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Scattered thoughts on Celtics pursuing Kevin Durant trade

Boston has reportedly entered into trade talks for the Nets superstar

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game Four Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

It’s the end of July. The Boston Celtics have a bunch of open roster spots, but they are well over the luxury tax line and have nothing but minimum exceptions left to sign players with. That makes filling out the roster an exercise in bringing a bunch of guys to camp and hoping one or two pop and earn roster spots. Maybe throw in a veteran big that understands he’s only playing sporadically in a stay-ready role.

Basically, we’re in “See ya at camp” mode.

But…not so fast my friend!

Harkening back to the summers when Danny Ainge swung a July 31 trade for Kevin Garnett and a mid-August trade for Kyrie Irving, Boston might be back at it again.

Per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Celtics have entered the Kevin Durant trade derby. Shams Charania took things a step further and said Boston offered the Brooklyn Nets a package that includes Jaylen Brown, Derrick White and a first-round pick. The Nets reportedly countered by asking for Marcus Smart, additional first-round picks and potentially another rotation player.

Wow.

Just…wow.

In what should be the dog days of the NBA calendar, that quiet period after free agency madness but before camp, we’re now glued to our devices waiting for news. Five years after the late-summer move for Irving and 15 years after the mid-summer move for KG, we’re back, vacations be damned.

Because it’s mid-summer and the writing brain is partially turned off, here’s some scattered thoughts on answering questions about Boston pursuing Durant (again!).

· Are these reports even real? When two of the top reporters in the game put their name behind something, you can have trust it. In this era of “fake news”, we all too often jump to that idiotic slogan when it’s really news we don’t like. Not liking news doesn’t make it fake. Nor is the inverse true.

There’s also good reason to believe the reporting when you factor in that one report not only built upon the previous one from hours earlier, but added new details. It wasn’t just recycling the news with slightly different packaging. Charania’s report built on Wojnarowski’s with new details about what Boston had actually offered.

As always, when there is smoke, there is often fire. And there seems to be quite a bit of smoke here.

· But Brad doesn’t leak anything! This is true. Boston’s previous big trades for Al Horford, Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon all pretty much came out of nowhere. The Celtics have worked largely in silence for the last year-plus.

But trades involve two sides. And the Brooklyn side of this trade is motivated to leak offers to drive a (thus far stagnant) bidding war for Kevin Durant. The Nets goal is to get the best package possible for their superstar. They can put this out there in hopes that another team might be willing to throw in that extra piece knowing the Celtics are circling.

It’s very likely none of this is coming from the Boston side. At least, not yet. Maybe that comes later in the day on Monday or later in the week. But it’s now out there for the world to see and consume and it certainly came from somewhere.

· Fine, but why would Boston do this? They were just in the Finals! Yes, but they didn’t finish the job. The Celtics came up short and they want to finish things next time around. And it’s Kevin Durant. He’s one of the best players of All-Time and was turning in a possible MVP campaign last season before getting hurt. If you have a chance to get Durant, you have to explore it.

· Won’t we be giving up all our depth to do this? That’s a valid concern. Boston only has 12 players on standard contracts right now, as it is. But they rebuilt some of their depth this summer by adding Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari without giving up a single rotation player. This team is legitimately 10-deep right now. Giving up some of that depth in a Durant deal isn’t crazy.

It’s also important to consider that the Celtics have a ton of guard depth at the moment. They’ve got Marcus Smart, Brogdon, Derrick White and Payton Pritchard, along with JD Davison set to develop in the G League. Moving one of those guards in a Durant deal shouldn’t impact the depth Boston has amassed on the guard line.

· But it’s JB! And herein lies the crux. Jaylen Brown is one of our guys. He was the first player to truly emerge from the haul of picks Boston got from Brooklyn in the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade. We’ve spent six years watching Brown develop and arguing his merits as a potential All-Star. He got there and seems poised to be in the All-Star mix for years to come.

We’ve also regularly gone to battle with those who want to split up Brown and Jayson Tatum at the first signs of even potential turmoil. We believe they can win together because they’ve done it almost every season they’ve been together.

Simply put: Jaylen Brown is a Celtic and he’s our Celtic.

That’s part of what makes the idea of trading Brown so hard.

· But it’s KD! On the other side of the coin, there’s this. Kevin Durant was famously considering Boston when he was a free agent in 2016. Durant himself even said if he hadn’t chosen the Golden State Warriors, he would have picked the Celtics.

Yes, Durant is going to be 34 years old when next season tips off. But he’s coming off a 29.9/7.4/6.4 season on 52/38/91 shooting splits. Durant is incredible. He’s probably going to be incredible for at least another two-to-three years.

And that’s that window comparison.

For the next two-to-three years, Durant is likely to be better than Brown. It’s the decade or so after that where things become worrisome.

Really, it comes down to this: Win a title, or titles, in the next few years? Or really push this window of contention wide open for years to come?

· Is a title even guaranteed if Boston swaps Brown for Durant? Nope. Titles are never guaranteed. It’s really hard to win a championship! Let’s say both sides come together on something around Jaylen Brown, Derrick White and multiple picks for Kevin Durant. Boston would enter the season with legitimate health and/or age concerns surrounding six of their rotation players.

That’s pretty shaky. And the ability to add more depth is somewhat limited. Yes, there are a couple of Traded Player Exceptions left to work with, but using those TPEs comes at a huge tax cost. If all goes well, it probably results in Banner 18. If guys get old, injured or both, things could come crumbling down very quickly.

· Should the Celtics include Marcus Smart if that’s what it takes? This one is hard and polarizing. Smart should be one of our guys, but his status with Boston divides the fan base like no other player. Some see him as the heart and soul of the team, the rightful Defensive Player of the Year and a good enough floor leader to get the team to the brink of a title.

Others see Smart’s inconsistent shooting and tendency towards wild play and ill-timed turnovers as reasons to move on.

Smart has more value than Derrick White does. That’s why the Nets countered with asking for him in the deal. Smart is also slightly more expensive per season and signed for one season beyond White is. Smart also has a much longer injury history than White. Those are factors to consider as well.

The real question: Are White and Malcom Brogdon, with some Payton Pritchard thrown in, enough ballhandler depth if you have Kevin Durant?

· What would the lineup even look like? Durant and Tatum play the same position. The snarky answer? The lineup would look awesome. Boston could go SUPER big and stick with Rob Williams, Al Horford, Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart (or whatever ballhandler remains). Or they could move Horford to the bench and open with two ballhandlers in the backcourt. Durant and Tatum can basically play any position 2-4. All of the Celtics guards, minus Payton Pritchard (he’s really only a point guard defender) can defend 1-3. That makes lineup constructions endless and really, really fun to think about.

(They already are endless and really, really fun to think about. That’s what this Monday article was supposed to be about!)

· Can we go back to JB? Won’t he be mad Boston offered him up in trade? It’s possible this will anger Jaylen Brown. But the vast majority of players understand the NBA is a business. Most will even say some version of “Kevin Durant is a great player. To be mentioned in trade rumors with him is an honor and says how highly I’m valued.”

Brown is likely no different. He’s been around long enough and mentioned in enough trade rumors that it probably goes in one ear and out the other for him. Players don’t get worked up over trade rumors involving them nearly as much as fans do.

It’s also why loyalty in the NBA, from both sides, is only as good as the next paycheck and the chance to win. Money and winning are what drive loyalty. Not jerseys, history and location.

· Is there any way to do this trade without trading JB? Mathematically, for salary-matching purposes, yes. There are ways to get there and match salary while keeping Jaylen Brown.

Realistically, no. Brooklyn needs something of real concrete value in a Kevin Durant trade. Brown would be that value. All the rest is theoretical value in terms of draft picks, and there would be plenty of those included too.

· Does offering JB mean he’s leaving? Not necessarily. It’s not in Jaylen Brown’s best interests to sign an extension before hitting free agency. It’s important to remember he signed a non-max extension. (Aside: this is why Brooklyn can acquire Brown while keeping Ben Simmons. You can’t trade for two players on Designated Player extensions, but Brown was not a Designated player. That means no restriction there.) For Brown, signing an extension now would mean leaving considerable money on the table. He’s not going to do that, nor should he.

But there is a possibility that the Celtics have an inkling, or flat out know, that Brown isn’t interested in re-signing in Boston in the summer of 2024. If that’s the case, then it behooves Brad Stevens and crew to look into trades before they lose Brown for nothing.

· Fine. So, what happens here? We all turn on our Woj and Shams notifications and stare at our devices while the fleeting days of summer fade into fall. It’s really hot out anyway, so staying inside doesn’t sound so bad, right?

Non-snarky answer: who knows? It’s Kevin Durant. The Nets are motivated to get that monster return package for him. They aren’t rushing into anything. Durant asked for a trade nearly a month ago and nothing has happened yet. The start of camp at the end of September is a rough deadline, but unless Durant says he’s not reporting, that might not even matter. We all saw what happened with Ben Simmons last year. Teams aren’t caving to trade demands like they once did.

No deal seems imminent, as the reports have said. But things change really quickly in the NBA. There’s also Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn, Donovan Mitchell in Utah and Russell Westbrook in Los Angeles floating out there in trade rumors. And the Spurs and Pacers are sitting on mountains of cap space. That’s very unusual for this point in the NBA calendar. That’s got the market a discombobulated and crowded.

As they say: Ball doesn’t stop. This summer that is truer than ever.