Here are some thoughts on Day 2 of the NBA Free Agency…
Kevin Durant Sweepstakes Day II
All eyes are on Phoenix when it comes to Durant, the Nets star who is believed to be eyeing the Suns as his preferred next target. But while I wrote extensively on Thursday about how a deal centered on restricted free agent center Deandre Ayton and small forward Mikal Bridges could work for both sides, the early feeling is that it would take more than that . Or, to put it more clearly, something else.
As the New York Daily News’ Kristian Winfield pointed out after the Rudy Gobert to Minnesota blockbuster that went down Friday, the Nets’ asking price for Durant — two All-Stars, we’re told — was may have just come up. No way are the Suns trading Devin Booker, who just agreed to a four-year, $224 million extension.
Cam Johnson is worth watching as a possible player who could move the needle for the nets. But to be honest, it’s still too early to know if Durant will fulfill his wish for the Valley of the Sun here.
While we wait, let’s explore the macro question: why does Durant appear to have focused on Phoenix as the best place to continue his legendary career? There are probably many factors at play here – the chance to fight again, the location adjacent to LA, his relationship with Booker and respect for Chris Paul. But in terms of personal dynamics, his close relationship with Suns coach Monty Williams could top the list.
The two dated for one season in Oklahoma City, that 2015-16 season when Williams was an assistant head coach under Scott Brooks and Durant was in his final Thunder days before going to Golden State on a free hand. The two men had already become close this season, but the bond deepened following the tragic death of William’s wife and mother of their five children, Ingrid, in a car accident on February 9, 2016. A short story from that time that I will never forget…
During Toronto All-Star Weekend this year, I had planned to stop in Oklahoma City for a Durant interview on my way back west (I live near Sacramento). But before news of Ingrid’s death broke, Durant’s longtime CEO, Rich Kleiman, called to let me know the interview was over. Of course I asked why.
He shared the horrific news of what had happened and described Durant — like so many others close to Williams — as devastated. All these years later, people who lived through that situation with Williams say that Durant’s respect for him grew immensely when he saw how gracefully he handled all that pain. (If you haven’t seen the incredible speech Williams gave at Ingrid’s funeral, please do so.)
Not long after Durant made his controversial decision to join the Warriors, he was back with Williams in the roster for Team USA, which won Olympic gold in Rio with Durant as the top scorer. Since then they have been closely connected. Does that mean he’s bonded to Phoenix? Not at all. But it might help people understand some of his motivations right now.
As for the Miami possibility, which also appears to be in play, I’m told there’s a significant impediment on that front. Durant, it seems, would only want to play on a Heat team that includes Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry. Even if the Heat were willing to put Butler in a deal to fulfill the Nets’ (understandably expensive) request, it would leave Durant unsatisfied from the start.
As others have pointed out, Adebayo has a complication of his own, even beyond the fact that Durant probably wants him to stay. With teams not allowed to have two players on designated rookie max expansions that made their way via trade, Brooklyn would have to trade Ben Simmons to get Adebayo. When the Heat’s best offer centers on Tyler Herro, I just don’t see how that can ever gain traction. And in terms of Durant’s favorite travel destinations, it seems like the suns might have a chance to work some magic here.
Via Gary Payton II to Portland and the Damian Lillard ripple effect
The Payton deal with Portland – three years, $28 million, per our Shams Charania – has all sorts of layers. First the Golden State side.
While the Warriors’ luxury tax concerns are understandable given that every dollar spent was multiplied by seven, the optics of this loss will be difficult for owner Joe Lacob and his group. Not only was Payton a key part of their elite defense, a great fit on their offense, and an absolute game-changer in the NBA Finals after returning from his broken elbow, he was also a fan favorite.
These are first-world problems for a fanbase whose team has dominated for most of the last decade, but it’s a problem nonetheless. A source with knowledge of the Payton Warriors talks said Golden State offered the taxpayer a mid-level waiver for two years (starting at $6.4 million per year).
According to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, Payton has a deal with Portland contains a player option. That said, sources say Steph Curry and Draymond Green were part of the process with Payton but clearly didn’t persuade him to stay.
Add the fact that the Warriors lost Otto Porter Jr. to Toronto on Friday and Nemanja Bjelica went for it play for Turkish champions Fenerbahce, and it’s been a tough 12 hours on the bay. As rebound moves go – in more ways than one – the re-signing of free-agent center/fan-favorite Kevon Looney to a Three-year, $25.5 million contract on Friday was an absolute must.
Now for the Portland angle.
While it was widely believed that Lillard would accept the two-year renewal offer, valued at more than $100 million, sources say the Trail Blazers needed another strong offseason to convince Lillard to sign through to 2026. 27 campaign (when he is 36). The deadline here isn’t until the start of the regular season, and I’m told that’s not certain yet.
The addition of Jerami Grant (via Detroit trade) this offseason was a big step in the right direction on that front as Lillard’s desire to play with the 28-year-old forward was no secret. They have, of course, had success before as teammates, having won gold with Team USA at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Grant’s defense is also badly needed as Portland has finished 27th, 29th and 29th in defensive standings respectively for the past three seasons.
The draft was much more of a question mark since Blazers general manager Joe Cronin’s decision to bring Mystery Man Shaedon Sharpe out of Kentucky with the seventh pick was a long-term game. The deal with Anfernee Simons is another plus, although the price for the fourth-year guard, who had a breakthrough year, was oddly high (four years, $100 million) when he was playing in Portland (Lillard, of course). only 29 games and Portland went 27-55 due to his abdominal surgery). Big man Jusuf Nurkic is also returning, agreeing to a four-year, $70million deal keeping Lillard favorite in town.
Yet when it comes to Payton, this is the kind of move that’s sure to make Lillard smile. Not only does he desperately need elite wing defenders by his side, but Lillard is also close to Payton’s father, Hall of Fame point guard and compatriot from Oakland, California, Gary Payton, who has been a mentor to him for years.
Additionally, Payton II, his father and Lillard were all represented by the same agent, Aaron Goodwin of Goodwin Sports Management. There’s also the connection to the Northwest for Payton II, as he was well-liked during his two years at Oregon State (2014-16).
In other words, the Warriors’ loss is the Trail Blazers’ gain as they try to keep the Lillard era alive.
(Playoff) progress for the Kings?
I’m loving the Kings’ offseason so far — imperfect as it may be. First-year coach Mike Brown will certainly struggle to get this group to defend at a high level, and that could mean their ceiling is low enough to continue the league’s longest playoff drought. Especially considering how many quality teams there are in the west (like the Timberwolves!).
But the additions of Malik Monk, Kevin Huerter, and Keegan Murray are substantive solutions to their filming problems, and they have very reasonable contracts (two-year, $19 million for Monk through free agency; four-year, $50.5 million for Huerter on trade with Atlanta). Franchise centerpiece De’Aaron Fox has everything to do with these moves, as the Kings simply had to find a way to give him the kind of supporting cast that would help him take his game to the next level while helping Domantas Sabonis to succeed (remember, the 26-year-old all-star forward is a free agent in the summer of 2024).
Fox’s Kentucky story with Monk makes this move all the more significant and potentially impactful. Monk (career-high 13.8 points; 39.1 percent from deep on 5.1 attempts per game) was a rare bright spot in the Lakers’ otherwise terrible 2021-22 season. Furthermore, the move of the monks unofficially justifies the kings’ decision to let Donte DiVincenzo run in restricted freedom of action.
Her decision to draft Murray over fourth-choice Jaden Ivey has been debated and analyzed for years, but the Iowa product is widely viewed as a special young player who should help immediately.
There could certainly be more to come as the Kings have been in off-hook talks with Atlanta over John Collins (in a deal centered on Harrison Barnes) for months. There could also be opportunities related to the Durant situation, with teams like the Kings potentially able to capitalize on a third-team role.
No need to agree with the approach, but this is a win-now team. Again. And given the pressure this front office is under as General Manager Monte McNair and Assistant General Manager Wes Wilcox work in the final years of their respective contracts, there has been significant progress here.
(Photo by Mikal Bridges, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul: Brad Penner / USA Today)