It’s been two weeks since Kevin Durant reiterated his trade request to Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai in a face-to-face meeting and informed Tsai that he needs to choose between his 12-time All-Star player or head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks. It added a new dynamic to the biggest storyline of the offseason, an uneasy cloud that began to linger over the franchise when Durant asked out of Brooklyn on June 30. In terms of trade action, no deal is closer along at the moment, but a new suitor has emerged from the Western Conference.
With NBA training camps set to open about a month from now, here is where things stand.
The Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat remain among the most serious threats to land Durant because they have the types of pieces necessary to satisfy the Nets’ asking price in a deal for the two-time NBA Finals MVP. However, no one yet has met Brooklyn’s high price tag of an All-Star, other high-level players and draft picks — and conversations with those three front-runners have been non-existent recently. The Celtics offered All-Star Jaylen Brown, guard Derrick White and a first-round draft pick in July, according to league sources; the Raptors have refused to make Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes available; and Miami has yet to seriously engage with a package around All-Star Bam Adebayo.
The Philadelphia 76ers expressed recent interest in Durant while the Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets also inquired with the Nets in late June and early July to gauge the price tag, according to sources. The New Orleans Pelicans inquired with the Nets on June 30 as well but deemed All-Star Brandon Ingram as untouchable, sources said. Also in the past month, the Atlanta Hawks offered John Collins, De’Andre Hunter and a draft pick for Durant, according to sources.
None of those conversations gained much traction. Durant has four years and $198 million remaining on his Nets contract.
One major complication to involving logical players in trade talks for Durant like Adebayo and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell is that they are unable to be acquired via trade by Brooklyn with Ben Simmons on the roster due to designated rookie extension rules.
Recently, a new team has shown interest in Durant: the Memphis Grizzlies, league sources tell The Athletic. Fresh off a 56-win season, the Grizzlies have made new inquiries to the Nets about Durant, those sources added. Memphis has five first-round draft picks available (four unprotected selections of its own and one protected via Golden State in 2024) to theoretically utilize in a trade as well as young players like Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams, Brandon Clarke, Kennedy Chandler and David Roddy.
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) June 30, 2022
Grizzlies executive vice president of basketball operations Zach Kleiman, the NBA’s reigning Executive of the Year, has done a masterful job building the team’s foundation around the All-NBA star Morant and a strong supporting cast while securing assets for the present and future. The Grizzlies will not include Jackson or Bane in a potential offer for Durant, sources said, but rather a package built around their bevy of draft picks.
The Phoenix Suns similarly have dangled a package around All-Defensive wing Mikal Bridges and a handful of first-round draft picks, which has not picked up any steam with the Nets, league sources said. With Deandre Ayton signed to a four-year maximum contract and unable to be moved until January, Phoenix has attempted over the past month to make creative proposals to Brooklyn, possibly via three- or four-team trades where an All-Star-caliber player goes to the Nets. But the Suns have yet to find a suitable deal — and that is largely why they appear to be behind Boston, Toronto and Miami in the Durant sweepstakes.
Among the interested teams, the Celtics have been viewed across the league as the clear-cut answer as the team that has the ingredients to make a deal with Brooklyn happen. For now, Boston has not included guard Marcus Smart or center Robert Williams in a proposal, sources said. The Celtics have up to three first-round picks available to trade to Brooklyn. When Brooklyn rejected Boston’s offer last month, the Nets countered by requesting Brown, Smart, draft picks and potentially one more rotation player, according to sources.
So yes, Boston has the necessary pieces and Brooklyn has listened, but a gap exists.
For the Celtics, there’s a careful balance to improving the roster and maintaining their current status as a championship contender. President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens has patiently and deftly continued to strengthen the Celtics’ roster following their NBA Finals berth, adding Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari this offseason.
Now, will Boston step up to the Nets’ asking price to add a potential missing piece that has become available in a manner that has rarely happened in NBA history? We’ll have to wait and see.
There’s just over one month remaining in the NBA’s offseason. The Celtics and other teams in pursuit of Durant have time to make their best proposals and these deals can escalate quickly, but the clock is ticking for everybody involved.
Should no team intensify its pursuit and match Brooklyn’s price tag, Durant will be left with limited options other than to report to Nets training camp. Across the NBA, however, people are wondering whether the 33-year-old future Hall of Famer who will be 34 when the season starts will sit training camp if a trade is not completed.
Within recent NBA memory, there have been several routes for stars who requested trades. Some have returned to their respective team and played out the season. Elsewhere, it took Simmons until the February trade deadline to be traded last season when he staged a no-show in training camp and ultimately failed to play for the Philadelphia 76ers after the 2020-21 season ended. Jimmy Butler and James Harden, meanwhile, were traded within the first month of the season when they were disgruntled, in an uncomfortable environment and reported to play with Minnesota and Houston, respectively, in 2018 and 2020.
For their part, the Nets believe they have improved the roster and have a championship-level team. The Nets traded for Royce O’Neale, signed T.J. Warren and brought back Patty Mills and Nic Claxton while expecting the full returns of three-time All-Star Simmons and Joe Harris. All-Star Kyrie Irving also opted into his $37 million player option, committed to the 2022-23 season in Brooklyn and sources with knowledge of the situation say he has been working out with teammates and holding constructive dialogue with the organization this offseason. Brooklyn has made clear to interested teams that they plan to keep the seven-time All-Star, according to sources. The Nets were without Simmons and Harris for the majority of last season, including their playoff series against Boston, but both are set to provide a major boost to the upcoming campaign.
Simmons has been cleared for three-on-three basketball activities following back surgery in May, and he is on track to be cleared for full five-on-five activities in the coming weeks, league sources say. The Nets and Simmons expect him to be ready for training camp in late September.
For now, though, the team’s stalemate with its biggest star continues.
More NBA news and notes…
The latest on the Donovan Mitchell trade talks
The Jazz and Knicks are in discussions on a trade that would send Donovan Mitchell to New York, according to sources. A deal is not considered imminent yet, but the Knicks are motivated to acquire Mitchell and have proposed new packages to Utah’s new front office led by CEO Danny Ainge.
New York made a recent offer of Evan Fournier, Obi Toppin, additional salary and two unprotected first-round draft picks (five total), league sources tell me and The Athletic’s Tony Jones. The Jazz’s asking price has been more significant than that.
Mitchell has three guaranteed years left on his contract, allowing the Jazz to bring him into the upcoming campaign and take a patient approach to trade discussions. The Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards have been among the teams interested in Mitchell as well, sources said.
Celtics sign Valentine to training camp deal
The Celtics and free agent guard/forward Denzel Valentine have agreed to an Exhibit 10 training camp deal, sources said. Valentine will compete for one of the Celtics’ open roster spots in training camp.
(Top photo: Nathaniel S. Butler / NBAE via Getty Images)