When the news broke on NBA draft night that Kevin Durant was “following the situation of the Brooklyn Nets and” considering options with his futureThe team’s former assistant general manager Bobby Marks, ESPN’s front office insider, suggested a “swap package” would be on Durant. the biggest in league history†
It’s for the better, because the Nets are already on the wrong end of one of the biggest trades in NBA history and living in fear that it will happen again right now. Durant officially filed a transaction with Brooklyn on Thursday.
The Nets traded three unprotected first-round picks and a pick swap for one mediocre season in 2013 with their first Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. They bottomed out, handing the Boston Celtics the base of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. who reached the NBA Finals within ten years.
If they don’t maximize returns for Durant, the Nets could end up bottom of the standings again, as they owe all of their first-round picks through 2027 to the Houston Rockets as a result of their failed James Harden experiment. They still have Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons to show off for their flirtation with Durant and Harden (for now), but you try to predict what will become of it in the coming months.
The Biggest Transactions in NBA History
So, what’s the largest return package in NBA history, and is Durant really worth a bigger package?
You can pick your palate between the 2019 All-NBA blockbuster deals that paired Anthony Davis with LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers and Paul George with Kawhi Leonard on the LA Clippers. This is not a bias towards recency, but the willingness to trade every available first round pick at once is an evolving trend.
The Lakers said goodbye to nearly a decade of top-10 draft picks to land Davis: Brandon Ingram (the No. 2 overall pick in 2016), Lonzo Ball (No. 2 overall in 2017), the No. 4 overall pick in 2019 ( De’Andre Hunter), the No. 8 overall pick this year (Dyson Daniels), a first-round pick change in 2023 and an unprotected first-round pick in 2024 (which can be delayed until 2025). It was all worth it for the Lakers, who won a title in the 2020 bubble, but the New Orleans Pelicans were better within three years.
The Oklahoma City Thunder took out Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, five first round picks and a few pick swaps, all between 2022 and 2026, for George. Jalen Williams, the number 12 overall roster in this year’s draft, was the first of those selections. At least the Clippers can hold on to hopes that George and Leonard can lead them back into battle if the two veterans return healthy next season.
So that’s the bar — at least one All-Star-caliber player on his rookie contract, a whopping five first-round picks, some swaps in between, and quality salary filler. If the Nets can strike a similar deal, they may be able to make the best of a bad situation, especially with Irving, Simmons and a handful of other assets still on the roster.
Valid concerns about Kevin Durant
Davis was 26 years old and free from brokerage for a year when he asked for a trade. The Lakers were essentially bidding against themselves because everyone knew he would be going there in a year anyway, and the Pelicans still got the mother lode. George was 29 and had two years to go when he asked out, but the Clippers were over a barrel, as landing George also meant he got Leonard, so the Thunder asked for the moon.
Durant’s $194 million four-year extension begins this summer. The length of that contract, plus the reported absence of a no-trade clause, means Brooklyn has 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 turn 34 at the start of next season. He is two years away from missing an entire season with a torn right Achilles tendon and has missed a lot of time in the past two seasons with a hamstring injury and MCL sprain in his left leg. He started last season as a serious MVP contender and finished it off with a worrying first-round effort.
Lest we forget that in six years, Durant has skipped town with three teams at the first sign of trouble.
Which teams can make the best offer?
Those facts mean that rising stars like Tatum, Luka Doncic, Ja Morant, Trae Young, Anthony Edwards, Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley are all off the table. Their teams don’t trade a decade of promise for a few years Durant. The biggest exception to that rule could be Zion Williamson, whose own injury history and lukewarm relationship with the Pelicans could make offering him and a stock of picks more palatable.
You trade for Durant when you’re still a long way from a title, you sincerely believe you can win it next year, and you see no other way to get there in the near future. That should rule out some 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 of them have the seed money they need (although the Lakers could inquire about interest in Davis). It’s hard to imagine the Nets trading Durant in New York to the Knicks for a trade around RJ Barrett and picks. The Charlotte Hornets are not that close to a championship that they should be offering LaMelo Ball. Are the Cleveland Cavaliers willing to pack Darius Garland and picks to let another legend rent 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. Tatum and Brown’s further development was the only thing standing between Boston and a championship. Tatum is untouchable, and Brown should be too. The Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Dallas Mavericks don’t have the out-of-the-box overhaul package to bring much of real content to Brooklyn.
The Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat are reportedly on Durant’s favorite destinations list. They could be making big offers around Deandre Ayton and Tyler Herro respectively, if either Brooklyn is interested to headline a Durant deal. Neither qualifies as the greatest return in NBA history, although the Suns could put together the more compelling offer by adding either Mikal Bridges or Cameron Johnson to Ayton.
The Minnesota Timberwolves couldn’t make an offer, with the exception of Edwards or Karl-Anthony Towns, who would sell the Sixers at the Ben Simmons trade, 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 issued three draft picks to take down Dejounte Murray. Durant for Donovan Mitchell and picks may not be enough to push the Jazz over the top, even if Durant was happy in Utah. The Denver Nuggets don’t have the draft picks, but they do have Jamal Murray as a potential trading center.
That leaves the Toronto Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies, who both have a lot of talent and choices. Toronto could offer any combination of Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby along with their picks, and it feels pretty good to recreate the title run they made with Leonard. Memphis has Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke, plus picks, as trading options.
None of those transactions would make Brooklyn feel better than the day they signed Durant and Irving. If the Nets can get the Suns, Heat, Pelicans, Raptors, and Grizzlies among others to compete against each other, they may be closer to the biggest return package in NBA history.
Whether Durant will make it on his side is a matter of his health and his willingness to stay in one place.