Kevin Durant trade grades: Suns look like this deadline’s big winners, Nets’ work seems incomplete
The Phoenix Suns are bringing in superstar Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets for a group of players and draft picks in a stunning NBA blockbuster that confirms the trade deadline, CBS Sports’ Bill Reuter confirmed. The Suns will send Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Jay Crowder, four undefended first-round picks and a 2028 pick trade to Brooklyn for Durant and TJ Warren. Durant had previously requested an off-season trade, but the Nets had not found a deal for him at the time. He eventually agreed to return to the team. At that point, the Suns were Durant’s preferred destination.
For most of the season, such trading seemed unthinkable. The Nets looked like championship contenders after a poor start, going 18-2 in Durant’s last 20 healthy games. Phoenix, meanwhile, hovered around .500 for most of the season while dealing with injuries to Chris Paul and Devin Booker. However, in recent games, they have rectified the situation, while Brooklyn went in a different direction. Kyrie Irving requested a trade after contract renewal talks with the Nets fell through last week. His wish was quickly granted and he was sent to the Dallas Mavericks.
It would seem that this marked the beginning of negotiations between the Nets and Suns. Without Irving, Brooklyn is likely out of the championship race. This caused them to reconsider trading Durant and Phoenix decided to make a deal.
The Suns now have one of the highest-scoring duos in the league in Booker and Durant. Chris Paul remains floor general and Deandre Ayton remains central and defensive anchor for the Suns. Buying Warren, who started his career with the Suns, gives them few prospects to make up for what they lost in the trade, and the Suns are likely to be one of the most desirable destinations in the buyout market.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn enters a period of great uncertainty. In less than a year, they traded Durant, Irving and James Harden. Houston controls first-round elections for the next five years. While they have plenty of veteran talent, Cam Thomas and Nick Claxton are the only young players with significant growth potential. Sean Marks rebuilt this team under far worse circumstances. The Nets won by sending picks Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown to Boston.
Now he’ll have to rebuild them again, but this time with the knowledge of what went wrong with his first superteam. Phoenix are now a superteam, and unless someone makes a big deal to compete with them before Thursday’s 3:00 pm ET deadline, the Suns look like the new Western Conference favorites. No wonder the Suns are getting top marks for this deal.
Phoenix Suns: A-
Why haven’t the Suns won either of the last two championships? There are a number of viable explanations. Reserve center minutes killed them against Milwaukee in the 2021 NBA Finals. They lacked possession to deal with the Mavericks’ hedging defense in the past playoffs. The COVID outbreak hit them right before Game 7 of the Dallas Series. We could continue.
Or we could trust Occam’s Razor and assume that the simplest explanation is correct: The Suns lost to the Bucks and Mavericks because the Bucks and Mavericks had the best player in both series. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 50 points in the final match of the final. Luka Doncic nearly averaged 50 points, rebounds and assists against them last year. The Suns have had a lot of great players over the past few years. Never, not once in the history of their franchise, have they had anyone who could What.
Well, now they do. Duran outplayed Antetokounmpo in the playoff series. He won championships, but Doncic did not. Sometimes these things can be simple. When Kevin Durant is on your basketball team, you stand a chance of winning a championship. Prior to this exchange, the Suns probably didn’t. Their near misses over the past few seasons have depended on technical accuracy, accompanied by impeccable teamwork and impeccable luck. Well, Chris Paul is finally starting to succumb to the harsh age requirements. Jay Crowder held on, hoping to be traded. In the summer, DeAndre Ayton signed a contract with another team, but the list of offers coincided. Whatever factors had allowed them to surpass their talent in the past two seasons, they simply didn’t exist anymore. Now they don’t need to. The suns will hit you the old fashioned way: pure star power.
Is there a duo of wide backs in the NBA that can defend both Durant and Devin Booker? Heck, the thought of Chris Paul taking down the team’s third-best defenseman in a crucial moment is just as terrible. Phoenix narrowly managed to keep Ayton in the deal. He has spent less time at the ring this season than at any time in his career. This will now change based purely on the number of open dunks and layups he is going to get. In all of basketball, there is no better four-man combination than the Phoenix core, and this is especially true in the late game when creating a mid-range shot is the most valuable skill in basketball. Last season, the Suns outscored their rivals by 107 points in the clutch. Now they’re adding Kevin damn Durant to this mix. You better hope you beat this team in the first 43 minutes because you don’t have a chance in the last five minutes.
So why not “A” or “A+”? Well, this team is hardly flawless, and the Suns don’t have much leftover draft capital or young talent to use for the next upgrade. Who is the fifth best San right now? Torrey Craig? Landry Shamet? Phoenix just lost his best quarterback in Bridges. Craig can take on the task and Durant is a strong team guard, but the Suns have taken an undeniable step back at this end of the floor. The Suns are 24th in paint points and 29th in fast break points. Durant doesn’t get hit too often, and while he’s a strong transitional player when he wants to be, at this point in his career, he’s not known for picking up the pace. This is largely a shooting team. Sometimes jump shots don’t land. Suns no longer have elite defenses or depths to fall back to. This is not Warriors 2017. This list is not perfect.
But every squad is not perfect this season. Less than two years ago, we watched Durant fall an inch or two behind a victory over the same Bucks team that ended Phoenix’s title hopes with a one-legged James Harden and no Kyrie Irving by his side. He doesn’t need much, and he still has an NBA linemate, Hall of Famer point guard and contract center to work with. Don’t overdo it. The sun will be amazing.
Brooklyn Nets: C-
The big question for Brooklyn is why now? The Suns probably made that offer last offseason. Surely in the summer they would do the same. Why rush it before the deal deadline? Why not wait until the summer, let the other teams gather their ducks and have a real betting war? Durant has three years left on his contract. He has no way out. In particular, he did not have the opportunity to break through to the Phoenix.
The Suns turned down some of that deal, but not all of it. When the Nets traded for James Harden, they lost control of seven-year first-round picks. Phoenix turned down five: four straight picks and one trade. Phoenix was able to keep Ayton instead of sending him to Brooklyn or, preferably, transferring him to the third team for additional assets to send to the Nets. Even the Suns’ best offerings pale in comparison to what New Orleans could have offered with plenty of excess assets after the trade of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday. Memphis also had more assets. If James Harden returns to Houston this summer, the Rockets will surely top him. There was simply no good reason for the Nets to make just such a trade today. Perhaps last summer had better deals. There would almost certainly be better deals next summer.
The Nets did not receive any blue-chip assets in this deal. The election that Phoenix sent to Brooklyn? That’s good, but they’re not as valuable as the ones the Nets sent to the Rockets two years ago. Devin Booker is only 26. He will still be in his prime when the last of these peaks is revealed. Bridges is a star hitter who is one of the most valuable commodities in basketball. He has never been an All-Star and, judging by his style of play, is unlikely to ever make it. Johnson has serious injury concerns and will become a restricted free agent this summer. Crowder is likely to be selected in the second round.
If there was any chance that the Nets were going to sell Durant, why did they focus on getting a winning package from Dallas for Kyrie Irving rather than two unprotected future picks that the Lakers seemed to be ready for? offer? Hell, looking back, the Nets probably regretted not trading a first-round pick for Royce O’Neal last summer. This is a rebuild of a team that has spent the last few years making win-win moves now. Some of these steps were entirely justified, but some of them, in the context of Durant’s well-known discontent, never made any sense.
Yet despite everything, despite one of the greatest disasters in NBA history, despite three star trades and so many controversies we can’t even count, the Nets aren’t exactly in terrible shape. Seven years ago, when the Nets hired Sean Marks to patch up a team that was supposed to let Boston pick Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum, their best asset was… Brooke Lopez? This time the cabinets are not so empty.
The Nets currently own five undefended picks from other teams: four from Phoenix and one from Dallas. They have a weak…