3 Instant Reactions to Kevin Durant Being Traded to Suns for Bridges, Crowder, MoreFebruary 9, 2023
The Phoenix Suns finally got their man after acquiring Kevin Durant from the Brooklyn Nets in a blockbuster trade that completely upends the race to the NBA Finals this season.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Suns will get Durant and T.J. Warren for Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Cameron Johnson, four first-round draft picks and a pick swap.
Wojnarowski added the four draft picks going to Phoenix are unprotected in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029.
Here are three instant reactions to Durant getting traded during a season for the first time in his career.
Suns Are Western Conference Favorites
Going back to the offseason when Durant requested a trade from the Nets, Phoenix was one of the teams he had on his list of preferred destinations.
Even though it took the Suns longer to execute the trade, Durant's arrival vaults them back to the top of the Western Conference. They have been hot and cold all season. They got off to a 16-7 start, lost 17 of their next 22 games and have rebounded to go 9-2 in 11 games since Jan. 19.
Entering Wednesday, the Suns find themselves in fifth place in the Western Conference. Devin Booker, who missed 21 straight games with a groin injury, returned to the lineup in Tuesday's win over the Nets.
Pairing Booker and Durant instantly solves what has been Phoenix's biggest problem: Scoring. Head coach Monty Williams' squad ranks 16th in offensive rating and 21st in points per game.
The Suns defense has been terrific, ranking in the top 10 in both rating and points allowed. Durant's presence will take a lot of pressure off Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul to provide buckets in crunch time.
Durant's return from a sprained MCL is still up in the air. Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn told reporters on Tuesday there's no timetable for him to play.
This isn't a good year in the Western Conference. The Denver Nuggets have been the most consistent team on a nightly basis, but they are a middle-of-the-road defensive team with limitations that could be exploited in a playoff series.
The Memphis Grizzlies are still a young team and have gone 1-6 in seven games this season against the Suns, Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks.
As long as the Suns don't collapse before Durant gets on the court, they will be fine no matter what their seeding is in the playoffs.
Player Empowerment No Longer Works in NBA
It's time to acknowledge that giving players as much roster control as they have gotten for the past decade in the NBA is no longer working.
This isn't a question of giving players the freedom to play where they want. They deserve the right to get paid what they want from whichever organization they want.
But things have gone so far off the rails in recent years that there has to be a middle ground. There's a reason teams have a president of basketball operations and/or general manager in charge of building a roster.
Players are not good at doing this.
The Los Angeles Lakers are the last team to successfully use player empowerment to win a title. Anthony Davis essentially forced his way to Los Angeles to play with LeBron James. The plan worked because they won a title in their first season together.
But the Lakers caved in to James' desire to bring in Russell Westbrook last season, trading away all of their depth to do so.
They are only now hoping to pull themselves out of that mess after agreeing to a three-team deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz to acquire D'Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt, per Wojnarowski.
The Jazz will acquire Westbrook and a 2027 top-four protected first-round pick from the Lakers, plus Juan Toscano-Anderson and Damian Jones. The Timberwolves will get Mike Conley, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and draft picks.
In July 2019, the same offseason that the Nets went all-in to sign Durant and Irving, the Los Angeles Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard and traded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, five first-round draft picks and two pick swaps to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Paul George.
The Nets' bet blew up in their faces with just one playoff series victory over the past three years. The Clippers have had more success with Leonard and George, making the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2019-20 season, but they are still chasing a title after mortgaging all of their long-term future to bring in two superstars.
Outside of the 2019-20 Lakers' title, there hasn't been a team built on two or more superstars deciding to play together since the big three Miami Heat with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
The 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers are a borderline case because Kevin Love was still an All-Star at the time, but he wasn't close to the level of the players being discussed. The Golden State Warriors with Durant don't count because the core of that roster was drafted and developed by the organization before he came on board.
Having two top-20 players is the easiest path to winning a title, but history has proved it's not going to guarantee anything if you don't have the right people in the front office to build a roster.
Nets' Long-Term Future is Bright
Even though the Nets' hopes of becoming a juggernaut with Durant, Irving and James Harden never materialized, the news isn't all bad for the franchise.
Their title hopes this year are all but done, but general manager Sean Marks has positioned them well for the future. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson are both 26 years old and have a lot of talent.
Dorian Finney-Smith is 29 and has a contract that could be attractive to other teams if the Nets want to cash in with more future assets. He is signed through 2024-25 with a player option for 2025-26 and will make $27.7 million over the next two seasons combined.
More important for the Nets, though, is that they have replenished their cache of draft picks after basically selling all of their own picks to acquire Harden.
Yossi Gozlan @YossiGozlan
Nets decrease their luxury tax payment from $108M at the beginning of the week all the way down to $35.5M by trading Kyrie Irving & Kevin Durant. That's $90M in payroll and tax savings.<br><br>Nets generate a $8M trade exception and now have 9 first-round picks over the next 7 drafts. <a href="https://t.co/vEWIaFxPX6">https://t.co/vEWIaFxPX6</a>
The Suns' 2023 first-round pick is unlikely to be very valuable, but things could be looking up for the Nets by the time they get the 2025 pick. Durant is 34 years old and has been hampered by injuries in recent seasons. Chris Paul is 37 and nearing the end of his career.
The Nets also have a 2027 first-round pick coming from the Philadelphia 76ers as part of the Ben Simmons trade.
It's going to take time for Marks and the Nets to rebuild this thing after going all-in, but they have the picks and flexibility to make a lot of moves in the next few years.