If you want an idea of how interim general manager Joe Cronin wants the Trail Blazers to look like next season, tune in to the next game and focus on No. 11. That’s Josh Hart, the newly acquired wing who has been so good, so versatile and so competitive since arriving in Portland that Cronin wishes he could clone him. “He’s a keeper,” Cronin told The Athletic. “Josh embodies what we are trying to build here. The talent level, the skillset, the competitiveness, the IQ, the defensive-minded, guard-anyone approach. His ability to make others better, to make shots, push the ball.”
July 6, 2022 | 10:34 am EDT Update
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 contacted by B/R have strongly discounted Dallas and Philadelphia’s interest in the All-Star guard.
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 provided to B/R. 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 foreseeable future.
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’s no pressure on Brooklyn.
“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.”
And while the Celts may not be atop Durant’s wish list at the moment, there was a time six years ago when they were one of just six teams he agreed to meet with as he decided his free agent fate. Sources told me at the time that Boston’s agreement with prized free agent Al Horford in that summer of 2016 put the club on his dance card. He, of course, eventually decided on Golden State, but soon after that announcement, I spoke to him at a U.S. Olympic Team practice in Las Vegas and asked how the Celtics had gotten into the running. “I just like the way they play,” Durant said. “I like their coach [Brad Stevens at the time]. I feel they have some good pieces.”
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 told B/R, 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 can 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.
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 wouldn’t appear to satisfy the Nets, according to sources.