Rockets open to join Kevin Durant, Nets trade as third team facilitator

Even though Kevin Durant reportedly wants a trade away from the Nets, it’s hard to imagine a 34-year-old NBA superstar accepting a trade to rebuild Rockets. Typically, elite veterans want to maximize their short-term title chances. Still, there’s a strong argument that Houston has exactly what Brooklyn could use most in this dire situation.

Because it’s virtually impossible to replace Durant’s basketball prowess any time soon, the process for the Nets to eventually form their next title contender should ideally involve young draft reinforcements. That’s why the worst teams in the NBA are ranked high. It is a means of bringing hope to struggling franchises and parity.

The Nets are obviously not in a position to reap those usual benefits as Houston is in control of their first round of draft assets until 2029 as part of the James Harden trade from January 2021. But what if that somehow changes and can rebuild Brooklyn through design?

for the right deal, Kelly Iko of the Athletic reports: that Rafael Stone, CEO of Rockets, is open to such an arrangement. He is writing:

Should that be the case, the Rockets are open to being involved as a facilitator if it means getting assets back, the athletic understands.

Iko further throws out a hypothetical situation where the Rockets trade for the young great man Deandre Ayton as part of a three-way deal that sends Durant to his desired destination, Phoenix. The 23-year-old averaged 17.2 points (63.4% FG) and 10.2 rebounds in 29.5 minutes per game last season.

Ayton, a restricted free agent, should be given a new contract as part of every transaction. That, in turn, could eat up some of Houston’s potential salary ceiling flexibility in 2023† However, if Ayton is seen by the Rockets as a better player than many of the realistic options for that space in a year’s time, it might be worth moving the time frame a bit.

In such an arrangement, Houston would have to at least compensate Brooklyn (and perhaps Phoenix) with design capital.

From Brooklyn’s perspective, the thought would be that unprotected future first-round design capital — especially their own — could provide much more benefit, in terms of ultimately building a contender, compared to building around the likes of Ayton and Ben Simmons. While the Nets could certainly acquire significant design capital in a two-team Durant transaction—in this case, Phoenix’s—they would also need to think about the likelihood that those picks will actually turn out to be good. After all, they would be handing the Suns a juggernaut, at least on short notice. In contrast, the appeal of Brooklyn regaining its own choices is that they would be in control.

Still, Houston must remember that without her involvement, the Nets have no reason to lose much, as they wouldn’t get the resulting high design capital. Though a foundation of Ayton, Simmons, and other assets acquired this offseason from Durant and Kyrie Irving through hypothetical trades, the Nets wouldn’t be championship caliber — but they’d have enough talent to still be relevant and in the mid-range of the NBA. That, in turn, could limit the desirability of those future picks that came Houston’s way by putting them near the middle of the first round, rather than high.

There are of course no guarantees. Perhaps in 2023, Stone and the Rockets will see free agents or trading targets preferable to Ayton (or other plausible 2022 options, such as Mikal Bridges). In addition, Houston may feel that acquiring a player like Ayton in the off-season of 2022 could worsen the prospects for his own first-round draft pick in 2023, with a fraught class led by super prospect Victor Wembanyama.

It’s also possible that, even with an obvious incentive to avoid major losses (barring a trade with Houston that returns their seed capital), the Nets will find a way to do it anyway. After all, it’s not like Simmons – who hasn’t played in over a year – is a slot to revert to its old form and remain available. If the Rockets are skeptical of Simmons, it could lead them to follow Brooklyn’s picks and allow the mayhem.

Ultimately, it will not be easy to make a transaction of such magnitude. The Nets will want to be compensated at an extremely high level in every trade a perpetual All-Star and MVP candidate like Durant puts out, and the Rockets won’t want to empty their asset cabinet unless they get Durant themselves (which is pretty unlikely).

So the question is whether there is a sweet spot that leads to both the Nets and the Rockets achieving a desirable return. In Houston’s case, it would involve “cashing out” some of those future Nets drawing assets and the associated risk to a proven player’s security. In the case of Brooklyn, it is necessary that you are willing to take less direct help in a Durant trade, in order to have the advantage of being able to bottom out and build through the draft.

It’s far from a given that either side would do it, but it makes sense to investigate and determine if there is an acceptable middle ground.

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