Just when we thought we had covered all our bases on Kevin Durant this summer, we’re back with a fresh roundtable to break down all the latest intel flowing through The Athletic.
The frenzy started when Shams Charania reported the Celtics offered Jaylen Brown for Durant. Then, Jay King broke down Brad Stevens’ arduous task of negotiating this deal while Jared Weiss reported on Brown’s status after he ended up mentioned in yet another potential superstar deal. So the (second-) most beloved Js in Celtics Nation got together with Nets writer Alex Schiffer to sift through this mess.
Alex Schiffer: Well guys, the universe can’t keep us away from each other. Two consecutive years of first-round playoff matchups, Kyrie Irving, and now Kevin Durant! We’ve hit for some weird kind of NBA cycle.
Since I’m going first, I’ll start with a mini TED Talk. If a Durant-to-Celtics trade went down, what would be the wildest part to you guys? Durant going to the team that knocked his old team out of the playoffs again? Going to Boston, and thus breaking up with Kyrie, after Irving’s own ugly exit from Beantown three years ago? Durant going to play for Ime Udoka, a former Nets assistant who Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks considered as a runner-up for the head job to Kenny Atkinson in 2016 and, to me, a top choice in a heartbeat in 2020 if Irving and Durant signed off on it? Or the full-circle of the Nets-Celtics infamous (at least in Brooklyn) 2013 trade that included the draft picks that made the Celtics the conference champions this past season?
WHERE DO WE START?
Jared Weiss: Let’s start from the top, with the paradox of Irving departing Boston and then seeing his plan unravel with Durant going the other way. It would be one of the most bizarre flat circles in NBA history, especially because Durant would instead pair with someone who is kind of his own stylistic heir apparent in Jayson Tatum.
Schiffer: Flat circle? Was that a Kyrie pun, Jared?
Jay King: The Schiffmeister came flying in with a joke that fell flatter than Kyrie’s earth. (This joke, by me, is also very bad.)
Anyway, the most interesting part of the potential Celtics-Nets trade is the idea that Boston, after spending years hunting for the right formula, would risk that immediately after finally finding it. From the Irving era, which was doomed by injuries and weird locker room dynamics, to the Kemba Walker era, which also fell short, the Celtics went through several different iterations before surrounding Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown with the right type of supporting cast.
Those guys needed to improve. Udoka needed to prove himself as a rookie head coach. Brad Stevens needed to rearrange the roster pieces. Everyone needed to get on the same page. But eventually, the Celtics found something worth building on.
Acquiring Durant, as incredible as he is, risks upsetting the equilibrium that took years to establish. Maybe he’d be worth it. He’s one of the best players ever. He’s much better at this stage than Brown, who would almost certainly need to be the centerpiece of a deal. But the Celtics know they already have a team that can contend. That gives them more to lose than, say, the Pelicans, who are a promising young team, but far from proven. As great as Durant is, this must be a difficult situation for Stevens to navigate.
— Jaylen Brown (@FCHWPO) July 25, 2022
Schiffer: That’s what puzzles me about the Celtics end of this, though I came here for your Boston insights, not mine. They have everything the Nets haven’t as an organization in recent years. Healthy stars, continuity, buy-in, cap flexibility, etc. If it ain’t broke, right? To trade Brown and then some for Durant when it appears their contention window is only beginning to open doesn’t really make sense to me. I get it, it’s Kevin Durant. But while Durant and Irving are two different personalities and people at two different stages of their careers, you’d think the Celtics learned about unhappy stars and the domino effect they can have on teams.
That being said, we know a deal would be centered around Brown. To me, he’s the best player the Nets could acquire in a Durant trade, especially after looking at our friend Seth Partnow’s player tiers. I have done a terrible job playing Sean Marks (just ask Eric Koreen) which is why I don’t envy him. Marks has been interested in Marcus Smart for years. There’s a picture of the two of them meeting at summer league from years ago.
But if I can’t get Smart in a deal with Brown, my next ask is for Robert Williams. How do you think Stevens would take that?
King: Like you, I am horrible at pretending to be an NBA decision maker. Logically, Stevens knows the Nets are focused on receiving a win-now package because of how few first-round picks they control. If the Celtics can offer the best player in a deal – and I’ve spoken to a couple of rival executives who think they can – they would probably balk, at least initially, at adding another young starter to the package. Smart just won Defensive Player of the Year. Williams has established himself as a top young center whose value holds up deep in the playoffs, at least when he’s healthy enough to be on the court.
Those would be significant pieces to give up on top of Brown. Even Derrick White, who the Celtics have already offered, according to Charania, is a helpful player on a valuable contract. Would a package of Brown, White, and several first-round picks/swaps be enough to get a deal done? Maybe not. There should be a lot of competition for Kevin freaking Durant. But, again, the Celtics know they have a contender. They shouldn’t be desperate in these talks.
Responding to your first point, an NBA window is rarely as open as it first appears to be. The Celtics should feel the urgency to win now. Even among their current starters, Al Horford is 36 and entering the final season of his contract. Brown is only under contract for two more seasons. I get the sense both of them like it in Boston, but a lot can happen in two NBA years. If the Celtics believe they can establish themselves as clear-cut 2022-23 title favorites by acquiring Durant, they could decide the gamble is worthwhile. He will be 34 years old before the regular season starts, he has a worrisome injury history and he has grown unhappy more than once in his NBA career, but he’s still an ultimate difference maker on the court.
Weiss: Durant’s first-round struggles against Boston compared to his individual success in a similar situation against Milwaukee two postseasons ago has to be a red flag, even if it is a small one. It’s just hard to feel completely confident he is still an undeniable GOAT-level player through a postseason run — which he had been up to 2022 — after we saw the Celtics defense key in and take him out of his comfort zone.
But Boston can also feel confident he wouldn’t be in that situation again. The Celtics’ rotation isn’t as top-heavy as Brooklyn’s, even if Stevens has to throw in another starter or two with Brown to get this deal done. As long as Durant and Tatum are available, this team should be a juggernaut. If Tatum were to get injured, it probably wouldn’t matter whether Durant or Brown and co. were on the court.
I’m bullish on Boston maintaining what worked well last season and augmenting its weaknesses with Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari, so I think they should wait out the market and risk losing out on Durant. But after seeing Brooklyn thrive two years ago and then collapse last year, Alex, do you think Boston should jump at the opportunity for another shakeup to keep things fresh?
Schiffer: With the Celtics, I lean on the side of keeping Brown and seeing what happens from there. Even if Brown is gone in two years, the Celtics are still an attractive free agent destination and the rest of the core is still there.
To touch on Jay’s point, I don’t think the Celtics’ offer is bad for Brooklyn. Brown gives the Nets an athletic scoring wing who can guard, something they’ve lacked recently. Defensively, a trio of Ben Simmons, Brown and Nic Claxton gives you a lot of length and switchability. White also gives Brooklyn a point guard who allows Simmons to play elsewhere, perhaps in the short roll or as a center in some situations.
To me, Brown, White and say … four picks (three firsts and a swap) might be as good as it can get for the Nets. It’s less than what Utah got for Rudy Gobert, but that trade destroyed the scale to properly evaluate Durant’s market. Brooklyn dealt James Harden down Interstate-95 in February, so trading within the division isn’t beneath them. And Brown, Simmons and White, plus Claxton, Patty Mills, Seth Curry, Joe Harris and a healthy T.J. Warren, could get a six seed in the Eastern Conference if all goes their way, similar to the 2018-19 Nets before Durant and Irving showed up. Given the Nets have won one playoff series with all these expectations upon them, the bar doesn’t fall that far expectations-wise, even if the roster can’t contend.
On Boston’s side, pairing Durant and Tatum puts arguably the Celtics the game’s two most effortless scorers on the same team. Tatum’s one of the only players I’ve seen get hot and think, ‘He’s making this look as easy as Durant does.’ That’s a scary combination.
But Durant’s injuries the past two years would give me pause on a deal. The Celtics have depth with the way they’re currently constructed, and I keep coming back to the possibility that Boston could find themselves in the Nets’ shoes in a year or two if they make this trade. Durant and Irving got just about everything they asked for in Brooklyn. It didn’t go well. The Celtics are the Celtics. They don’t need to cater to their stars like that. To Jay’s point, the Celtics don’t need to be desperate, but the Nets plan to wait until they get the offer they want.
King: How do you gauge the likelihood of their other suitors? Which franchises do you see as the most possible matches?
Schiffer: That’s the other part of all this. The Suns are all but out after re-signing DeAndre Ayton. The Heat don’t have the assets, and Brooklyn can’t acquire Bam Adebayo without also trading Simmons because of the CBA rule prohibiting teams from trading for two players on max rookie extensions. The Raptors don’t want to trade Scottie Barnes. So who is left? Right now the Celtics appear to be the only dance partner for the Nets, even if four quarters don’t equal a dollar in this trade.
There’s been no known interest from Denver, which has two young players in Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. to base deals around. But even they come with their own injury histories. And there’s talk of the Warriors and Durant being interested in a reunion, but like the Celtics, I look at the Warriors as another franchise that has done everything right. Why risk messing that up given the way they’re built?
Durant’s cloudy market, to me, is why we’re talking this week. Most of the Nets front office is on vacation. The Brown offer wasn’t made this week. Is this an attempt to reignite the trade market for the 6-foot-10 forward?
Weiss: That’s the prevailing sentiment I’ve been hearing and reported on Tuesday morning. You’ve got to wonder if the timing of all of this is to make front offices that are also on vacation scramble out in desperation to throw out their best offers. Imagine Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren back on his satellite phone in the Botswana savanna, frantically debating pick protections for 2029 with a zebra listening in 20 yards away. My read is that the Nets don’t want the Durant market to slow down at any point and risk this game of chicken coming to a head at training camp.
But I do think Pascal Siakam is being undervalued in these negotiations. If the Nets can get him and OG Anunoby (and maybe even Gary Trent Jr.), that’s a ton of two-way wing talent that isn’t too far from being a dark horse contender if Simmons comes back in full force. Siakam turns 29 just before the playoffs, while Anunoby turned 25 earlier this month, so putting all of that next to Irving with Joe Harris coming off the bench is a fascinating idea. It sounds like the door is maybe, possibly opening back up for Irving to be a Net, but that would be a shocker at this point.
Though Brandon Ingram and Brown are younger and still have room to grow, Siakam is the only person plausibly available who has actually made an All-NBA team. Maybe Pelicans GM David Griffin comes off the top rope with that pick stockpile Brooklyn’s been waiting for on top of Ingram. But Toronto has the collection of personnel that can rival what Boston offers. Would Toronto’s best player package rival Boston’s?
Schiffer: I’d still take Brown over Siakam since Brown is younger, but I agree that Siakam’s been overlooked a lot in these talks. I would say Toronto and Boston’s offers are pretty close and determining which is superior is a simple matter of opinion.
Funny you mention Irving. I’m still skeptical he’s a Net next season. Would it surprise me? No. He’s from the area, and has a home and newborn there along with the rest of his family. But the vibe I got with the Nets was that last season was such a mess that they don’t want to run it back unless significant changes are made.
Either way, a second Celtics-Nets trade shouldn’t set Brooklyn back the way it did the first time or set the Cs up for years. I feel like this time around the results won’t be so lopsided. What say you, Jay?
King: It’s funny, because the way you describe the Nets reminds me of the general unhappiness that spread throughout the Celtics organization during Irving’s final season in Boston. By the end of that season, a number of players and coaches were fed up with the entire experience. Durant’s availability in the first place is a testament to just how messy things were in Brooklyn. With him, the Nets would have enough talent on paper to dream of a championship. Instead, he wants out. Because he’s Kevin Durant, it doesn’t seem to matter that he has four more years on his contract. He still has enough power to force his way somewhere he would like to play.
If by whatever chance he does end up in Boston, the Tatum-Durant dynamic would be fascinating. It’s crazy to me that Kevin freaking Durant is available with four years left on his contract and none of us are convinced it would be a home run for the Celtics. But the decision would be complicated for a young team that reached the NBA Finals and still has plenty of room to grow.
(Photo: David Butler II/USA TODAY)