It’s clear that Kevin Durant hates lulls in the NBA offseason. While the rest of the league enjoyed the summer sun this week, the former MVP upped the stakes on his trade request to Brooklyn Nets Owner Joe Tsai, reportedly demanding that the franchise:
OK, he seems pretty serious. Since his initial trade request the day before free agency opened, a number of teams have been discussed as potential Durant landing spots, namely the Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors, New Orleans Pelicans and the Miami Heat.
Not the Portland Trail Blazers. You can kind of understand why though. Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin is building something he believes in and may not want to part with a generation’s worth of draft picks and promising young talent.
But, what if? I mean the man is an MVP, two-time champion and Finals MVP, 12-time All Star, Rookie of the Year, six-time All NBA First team, four-time All NBA Second team, four-time scoring champion and one of the top 75 players of all time. He also plays one of the most sought-after positions in modern basketball, all while standing seven feet with a 7’3 wingspan.
Durant is contracted for the next four years, taking him to his age 38 season (2025-26) when he’ll be earning $53.2 million. Combine that with Damian Lillard earning $58.5 million the same year at age 35 and that’s a lot of cash going to two guys likely past their prime.
Durant is also three years removed from an Achilles tear, an injury that traditionally ends basketball careers. Sure, he looks like he’s back to his pre-tear self but who knows how quickly it’ll catch up with him.
Having said that, mid 30s Kevin Durant is still a far superior prospect than, oh, I don’t know, Carmelo Anthony. Durant could arguably end up being a top dozen player of all time and, despite the injury, has held onto his freakish athleticism.
His numbers with the Nets over the past two seasons — 28.7 points, 40 percent from three, 7.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.1 blocks — are still better than his career numbers of 27.2 points, 38 percent from three, 7.1 boards, 4.3 assists and 1.1 blocks. There’s also some full 360 degree stuff with Durant drafted second by the Seattle Supersonics, one spot after Greg Oden was taken by Portland.
But I’d be neglecting my duties not to touch on his ability to get restless, fast. He bailed on the Oklahoma City Thunder, moved on from the dynastic Golden State Warriors. Now, he’s not only asked out of a Brooklyn Nets franchise that gave him everything he wanted, he’s given Nets Owner Joe Tsai a pretty blunt ultimatum.
Clearly we don’t know what’s happened behind closed doors but being forced to carry a team because his running mate didn’t want to get a vaccine must have driven him crazy.
What do the Blazers give up?
So what do the Nets want? From the rumors filtering through over the past month or so, they’ve been seeking young established players, see Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram, Deandre Ayton and, to a lesser extent, Scottie Barnes.
The Blazers don’t have a player at this level. However, they do have one young guy, who just earned his first big contract and, if you ask some people, could be on his way to an All-Star nomination in the next few years.
I present Anfernee Simons. Last season, Simons put up averages of 17.3 points, 40 percent three point shooting, 2.6 boards and 3.9 assists while establishing his ability to score at all three levels. But to get a Simons-Durant deal done, both franchises are going to have to wait until mid January when the 23-year-old can be moved. The Blazers have no other choice, purely for the fact that Simons' $22 million deal is the only piece that can help the Blazers match Durant’s hefty $44 million salary.
So assuming the Blazers haven’t laid an egg through the first two months of the season and Durant somehow remains on the Nets, both sides might come to the table to talk. Along with Simons, the Blazers would have to sacrifice anyone not named Damian Lillard and Jerami Grant. For the purposes of this exercise we’re going with the expiring contracts of Josh Hart (player option), Nassir Little (restricted free agent) and Justise Winslow (unrestricted free agent).
As far as picks go, the Blazers would also need to phone the Chicago Bulls and remove the protections on next year’s first round selection so that they can part with pretty much every future pick available. From here Portland includes its 2025 and 2027 first rounders as well as pick swaps in 2024 and 2026.
The sticking point may be whether Portland is prepared to part with little-known rookie Shaedon Sharpe. But if Cronin and assistant General Manager Mike Schmitz still believe in the 19-year-old’s high-upside potential, this could be a no go. Perhaps in place of Sharpe, the Blazers might add its 2029 pick but again the Nets might baulk.
For me, if Sharpe is the player he’s touted to be, especially given his selection with the seventh pick, I’d much rather have him over an unknown pick seven years from now.
So ... drum roll.
Portland receives: Kevin Durant
Brooklyn receives: Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, Nassir Little, Justise Winslow, 2024 pick swap, 2026 pick swap, 2025 1st rounder, 2027 1st rounder, 2029 1st rounder.
The money is almost identical with the Blazers taking on an extra $400,000.
Damian Lillard, Gary Payton II, Kevin Durant, Jerami Grant, Jusuf Nurkic
(Vet minimum deal), Keon Johnson, Shaedon Sharpe, Jabari Walker, Trendon Watford,
Brandon Williams (two-way), Didi Louzada, Greg Brown III, Drew Eubanks
The Blazers will need to fill out the roster with at least two extra players, most likely through the buyout market. But luring players on veteran minimum contracts to play with Durant and Lillard shouldn’t be an issue. Louzada may first need to be dealt elsewhere for contract purposes.
PG - Damian Lillard, vet minimum contract, Brandon Williams
SG - Gary Payton, Damian Lillard, Keon Johnson, Shaedon Sharpe
SF - Kevin Durant, Gary Payton II, Shaedon Sharpe, Jabari Walker,
PF - Jerami Grant, Kevin Durant, Trendon Watford
C - Jusuf Nurkic, Jerami Grant, Trendon Watford
If everyone stays healthy, this team is as close to a contender as you get. Durant and Lillard are your 1a and 1b while Grant is a decent third banana. Sure, the depth is as shallow as a toddler’s wading pool, but you’d have to imagine bought-out players would salivate at the chance to support a squad potentially on the way to the Finals.
In the west, this team is on par with the Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns. But the window isn’t open for long. The next three or four seasons become championship or bust propositions. Because come 2026, this team becomes incredibly old and disgustingly expensive with the Nets owning almost every decent Portland pick until the end of the decade.
This is just a thought exercise. I have no realistic expectation that Cronin and the organization are prepared to take this big of a risk or even have the pieces to make it work. But it’s August and what else are we going to talk about?
If Portland does take a swing for Durant, I’ll be more than happy to eat my words because, hey, this team is ready to contend for a championship, but it’s unlikely the Blazers do it and even more unlikely that the package will be good enough for Sean Marks and Joe Tsai. Especially with the Durant situation likely resolved one way or another before the start of the season.