When news broke on NBA Draft Night that Kevin Durant was “monitoring the situation of the Brooklyn Nets and ponders options with his future‘ suggested Bobby Marks, the team’s former assistant general manager turned ESPN front-office insider, that a trade ‘would be a return package on Durant the largest in league history.”
It’s better this way, because the Nets are already on the wrong end of one of the biggest trades in NBA history and live in fear of it happening again as we speak. Durant formally requested a trade from Brooklyn on Thursday.
The Nets traded three unprotected first-round picks and one mid-season pick swap in 2013 with Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who were past their prime. They bottomed out and gave the Boston Celtics the foundation of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who reached the NBA Finals within a decade.
If they don’t maximize the return for Durant, the Nets could find themselves back at the bottom of the standings and owe every one of their first-round picks to the Houston Rockets through 2027 as a result of their failed experiment with James Harden. You still have Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons to parade for their flirtation with Durant and Harden (for now), but you’re trying to predict what will become of them in the coming months.
The biggest trades in NBA history
So what’s the biggest return package in NBA history, and is Durant really worthy of a bigger one?
You can choose between the 2019 All-NBA blockbuster deals that paired Anthony Davis with LeBron James at the Los Angeles Lakers and Paul George with Kawhi Leonard at the LA Clippers. This isn’t recency bias, but the willingness to trade every available first-round pick at once is an evolving trend.
The Lakers parted ways with nearly a decade of top 10 draft picks to land Davis: Brandon Ingram (the 2016 No. 2 overall), Lonzo Ball (the 2017 No. 2 overall), the No. 4 overall Overall pick in 2019 (De’Andre Hunter), the No. 8 overall pick this year (Dyson Daniels), a first-round pick swap from 2023, and an unprotected first-round pick in 2024 (which on 2025 can be postponed). It was probably all worth it for the Lakers, who won a title in the 2020 bubble, but the New Orleans Pelicans were better in three years.
The Oklahoma City Thunder picked Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, five first-round picks and a pair of pick swaps, all between 2022 and 2026, for George. Jalen Williams, the No. 12 overall pick in this year’s draft, was the first of those picks. At least the Clippers can cling to hope that George and Leonard could bring them back into contention if the two veterans return healthy next season.
So that’s the bar – at least one all-star caliber player in his rookie contract, up to five first-round picks, some swaps in between, and a quality salary filler. If the Nets can land a similar deal, they could make the best of a bad situation, especially with Irving, Simmons and a handful of other assets still on the list.
Valid concerns about Kevin Durant
Davis was 26 years old and a year away from free reign when he applied for a trade. The Lakers were essentially bidding against themselves because everyone knew they were going there in a year, and the Pelicans still got the mother vein. George was 29 and had two years left on his deal when he quizzed, but the Clippers were over a barrel as landing George also meant getting Leonard, so The Thunder asked about the moon.
Durant’s $194 million, four-year extension begins this summer. The length of the contract and the alleged lack of a no-trade clause means Brooklyn holds more cards than the Pelicans or Thunder. Durant is also one of the 15 greatest players in league history, while Davis and George are not.
That increased leverage is mitigated by the fact that Durant will be 34 when next season begins. He is two years away from missing an entire season with a torn right Achilles tendon and has missed significant time over the past two seasons with a hamstring strain and an MCL sprain in his left leg. He started last season as a serious MVP contender and ended it with a worrying performance in a first-round win.
Lest we forget, at the first sign of trouble, Durant left town in three teams in six years.
Which teams can make the best offer?
Those facts mean rising stars like Tatum, Luka Doncic, Ja Morant, Trae Young, Anthony Edwards, Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley are off the table. Their teams aren’t trading a promising decade for a few years of Durant. The biggest exception to that rule might be Zion Williamson, whose own injury history and lukewarm relationship with the Pelicans might make it more palatable to offer him and a cache of picks.
You act for Durant when you’re a short distance away from a title, you honestly think you could win it next year, and you can’t see any other way to get there in the near future. That should rule out a number of lottery teams. Oklahoma City, Orlando, Houston, Sacramento, Detroit, Indiana and San Antonio make little sense.
The Lakers, Clippers, and Portland Trail Blazers are certainly thirsty for Durant, but none have the necessary draft capital (though the Lakers may inquire about interest in Davis). It’s hard to imagine the Nets trading Durant in New York to the Knicks for a trade that revolves around RJ Barrett and picks. The Charlotte Hornets aren’t that close to a championship that they should be offering LaMelo Ball. Are the Cleveland Cavaliers ready to box up Darius Garland and picks so another legend can lease their franchise for a few years?
You can shorten the list very quickly. The Golden State Warriors were there with Durant and just won the title without him. Between Boston and a championship stood only the further development of Tatum and Brown. Tatum is untouchable, and Brown should be. The Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks don’t have the ready rebuild package to offer much real substance to Brooklyn.
The Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat are reportedly on Durant’s list of favorite travel destinations. They could create pick-heavy offers around Deandre Ayton and Tyler Herro, respectively, if either of them interested Brooklyn to headline a Durant deal. Neither is the biggest return in NBA history, although the Suns could put together the more attractive offer by adding either Mikal Bridges or Cameron Johnson to Ayton.
The Minnesota Timberwolves couldn’t cobble together an offer, with the exception of Edwards or Karl-Anthony Towns, who the Sixers would sell in a trade with Ben Simmons, so good luck finding one for Durant. The Chicago Bulls would need Zach LaVine to approve a sign-and-trade deal to even inquire about Durant.
The Atlanta Hawks just gave up three draft picks to bring in Dejounte Murray. Durant for Donovan Mitchell and picks might not be enough to push the Jazz over the top even if Durant were happy in Utah. The Denver Nuggets don’t have any draft picks, but they do have Jamal Murray as a potential focal point of the trade.
That leaves the Toronto Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies, both brimming with talent and picks. Toronto could offer any combination of Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby along with their picks and feel pretty good about recreating the title run they made with Leonard. Memphis has Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke as well as picks as trade options.
None of these transactions would make Brooklyn feel better than the day Durant and Irving signed them. If the Nets can get the Suns, Heat, Pelicans, Raptors and Grizzlies, among others, to bid against each other, they could be one step closer to the biggest winning package in NBA history.
Whether Durant will do well on his side will depend on his health and his willingness to stay put.
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Ben Rohrbach is a senior editor at Yahoo Sports. Do you have a tip? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach