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Kevin Durant Sign-and-Trade Difficult to Complete but May Benefit All Parties

Will Gottlieb@@wontgottliebFeatured Columnist IJune 30, 2019

TORONTO, CANADA - JUNE 10: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors arrives before Game Five of the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors on June 10, 2019 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Carlos Osorio/NBAE via Getty Images)
NBA Photo Library/Getty Images

Achilles injuries are perhaps the most difficult to rebound from for NBA players. It's a career-threatener for Kevin Durant—one that could sap his explosiveness and will force him to reevaluate how he navigates his free agency after a probable yearlong recovery. 

The Golden State Warriors have expressed interest in offering Durant his full five-year max, per the New York Times' Marc Stein. Given the severity of his injury, re-signing makes the most financial sense for him. However, if he's inclined to leave the Warriors but wants to keep the security of the five-year max only Golden State can offer, a sign-and-trade could be a beneficial option for all parties involved. In that scenario, the Warriors get some assets back, the receiving team gets Durant, who would demand a five-year max in this hypothetical, while Durant gets his financial security. 

Sign-and-trades are rare because of the complexity of the rules surrounding them. They hard-cap teams, preventing them from exceeding the projected $138.21 million tax apron for the remainder of the season. This means they wouldn't be able to use their bi-annual or mid-level exceptions. Especially for teams that can absorb max contracts, there is little incentive to accept a sign-and-trade deal. 

Durant has already opted out of his $31.5 million player option for the 2019-2020 season, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, and will become an unrestricted free agent 6 p.m. ET Sunday. However, the Warriors retain full Bird rights on the 2014 MVP, meaning they can offer him a five-year, $221 million max contract, while competitors can only offer four years, $164 million. The Warriors can also give Durant 8 percent annual raises, while other teams can only offer 5 percent. 

To give Durant the most financial security he can get and avoid losing him for nothing, the Warriors' best option—and perhaps Durant's as well—might be a sign-and-trade. In addition, it could benefit his landing spot by allowing the team to shed some salary in the process of acquiring him (e.g., Miami). However, things become tricky when the franchise on the receiving end comes into play. 

Wojnarowski recently reported that the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks join the Golden State Warriors as teams on Durant's short list, and each of these teams have the means to create enough space for two max contracts. That makes a sign-and-trade exceedingly unlikely. If he wanted to, Durant could sign directly with any of these franchises. There is little incentive for the Nets, Knicks or Clippers to give up assets to sign Durant. 

Under any other circumstances, the years on the contract might be less of a priority for KD. He signed two-year deals with player options for each of his last three pacts. But because of the injury, a five-year max is in play. Demanding a five-year max would give Durant leverage—though it may end up helping the Warriors even if he chooses to go elsewhere because they'd have the power to ask for pieces in return. 

The Nets, coming off their first playoff season since 2014-15, have put together a competitive young core and have tons of cap space. Rumors of Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan teaming up with Durant in Brooklyn, via Charania, give life to the sign-and-trade option. 

The Nets have up to $68.6 million in cap space, which is just underneath what they would need to sign Irving and Durant (Durant's max is more expensive than Irving's and the other big-name players in this free agency). If they wanted to sign all three free agents, they would have to do some cap acrobatics. Durant's max deal would start at $38 million, while Irving's would start at about $33 million. Those deals combined ($71 million) already exceed the Nets' max amount of space, and depending on how much Jordan wants, they might have to send a few pieces back to the Knicks. 

Jordan's presence might make blossoming stud Jarrett Allen's $2.3 million gettable for the Warriors, who would welcome a young rim protector, in a Durant sign-and-trade. Taurean Prince's $3.4 million rookie-scale deal could be sent back to the Warriors instead if Jordan ceased to be a part of Brooklyn's plan. 

Because teams who engage in sign-and-trades become hard-capped, the Nets would have to use space to sign Jordan, rather than using an exception on him. Depending on how much Jordan demands, Spencer Dinwiddie's $10.6 million could facilitate the move, give the Warriors quality pieces to lengthen their roster while Thompson recovers from his injury, and give the Nets plenty of space to sign KD, Kyrie and Jordan. 

The Clippers are another destination where a sign-and-trade makes sense, as they'll have up to $56.4 million in space. Rather than moving him to a third party, Danilo Gallinari ($22.6 million), Sindarius Thornwell ($1.6 million, non-guaranteed) and Tyrone Wallace ($1.6 million, non-guaranteed) could be sent back to the Warriors for Durant to make room for both Durant and Kawhi Leonard. 

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Because the Clippers are so far under the cap, the complication of matching Durant's base year and incoming salary wouldn't be a problem. Gallinari also would give the Warriors another weapon at the power forward spot with the offensive juice to help keep the ship afloat. 

The Knicks have as much as $70.5 million in space and could absorb both Durant and another max-level free agent directly. They also don't have much in the way of desirable assets, so a sign-and-trade doesn't make much sense for them. Even if Durant demands a five-year extension and a trade to the Knicks, they don't have much to give up. 

Maybe the Warriors could pry one of the remaining players—Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay, Kevin Knox, Luke Kornet, Allonzo Trier or Dennis Smith Jr.—but none of those players help the Warriors in the short term, and the Knicks will likely want to retain young talent to grow alongside their two stars in this scenario. 

Complicating matters even further, if Durant signs a five-year contract, he can't be traded until December 15. As NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh explained, "League rules prohibit sign-and-trades on five-year deals, but it technically isn't a 'sign-and-trade' if they wait until mid-December to make the move." That means whatever team Durant chose to sign with, he wouldn't be able to join until roughly January and the returning players wouldn't be able to join the Warriors either. 

There are avenues for a sign-and-trade option to work for all three parties, but the only way it happens is if Durant demands the full five-year max. Without it, any of the three teams on his short list can absorb him into space and have little incentive to cough up assets just to help out the Warriors.

            

Salary-cap info via Basketball Insiders unless otherwise noted.

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