NBA: The Raptors have the pieces for Kevin Durant … if they want to get into the derby


TORONTO – For at least a few minutes, it looked like it was going to be a relatively quiet summer in the NBA, just as league standards dictate.

It was the day before the free agent market opened. Kyrie Irving had just surprised everyone by opting for his one-year option with the Nets instead of leaving $ 30 million on the table.

This year’s lesson in the free agent market didn’t seem like one of the best. The exchange between the Hawks and Spurs was interesting, as Atlanta acquired star Dejounte Murray to reunite him with Trae Young. One of the questions that still lingered was whether the Knicks could free up enough space to overpay Jalen Brunson.

And suddenly, the NBA went crazy again.

On Thursday afternoon, just hours before the free agent trading window opened, we learned that Kevin Durant had requested a trade from the Nets.

When a star, and one of the top five NBA players, suddenly becomes available, it’s an NBA event. When you look at their history, you can expect the Raptors, led by Masai Uriji and Bobby Webster, to show interest, but they won’t be the only ones.

If you’re one of the other 29 teams in the NBA and aren’t preparing to present your best offer to Nets General Manager Sean Marks, what do you do?

Toronto is as well positioned as any other team to enter the Durant derby. The question now is how seriously the team is interested in participating in the race for the former MVP, two-time champion and future Hall of Famer.

The long-term plan has always been to accumulate perspectives, develop them and maintain some flexibility, while remaining patient for the right opportunity to solidify some pieces of your list. It has worked once before and they are able to do it again if and when they want. They have good young players with good contracts and have kept all of their draft picks. But is this the right opportunity? This is what they will have to decide.

It is not the same situation as Kawhi Leonard. They won’t get Kevin Durant for the equivalent of DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a first-round pick. Yes, KD will be 34 and has a history of injuries, but unlike Leonard, there are fewer questions about his current health, mentality and contract status – he still has four seasons on his contract.

This is what makes the situation so fascinating from Nets’ point of view. Unlike Anthony Davis, Paul George, or any other star who requested an exchange from his respective organization shortly before his contract expired, Durant still has several years left for his contract. Brooklyn therefore maintains some control in this unenviable situation.

It’s still a real nightmare for the Nets. They sacrificed the equivalent of half a decade of first-round picks for James Harden, who barely unpacked before being traded to the 76ers for Ben Simmons. Considered to be one of the best lines to form, Durant, Irving and Harden will have played a total of 16 games together. There is a reasonable possibility that all three players played their last game with the organization.

The Nets have little reason to rush the process or send Durant to a destination he prefers – Phoenix or Miami depending on who’s been flagged – if those offers aren’t the best possible return. The only way this trade won’t cripple Brooklyn in the years to come is if the Nets manage to hit a record return. And we bet that’s what they’ll ask Durant in return. Considering what is at stake – generational talent still effective and under contract for the future – it’s hard to believe that no one will be willing to pay the price.

As for how much the Raptors would cost, the easy answer would be to say it depends on the Brooklyn goals. We are led to believe that Irving will want to follow Durant and leave the Nets, but without being sure, it is difficult to conclude how competitive the Nets will be in the near future. If they want to build a winning team around Irving and Simmons, a comeback with Pascal Siakam as one of the hubs would make sense for both sides.

But if they choose to rebuild, and even if they don’t, the conversation is likely to start with rookie of the year Scottie Barnes. The inclusion of him in any trade should be a requirement for the Nets if they are to receive a quality perspective in return. If the Raptors’ openness to trading a 20-year-old future star is weak, then this is probably where the discussion will end. So besides Barnes or Siakam or OG Anunoby and any other players that will be included in the deal, there’s a matter of draft picks. Where is the limit of the choices to be included in the transaction?

Looking at the playing field, the Nets sent out three picks in the first round and traded four more picks in Houston for James Harden, and they will surely want most of those picks back in Durant’s swap.

On the Raptors side, you can argue both ways. There are certainly advantages to entering the Durant derby, considering there will be enough pieces left after the exchange to claim the championships. Durant alone puts the team in discussions: he’s good like that. But is it worth the price?

As good as Barnes may become, the hope is that he will become who Durant is today in the brave new world. Trading, however difficult it may be, is a situation that might be acceptable in this case. The point where it gets difficult is to include the other pieces that match Durant’s salary, which next season will make $ 44 million, while Barnes will only make $ 8 million.

And all those draft picks they’ll have to send to the Nets? We’ve seen what can happen when a team submits multiple unprotected picks in the first round. The Nets have experienced this twice in the past decade. The swap for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce cost them the picks that became Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in Boston, and aside from the 2013-14 playoff win over the Raptors, the swap earned next to nothing.

Now the Rockets are enjoying their latest bad luck. Considering how reluctant Uriji and Webster have been to sacrifice the future and trade future first-round picks, that kind of trade doesn’t seem to fit the Raptors’ vision.

Of course, any team that acquires Durant will want to avoid trading choices after Durant’s contract expires. But giving up three or four choices is also a big risk. Hopefully Durant will remain healthy, which is not a certainty for a 34-year-old with a history of serious injuries. And we must hope that he respects the last years of his contract, which is not a certainty for any player in this league these days.

If that trade fails, the team is bound to watch Brooklyn draft good players at their own expense for years to come.

It’s not an easy decision, but the Raptors are in a good position to make it. They can put all their chips in one basket. They can also follow their plan and continue to develop their young core and wait for a better, or at least less risky, opportunity.


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