pretty fast in the NBA. Sometimes it hits like a fucking Mack truck.
Durant’s demand represents the franchise’s worst fears of how the contentious Irving extension negotiations might impact its relationship with his transcendent, rainmaking running buddy. It also instantly and utterly turned the whole NBA on its head; three hours before the official start of the NBA’s 2022 free agency period, the entire league swung its attention to a player who can’t reach free agency until the summer of 2026, but is now the belle of the offseason ball.
Stars of Durant’s caliber rarely become available. Even at age 33, with an Achilles rupture in his rearview and just under 41,000 total minutes on his odometer, he’s one of the five best players on the planet—an MVP-caliber scorer and offensive engine who also happens to be 7 feet tall and capable of playing both point guard and center on a championship-level team. If the going rate for Dejounte Murray, a very nice one-time All-Star, is two unprotected first-round picks, another protected first, and a pick swap, then the mind positively reels at what kind of return Marks and Co. will demand for Durant, who just averaged a tick under 30-7.5-6.5 on .634 true shooting in his 14th season played, and who has four fully guaranteed years left on the extension he signed just last summer.
In a vacuum, all 29 other teams should be lining up to take their best shot at landing the kind of world-shaking talent who can shift the NBA’s balance of power all by himself. (After all, he’s done it before.) Start applying nettlesome context, though, and the aperture narrows. The league’s rebuilders (Orlando, Houston, Detroit, Indiana, now San Antonio) need not apply; ditto for those perennially stuck in the murky middle (Sacramento, Washington) or whom Marks would likely sooner set himself on fire than hand Durant, even if KD wanted to go there (the Knicks). As narratively satisfying as it would be for Sam Presti to back his U-Haul of draft picks up to the loading dock at Barclays Center to bring the prodigal son back to the prairie, a return in Oklahoma City seems unlikely, as does a homecoming by the Bay; according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, “The only team that NBA sources with knowledge of the situation have indicated is not a tangible option for Durant is Golden State.” (Still some hard feelings there.)
You also have to consider the fact that Brooklyn’s other Thursday activity—trading a first-round pick for former Jazz 3-and-D man Royce O’Neale, re-signing Patty Mills and Nic Claxton, and signaling an intent to hold onto Ben Simmons—suggests a team planning to reload in the post-KD and likely post-Kyrie era. That means we’re looking for potential trade partners who can furnish the Nets with players who can give them a fighting chance in a resurgent, deep, and tough Eastern Conference. Those roster realities, plus age, injury history, and expected depreciation with the ravages of time, might depress Durant’s market some.
It wouldn’t surprise me at all, though, if Brooklyn looked at what the Pelicans got for Anthony Davis (three future first-round picks with few protections, one first-round pick swap, and three good young players) and what the Rockets got—in part, from them!—for James Harden (three first-rounders and four swaps, all unprotected, plus a pair of young players) as roughly analogous jumping-off points for negotiations on what figures to be “a historic return.”
So … who will jump off?
Let’s take a look at five of the most intriguing KD destinations, deals that could produce maximum fireworks and change the championship picture:
The Trade: Kevin Durant for Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, three first-round picks, and two first-round swaps
As a starting point for an offer, a pair of 25-and-under two-way difference-makers who’ve already played pivotal roles on a Finals team isn’t half bad. Add in that Phoenix is reportedly one of Durant’s preferred destinations (not that Brooklyn’s required to send him to one of them, but still), plus the fact that the Suns—not exactly the most draft-stoked franchise in the NBA, as it turns out—own all of their future first-round picks, and it seems like there might be a plausible framework here. (Provided, of course, the Nets come off their reported “just supermaxed out Devin Booker or bust!” asking price.)
The problem: It’s awfully complicated to get this structure over the finish line, thanks partly to the fact that a signed-and-traded Ayton contract would be subject to base year compensation restrictions—meaning only half of his salary would count for trade purposes—and partly to the fact that Brooklyn would need to offload some salary to be able to take in Phoenix’s package and still stay under the “apron,” which would impose a hard cap that the Nets couldn’t exceed. There are ways to get there: Brooklyn could move Irving, or Simmons, or maybe expand the trade to send Joe Harris to Phoenix while taking back smaller fillers like ex-Net Landry Shamet or Torrey Craig. If the Nets can find a way to make the math work, though, Ayton-Bridges-Simmons looks like the core of a formidable defense that can help Brooklyn stay competitive now while replenishing the draft coffers a bit.
The Trade: Durant for Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, and Gary Trent Jr. OR Pascal Siakam and Anunoby, plus multiple first-round picks and multiple swaps
This probably comes down to how dearly Marks values Barnes. If he sees the reigning Rookie of the Year as a potential franchise cornerstone who can lead Brooklyn for years to come, then maybe he’s willing to take a slightly lesser “win-now” package in favor of locking in that long-term upside. If not, well, Masai Ujiri can instead structure the offer around a 28-year-old two-time All-NBA wing playing arguably the best ball of his career, plus Anunoby, an All-Defense-caliber swingman with potential 20-point-scoring upside. On one hand, it’s a lot to give up for a player who might not necessarily want to be there (although KD did want to be a Raptor once upon a time). On the other hand, Ujiri is pretty famously un-shook when it comes to betting on himself and Toronto, and it’s panned out pretty well for him before.
The Trade: Durant for Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, three future firsts (at least two unprotected), three swaps, a lifetime supply of barbecue
The fact that Desmond Bane is still on his rookie deal and making only $2.1 million next season complicates matters some; you’d imagine Marks would insist on the sweet-shooting bowling ball of a guard in any deal. As it stands, though, a 22-year-old potential Defensive Player of the Year with a chance to develop into a legitimate floor-spacing unicorn—JJJ shot 38.4 percent from 3-point range over his first two seasons before dipping over the last two—would be an awfully intriguing building block for whatever the next iteration of the Nets might look like. Brooks is as trick-or-treat as it gets on offense—see: the Golden State series—but he’s a phenomenal point-of-attack defender and hard-nosed tone-setter, which might seem particularly valuable for a Nets franchise that seems to be looking to reestablish some semblance of coherent culture after three years spent trying on superstar status like an ill-fitting suit.
One big potential problem from the Brooklyn side: Thursday’s news that Jackson had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right foot and will be sidelined for the next four to six months. With a clean bill of health, Jackson’s a heck of a return; without one, you’d imagine Marks might be reluctant to view him as a foundational element in a deal.
The Trade: Durant for Jaylen Brown, Grant Williams, Daniel Theis, as many picks and swaps as is necessary to wipe clean the taste of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trade
OK, now this is one you can actually break up the Jays over. Remember all those offensive possessions in the Finals when the Celtics just kind of tripped over their own feet and threw up on themselves? Let’s hand some of those to Kevin freaking Durant and see if maybe they don’t work out a little bit differently.
On the flip side, the Nets get Brown, an excellent 25-year-old two-way wing with a ton of big games already under his belt; he’s a player who has gotten better year after year after year, is under contract for two more seasons, and has some experience in helping to shepherd an energy shift. Lord knows Brooklyn could use one of those right about now.
The Trade: Durant and Joe Harris for John Collins, Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovic, 2023 and 2029 first-round picks, whatever swaps aren’t nailed down or already headed to San Antonio
If you’re going to go all in, go all the fuck in, right?
Collins, who has been on the trade block since before he even signed his $125 million contract, could find fresh opportunities as a roll man and pop threat in a refashioned Brooklyn offense that could take better advantage of his versatility. Capela provides a steady backbeat as the kind of rim protector that the Nets sorely lacked last season after letting Jarrett Allen go to open the starting job for DeAndre Jordan to accommodate Durant and Irving, which, yipes! Bogdanovic, when healthy, is a super-useful combo guard who can contribute on and off the ball and would allow Brooklyn to claim victory as the first NBA team to have employed both Bogdanovics. There’s not as much draft capital here, after the Hawks sent a ton of it to the Spurs for Murray, but Brooklyn can get what’s left—and, hell, if Marks wants them, maybe recent draftees Jalen Johnson, AJ Griffin, and/or Sharife Cooper, too, just as a treat.
The Hawks, for their part, would have Durant, Onyeka Okongwu (stepping into the starting spot Capela leaves behind), and De’Andre Hunter up front, with Murray and Trae Young (who’s come a looooong way since he first met KD) in the backcourt, plus Harris, Kevin Huerter, and Insert Eighth Man Here rounding out your playoff rotation. Is that a championship-caliber team? I don’t know. But it sure seems like it’d be fun to find out.