The 2019-2022 Brooklyn Nets truly will be the biggest what-if team in NBA history. Last week, a contractual dispute between Kyrie Irving and the Nets started to give Kevin Durant a wandering eye. Now Durant has reportedly asked for a trade, according to Shams Charania.
Several teams must have been preparing for this moment after last week’s reports of Durant’s uncertain future in Brooklyn. Then, we discussed Irving’s potential trade destinations and how his departure could trigger an immediate rebuild for the Nets. Durant is still one of the best players in the league and maintains enough trade for the Nets to extract every asset playoff teams have to offer. The HoopsHype staff voted Kevin Durant as the 13th best player in NBA history, which would make him the second-best player to ever get traded in the modern era under Shaquille O’Neal.
Unless moved to a team with enough cap space to fit Durant’s $44.1 million salary, the magic number for over-the-cap teams to acquire him is $35.2 million. assuming a deal gets done in the 2022-23 league year. Durant may not have the ultimate say towards which team he goes to considering he has four years, $198 million left on his deal, but the veteran superstar would likely still get to one of his preferred teams.
According to Chris Haynes, Phoenix is one of Durant’s preferred destinations. The Suns are facing a showdown with Deandre Ayton in free agency who is demanding a maximum contract. His future has been up in the air with reports that the Suns are open to sign-and-trade offers for him because they don’t view him as a maximum contract player. There is still a possibility he re-signs with the Suns, but perhaps acquiring Durant can be the type of sign-and-trade scenario involving Ayton they want.
The maximum starting salary Ayton is eligible for is projected at $30.9 million. However, even if the Nets agreed to acquire Ayton on a maximum contract, his outgoing salary from the Suns’ perspective would be $15.5 million. This is due to Base Year Compensation rules which limit a free agent’s outgoing salary in a sign-and-trade to the greater of 50 percent of the new salary, or the previous salary.
The Suns would still need to come up with roughly an additional $20 million in outgoing salaries along with Ayton on a maximum contract to match salaries for Durant’s $44.1 million. Assuming Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Mikal Bridges are off-limits, Cameron Johnson could be coveted by the Nets. A package of Ayton, Johnson, Jae Crowder, and Torrey Craig can get to the minimum requirement to match for Durant. If Bridges is required, he and Ayton on a maximum salary matches for Durant. The Suns also have all their first-round picks going forward, allowing them to trade up to a maximum of four first-round picks.
Brooklyn acquiring Ayton in a sign-and-trade would hard-cap them, so some other cost-cutting moves would have to follow to be able to fill up the roster within it. That could mean trading Irving in a deal where they take back significantly less salary.
The Atlanta Hawks appear willing to make significant changes as every player on their roster is available other than Trae Young, and to a lesser extent, DeAndre Hunter and Onyeka Okungwu. If Durant is available to Atlanta, they could make an exception in regards to Hunter and Okungwu. They already made a splash by acquiring Dejounte Murray and still have more pieces they could move for Durant.
There is a handful of ways the Hawks can get to $35.2 million in outgoing salary to match for Durant. John Collins, whose name has been all over trade rumors all last week, would be a great start with his $23.5 million salary. After that, one of Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter, or Clint Capela would be enough to match salaries. It’s possible Brooklyn could look to get off Joe Harris and his remaining $38.6 million through 2023-24. If that’s a requirement, Atlanta could get there with a package including Collins, Bogdanovic, and Hunter.
They could further incentivize their package by including recent lottery picks such as Jalen Johnson and AJ Griffin. After the Murray trade, they could include up to a maximum of two first-round picks in 2023 and 2029.
Denver could be back in contention this season with the returns of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. A Durant acquisition would signal an all-in move that could push them to the top of the Western Conference. A package built around Porter Jr. could potentially be of interest to Brooklyn, and his $30.9 million salary gets them mostly there in terms of salary matching.
Unfortunately, Denver is limited to trading a conditional 2029 first-round pick since they already owe their 2023, 2025, and 2027 first-round picks. This means the rest of their trade package would have to include their current young players such as Bones Hyland, Zeke Nnaji, Christian Braun, and Peyton Watson. They could also offer first-round pick swaps for all the other first-round picks they own.
A closing five consisting of Durant, Murray, Nikola Jokic, Aaron Gordon, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would be one of the best lineups in the league. Such an acquisition however would put the Nuggets deep into the luxury tax this season, and even deeper next season assuming Jokic signs his supermax contract. Even if Durant to Denver becomes a plausible scenario, the Nuggets could prefer to stay the course with Porter Jr. due to the financial implications.
One thing to note is that if the Nets were seriously interested in acquiring Porter Jr., they would have to reroute Ben Simmons. That’s because they already traded for one designated rookie in Simmons, and cannot trade for another in Porter Jr. and keep both.
The Miami Heat are another one of Durant’s preferences. They will have no problem matching salaries for Durant assuming a combination of Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, and Tyler Herro, but they lack the draft equity other teams have to offer. They are limited to trading two first-round picks in 2027 (first available draft) and 2029. They could also include Nikola Jovic and some of their talented minimum role players.
The idea of teaming up with Luka Doncic in Dallas has to be appealing for Durant. The Mavericks can easily find the matching salaries with a combination of guys such as Spencer Dinwiddie, Tim Hardaway Jr., Davis Bertans, Dwight Powell, and even Jalen Brunson through a sign-and-trade. They can also include three first-round picks in 2025 (first available draft), 2027, and 2029.