Biggest Potential Winners and Losers from Kevin Durant's Brooklyn Nets Trade Request

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured Columnist IVJuly 1, 2022

Biggest Potential Winners and Losers from Kevin Durant's Brooklyn Nets Trade Request

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    Kevin Durant chose chaos to open 2022 NBA free agency—and pretty much everyone around the league is about to feel the ramifications.

    According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, KD requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday. His desire to get out of town is reportedly so serious that he delivered the news "directly" to team governor Joe Tsai, along with a list of preferred landing spots headlined by the Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns.

    This is an unprecedented saga playing out in Brooklyn right now. Durant is not only one of the greatest NBA players of all time, but he has a full four years left on his current contract—with no early opt-outs.

    How negotiations unfold from here will be fascinating. Do the Nets take into consideration where KD wants to land? Or do they disregard his whims knowing his next team needn't worry about his entering free agency anytime soon? Are we about to see one of the richest trade packages in NBA history? Or does a 33-year-old who has appeared in fewer regular season and playoff games since 2016-17 than Joel Embiid actually not command the king's ransom we'd expect?

    This all says nothing of the prospective fallout elsewhere, both in Brooklyn and around the league. Who's best positioned to get KD? What does this mean for Kyrie Irving? And Ben Simmons?

    In an attempt to make sense of the bedlam in Brooklyn, let's once again bust out the Immediate Reactionizer 3000 to parse through the biggest potential winners and losers from the NBA's most unpredictable and ubiquitous dramedy.

Loser: Brooklyn Nets

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    Try as the Nets might to pin their implosion on Kyrie Irving's refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine this past season, they are far from blameless.

    Nobody forced them to tether any part of their livelihood to Kyrie, who had already left the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics under, at best, mercurial circumstances when Brooklyn signed him. More than that, the Nets are choosing an inopportune, if not superficial, time to suddenly grow a spine.

    Brooklyn's front-office members turned the organization over to KD and Kyrie in 2019 when they paid DeAndre Jordan and played him in front of Jarrett Allen, and again when they let Kenny Atkinson leave in March 2020, and again when they hired Steve Nash, and yet again when they mortgaged depth, draft picks and flexibility to acquire James Harden, and again still when they allowed Kyrie to rejoin the team as a part-time player.

    Drawing the line now, in contentious Kyrie extension talks that ended with him picking up his player option, is weird and hollow and pointless. And it's costing you Kevin Durant.

    And for what, exactly? It certainly isn't to springboard yourself into a brighter future. The cupboard isn't barren, but it's not exactly half-full or the least bit clarifying, either.

    The Houston Rockets control your next five first-round picks, all of them of unprotected! (Swaps in 2023, 2025 and 2027. Two outright goners in 2024 and 2026.) You're essentially starting from scratch, armed only with whatever assets you can extract from Kyrie and KD trades and inevitable deals for Seth Curry, Joe Harris and the recently acquired Royce O'Neale. Your new building blocks are Ben "Hasn't Played Basketball in Over a Year and Is Coming Off Back Surgery" Simmons, the newly re-signed Nicolas Claxton, Cameron Thomas and the Philadelphia 76ers' 2027 pick (top-eight protection).

    So, um, congrats on taking the faux-moral high ground here, Brooklyn.

Winner: Kevin Durant's Next Team

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    Miami and Phoenix get a nice self-esteem boost just for topping Kevin Durant's list of preferred destinations. They can both, incidentally, cobble together reasonably aggressive offers for the two-time Finals MVP.

    Granted, the Nets must return to reality first. Sources told Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer Brooklyn won't move KD to Phoenix without getting back Devin Booker. That's not happening, for a multitude of reasons. Booker just signed a supermax extension with the Suns, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania, and can't be traded for a year.

    Even without that extension, Booker would still be on a designated rookie deal. Teams cannot have more than one of those contracts on their cap sheet, so the Nets would need to reroute Ben Simmons as part of any trade. And that's assuming the Suns would even consider sending out Booker. (Spoiler: They wouldn't.) Identical issues apply with Bam Adebayo in Miami, who is also on a designated rookie deal.

    Just so we're clear: This isn't only a Suns-or-Heat sweepstakes. Other teams can and will come out of the woodwork. With four years left on his contract, Durant only has leverage inasmuch as the Nets care to factor in his preferences. Any team with a bunch of assets can, and will, and should, seek to enter the fold.

    The Toronto Raptors can cook up a bunch of interesting packages, even if none of them include Scottie Barnes. Ditto for the New Orleans Pelicans, even if they won't give up Zion Williamson. And for the Memphis Grizzlies, even if Jaren Jackson Jr. (who just had right foot surgery) and Ja Morant are out of bounds.

    Boston could put Jaylen Brown (and more) on the table. The Denver Nuggets could party-crash negotiations if the Nets are enamored with Jamal Murray and/or Michael Porter Jr., as well as Bones Hyland. Would the Golden State Warriors put Jonathan Kuminga and a bunch of picks on the table to facilitate a reunion?

    Conceptually, the possibilities are endless. Such is the impact of Durant's contract. Regardless, wherever he lands, and however much it costs, that team will be immediately better off—a certified title contender, if not one of the absolute favorites.

Loser: Non-KD Suitors in the West

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    We may not know where Kevin Durant is going, but the thought of him shoring up—or creating an entirely new—championship contender shouldn't sit well with anyone inside the Western Conference.

    Best-case scenario for those who don't land KD: He ends up on an Eastern Conference team, in which case there's still another league superpower to potentially grapple with if and when you reach the NBA Finals.

    Worst-case scenario, and perhaps the most likely one should the Nets wish to send KD as far away as possible: A suitor in the West bags him, in which case an already hellacious conference gets impossibly bloodier.

    Just consider the prospective layout of the West next year. The Warriors, Suns and Grizzlies shouldn't be going anywhere. Probably losing Jalen Brunson will sting the Dallas Mavericks, but they still have Luka Doncic.

    A frisky Pelicans squad is getting back Zion Williamson. At least one of the Nuggets and L.A. Clippers, if not both, should enjoy better health. The Portland Trail Blazers will presumably be at full strength—and no longer drowning in as many non-defenders.

    The Utah Jazz haven't traded Rudy Gobert or Donovan Mitchell (yet). The Minnesota Timberwolves have one of the NBA's most promising duos in Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards. What if the LeBron James and Anthony Davis both stay healthy and the Lakers don't suck?

    Plop KD onto any one of these teams, and all the others are worse for wear by default.

Winner: Los Angeles Lakers

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    Please remember these are tentative winners and losers and TBDs, folks. And with that in mind: Congrats to the Lakers!

    Los Angeles' path to nabbing Kyrie Irving never felt realistic. He was never going to leave $30 million on the table next season to sign for the mini mid-level exception, and Brooklyn had no reason to accept a package built around Russell Westbrook's expiring contract. (Note: The Nets also need to include another player or suss out third-party participants to make the money work.)

    The latter may no longer be true.

    Kyrie is apparently dead set on "forcing" his way to the Lakers after opting into the final year of his contract, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst. No, Los Angeles' best potential trade offer—Westbrook, a 2027 first-rounder, a 2029 first-rounder and whatever else Brooklyn wants—hasn't changed. But the Nets' trajectory is unrecognizable from just a few days ago.

    Taking on Westbrook's expiring salary is far more palatable if you're ushering in a rebuild. And whether they admit it or not, this is exactly what the Nets are doing. You don't trade Kevin Durant and see your title window survive. (Unless you have Stephen Curry. But even the Warriors fell off a cliff for a minute.)

    Brooklyn would ideally get more than two distant firsts and, like, Austin Reaves or whatever. Of course, this presupposes Kyrie has a robust trade market. He may not. The Lakers were the only team interested in exploring sign-and-trade scenarios with him before he picked up his player option, according to Woj.

    Suitors shouldn't be any hotter for Kyrie now. Giving up assets for a player who could walk is a huge risk—particularly when it comes to teams that have the assets Brooklyn would most covet. Kyrie can always promise his next squad that he'll stick around to facilitate a move. Ask the Celtics how they feel about that, though.

    Moral of the story: Armed with scant few enticing assets, the Lakers now have an actually plausible path to Kyrie Irving—proving yet again that you can, in fact, fall upwards.

Losers: Nets Fans/Season Ticket Holders

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    Imagine being a Nets fan right now—like, an OG Nets fan, not someone who boarded the bandwagon in 2019.

    First, you had the feel-good, no-expectations era in which Caris LeVert, D'Angelo Russell, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and many others became success stories. Then-head coach Kenny Atkinson was deemed a developmental wizard. General manager Sean Marks oversaw a cultural shift that prioritized players and their families. Your team was plucky. Ascendant.

    That upward trajectory then caught the attention of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant—which, great! Who cares if Atkinson eventually left? Or that DeAndre Jordan led the league in MBFs (Megastar Best Friends)? You had Kyrie and KD. And then, while you gave up a lot, you tacked on James Harden!

    Since then, though, you've seen Kyrie miss a majority of home games for refusing to get vaccinated and run Harden out of town. Grabbing Ben Simmons as part of Harden's exit was massive, and your team just scooped up a highly useful player in Royce O'Neale. But you're also about to lose Durant. And probably Kyrie. And then probably a bunch of others.

    On top of that, anyone who purchased season tickets for the 2022-23 campaign thinking they'd get to see Kyrie, KD and Ben will now see a Collection of Players To Be Determined Later. And if that's not bad enough, the Brooklyn Fyre Festivals won't be issuing any refunds or credits for said season tickets, per an email shared to the New York Daily News' Kristian Winfield. Good lord.

Winner: Houston Rockets

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    Houston Rockets general manager Rafael Stone has to be feeling pretty good about his team's long-term livelihood right about now.

    Having Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr. can have that effect. But it just so happens the Rockets essentially control all of the Nets' picks until, approximately, the end of time:

    • 2023 Nets first-round swap (unprotected)
    • 2024 Nets first-round pick (unprotected)
    • 2025 Nets first-round swap (unprotected)
    • 2026 Nets first-round pick (unprotected)
    • 2027 Nets first-round swap (unprotected)

    Whether the Rockets view these picks and swaps as trade assets, bites at the draft apple or some combination of both, they're sitting much prettier than they were mere days ago. The Nets are imploding in real time and without abating. Houston's future looks much brighter for it.

TBDs: Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons

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    Kevin Durant

    Yes, KD is initiating his divorce from the Nets. And sure, he'll land somewhere cushy, even if it's not his first or second option. But talking heads have already tried to poke holes in his legacy, first for joining the Warriors, now for spurning them and hitching his wagon to Kyrie Irving.

    Perhaps KD is actually a winner. Not only is he on track to get out of Brooklyn, but would he really risk the backlash of a trade from a team he chose and formed if he wasn't totally secure in his resume and reputation?

    Kyrie Irving

    Kyrie could possibly get his way and wind up with the Lakers. That matters. But this is now the third title contender he's submarined.

    Indeed, the Nets are fully culpable. They were complicit in creating this mess. But perception of Kyrie has fallen so far that the New York Knicks, of all teams, preferred to focus on clearing cap space for a nine-figure run at Jalen Brunson rather than pursue one of the superstars they were supposed to sign in 2019? Sheesh.

    This "L" will be awfully light to hold if Kyrie gets traded to the Lakers and they give him the full boat next summer. Anecdotally, it will cost him, both immediately and in future legacy debates. And if he for some reason tries to sign elsewhere in free agency next summer—be it because he's bolting the Nets, the Lakers or another team—it may cost him then, too.

    Ben Simmons

    Ben Simmons just missed an entire season of basketball and is now coming off back surgery. A Nets team headlined by KD and Kyrie gave him a soft landing spot.

    Now what?

    Will Brooklyn trade him, too? And will he be set up to succeed wherever he goes? Do the Nets actually consider soldiering onward while building their team around him? That's a potential win, but it also exacerbates the pressure he already faces following his unflattering end to the 2021 postseason and drawn-out exit from the Sixers.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast.

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