Now two weeks after he first requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets, 12-time All-Star Kevin Durant has yet to find a new home.
A trade to his two preferred destinations, the Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns, are extremely difficult given Miami's lack of resources to land him and the Nets' inability to take back Deandre Ayton in a sign-trade-from Phoenix given the hard-cap implications.
ESPN's Brian Windhorst noted that, "the price tag for Durant may not be as high as the Nets wanted" and that the situation is turning into a "stalemate." The pressure is on to get a massive return for Durant while also doing right by the superstar and putting him in a situation where he can still compete for championships.
While trade packages with teams like the Toronto Raptors, New Orleans Pelicans, Golden State Warriors and others are floating all around the internet, there's one blockbuster deal we've all been overlooking.
What if Durant and LeBron James were to trade places?
That is to say, a deal based around Durant and James, two of the top five players in the NBA today, would actually work out well for both stars and their new respective teams. While all parties (Durant, James, the Nets and Lakers) would have to agree to such a massive transaction, here's why it actually makes sense.
Why the Nets Make the Trade (and LeBron James Approves):
Clearly, the return for Durant isn't what Brooklyn was hoping for if no deal has been made at this point.
The Nets aren't interested in rebuilding, however, and have spent the summer adding some key pieces by trading for Royce O'Neale from the Utah Jazz, signing T.J. Warren away from the Indiana Pacers and giving new deals to starting center Nic Claxton and key reserve Patty Mills.
With James "rooting hard" for the Lakers to land Kyrie Irving (via Marc Stein), he would now get his wish by rejoining his former teammate. In three years together, James and Irving reached the Finals three times, won a championship and became the first pair of teammates in history to each record 40 points or more in a Finals game.
Brooklyn's third star, Ben Simmons, has had a relationship with James for years as fellow Klutch Clients, as Simmons and agent Rich Paul used to sit courtside at Cleveland Cavaliers games before Simmons was even in the NBA. James has referred to himself as a "big brother" and "mentor" to Simmons in the past, so if there's anyone who can help Simmons return to his All-Star form, it's James.
The Nets keep their title window wide open with James, who joins a far deeper roster more suited to his skill set.
He leaves three awful three-point shooters in Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker to join some of the NBA's best with Irving, Joe Harris and Seth Curry. Leaving his home in Los Angeles is softened by the opportunity to play in another major market in New York, 12 years after he first took a free agent meeting with the Nets.
Also unlike Los Angeles, Brooklyn has some young players and draft picks to orchestrate a trade for additional help if needed, headlined by second-year guard Cam Thomas and 2023 and 2027 first-round picks owed from the Philadelphia 76ers.
Set to turn 38 in December, James has to give himself a chance to win championships every single year. The current Lakers roster doesn't give him an opportunity to do that, especially with the top of the West (Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks) looking absolutely stacked as players like Kawhi Leonard, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. return from injury.
There's just no way the Lakers make it out of the West, something James has to accept. A trade to Brooklyn gives him a real chance at a fifth championship.
Here's how a new Nets roster would look with James:
PG: Ben Simmons, SG: Kyrie Irving, SF: Joe Harris, PF: LeBron James, C: Nic Claxton
Bench: Seth Curry, T.J. Warren, Patty Mills, Cam Thomas, Kessler Edwards, Day'Ron Sharpe and Edmond Sumner
Why the Lakers Make the Trade (and Kevin Durant Approves):
As much as the Lakers should be grateful for LeBron James' decision to sign with them in 2018 and help deliver a championship in 2020, his time in L.A. may be coming to an end anyways.
James is entering the final year of his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent next summer. If the Lakers have another disappointing season (they've missed the playoffs twice and lost in the first round once in four years with James), the soon-to-be 38-year-old should be looking at other opportunities and may not be long for the franchise anyways after stating his desire to play with his son Bronny (who should be draft eligible in 2024).
Swapping James for Durant gives the Lakers a superstar who is four years younger and under contract three years longer. It also means Los Angeles would be set up with Durant for the next four seasons and Anthony Davis for the next three, pairing the former USA Olympic teammates together once again.
Even if the Lakers don't look like title contenders in 2022-23, this team would be set up to have incredible flexibility next summer when Westbrook's $47.1 million expiring contract comes off the books. If Horton-Tucker declines his player option or is included in the trade to Brooklyn, the Lakers would have a projected $43.4 million in cap space in 2023 even with Durant, Davis and Damian Jones ($2.6 million player option) under contract.
The 2023 free agent class projects to be far better than the one we just saw dry up, with players like Khris Middleton, Christian Wood, Myles Turner, Jerami Grant, Andrew Wiggins, D'Angelo Russell, Nikola Vucevic, Irving and James all being unrestricted. Even though he was just traded, James' contract running out would mean the Lakers could even re-sign him at that time as well if both sides wanted a reunion.
For now, Durant's three-point shooting ability makes him a better fit with this current Lakers roster, one that will need him to fire away from deep and keep the floor spread.
The Westbrook situation is tricky given their prior rocky relationship, although the two sides at least seem like they're on decent terms now. Reuniting with Westbrook after having so much success together earlier in their careers would be a nice story arc, especially with Davis as a running mate.
The Lakers aren't as much on a time crunch now with the 33-year-old Durant taking the place of James, especially with no player options on his remaining four-year deal.
Having two top-10 superstars on the roster for the next three-plus years and potential max cap space next summer would breathe fresh air into a Lakers franchise that finished 11th in the West last season.
Durant gets his wish of a trade, doesn't have to worry about Irving's availability any longer and can compete for championships for the remainder of his career for one of the most historic franchises in the NBA.
Here's how a new Lakers roster would look with Durant:
PG: Russell Westbrook, SG: Lonnie Walker IV, SF: Kevin Durant, PF: Anthony Davis, C: Thomas Bryant
Bench: Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn, Damian Jones, Austin Reaves, Stanley Johnson, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Max Christie, Troy Brown Jr., Wenyen Gabriel.
From a financial aspect, a Durant-James swap is almost a perfect match.
Durant is owed just under $43 million this upcoming season while James comes in at $44.5. The two could be traded for one another with no other salaries thrown in or draft compensation of any kind.
The Lakers could push to include Horton-Tucker in the deal to make sure his $11 million player option is off the books next season, to which the Nets would have to include Curry and his expiring $8.4 million salary to make the money work. If Brooklyn had to part Curry along with Durant, they should rightfully ask for a future first or multiple second-round picks from the Lakers as compensation.
Again, even though they don't possess no-trade clauses, this is something both Durant and James should be consulted on and approved of first. They've both earned as much as future Hall of Famers and two of the greatest players the game has ever seen.
James in Brooklyn could make the Nets title favorites next season while Durant with the Lakers keeps their championship window open for the foreseeable future.