Kevin Durant is still a Brooklyn Net, which shouldn't be a surprise to anybody. We have an unprecedented situation on our hands and the Nets' front office is not going to be hasty about pulling the trigger on any deal. Talks have only just begun over the last two days. The timing of it all-- specifically, Durant requesting a trade two hours before free agency began-- complicates matters even more. And one transaction in particular may throw a wrench into everything.
In case you missed it, the Minnesota Timberwolves moved heaven and earth to acquire Rudy Gobert from the Utah Jazz on Friday. Brian Windhorst was right, people! It's the end of an era and all that in Utah but the most important ripple effect is the price point the Timberwolves unintentionally set. They traded five unprotected first round picks to the Jazz, along with three starting-level rotation players, to land Gobert.
Now, Gobert is good. Really good. He is a defensive system unto himself and can probably do more on offense than what he showed in Utah, although he'll never make or break anybody's championship hopes on that side of the floor. It's easy to pick on Gobert because he is making an ungodly amount of money for being great on the side of the floor that matters less in the eyes of the public, but he's a damn good player.
However, KD is much, much, much better. If the Timberwolves ponied up that much draft capital and talent for Gobert, nothing will stop the Nets from demanding an utterly absurd package for their superstar. We're talking another superstar-level talent to go along with six or more picks as the baseline here. That isn't really news, per se, but seeing what Gobert went for really puts into perspective how much the Nets can reasonably ask for Durant.
And that might stop any trade talks in its tracks. There is no team in the NBA that could field a half-decent roster if that's the price to acquire Durant. Unfortunately for the Nets, their playoff sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics serves as proof that no matter how good he is, he can't win by himself. Going off the precedent the Wolves sent, the Phoenix Suns would have to trade Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Jae Crowder, and all their first-round picks until 2028 to land Durant. That's three starters, a fourth with starter potential, and the best resources for replacing them all gone. The Suns could win a lot of games with just KD, Devin Booker, and Chris Paul, but it's far from a guaranteed championship.
The Nets will say that's the price for a top-five player under contract for the next four years. But that's exactly why teams might hesitate. Because he's under contract, the Nets do not have to trade Durant this offseason or risk losing him for nothing. They could play hardball and tell him to report to work anyway, as mandated by the contract he himself signed. Other teams are incentivized to force the Nets to do that if they're set on getting more than what the Jazz did for Gobert.
Every team in the league should theoretically be desperate to land Durant. But very few (if any) contending teams have the assets to land him while still remaining contenders, and a small-market team in the rebuilding stage (like the Thunder) are very unlikely to blow up their process in order to get a guy who very well could ask for a trade and become a big problem soon after acquiring him.
It feels like the Gobert trade will serve as a reality check to anybody in pursuit of Durant concerning how high the price tag really is. That could lead us into the very rare situation where everybody in the NBA collectively dares the Nets to either lower the price tag or go into next season with an unhappy KD. In fact, I'd argue that's likely. Because who in their right mind is going to trade three-four starters more than five years' worth of draft picks for one player, even if that player is Kevin Durant, and think they can still win a championship?
Rings culture has permeated more than NBA discussion. It's in the minds of executives around the league, too. Making money is still a top priority for every team in the league but superstar players make too much to simply fill the role of putting butts in seats. If an owner is going to pay Durant $50 million for one season of play, winning basketball better accompany him. At the current asking price, there's no universe in which a team can trade for KD and still be considered Finals contenders next season.
All because of Rudy freaking Gobert. This league!