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The Celtics need to consider a Kevin Durant trade

The Celtics are in a unique position to unite two of the top-10 players in the NBA. That’s the straightest path to an NBA championship.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Six summers ago feels like a different universe. Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas, and Kelly Olynyk led a Kevin Durant pitch in the Hamptons that’ll be remembered forever by Celtics fans. Tom Brady acted as a spokesman for New England. Danny Ainge guided a Boston franchise toward adding both Al Horford and Durant, and becoming prohibitive title favorites.

Now, Ainge is in Utah, Brady is in Tampa Bay, Thomas is fighting to stay in the NBA, and the Celtics have entered the latest Durant sweepstakes, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

Boston has offered Jaylen Brown, according to Charania, a powerful overture that, despite the Nets declining, suddenly places the Boston in pole position to acquire one of the greatest players of all time. The Nets prefer to remain relevant after Durant, and given Brown’s youth, upside and ability to lead a competitive team now, Brown and his below market contract pairs nicely with Ben Simmons in Brooklyn. Due to Simmons’ designated rookie extension status, he can’t be on the roster with other stars the Nets could target in exchange, like Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo, Devin Booker and Michael Porter Jr. The Suns’ Deandre Ayton signing made him trade-ineligible until January, further stalling the Durant market and opening the door for the Celtics to emerge as a powerful suitor that could be one move from a championship.

Imagine Boston showing up for a Finals rematch against the Warriors with a motivated Durant, who averaged nearly 30 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game on 52% shooting, making the All-NBA Second Team and considered an MVP frontrunner before spraining his MCL last year. His lackluster first round series looked bad, but came against an intimidating Celtics defense after he carried extra weight all season for a sporadically available Kyrie Irving and James Harden (before Simmons arrived and didn’t play). Durant, 33, is still one of the 2-5 best players in the NBA with Jayson Tatum not far behind. Golden State would be worried.

Brown’s inclusion is no insult, like Adebayo’s wasn’t in Heat rumors — “it is what it is,” Bam said. It’s a credit to how valuable and prolific they’ve become as players. Brown would be a perfect starting point for a franchise retooling on the fly, with the Celtics reportedly offering Brown alongside Derrick White and a first-round pick. The Nets countered, demanding Marcus Smart, more future first-round picks and possibly another rotation player. Boston can offer three firsts and two swaps, with a 2028 option already sent to the Spurs in the White deal.

The Malcolm Brogdon trade gave Boston greater flexibility to trade a guard and the Danilo Gallinari signing could Grant Williams available. The line stops at Robert Williams III, whose Defensive Player of the Year-worthy season in his first as a full-time starter and his offensive upside looked like a legitimate championship swing factor. Boston won his Finals minutes handily and he’s become borderline untouchable despite lingering health concerns.

That leaves Brown as a centerpiece. Despite making enormous strides playing with Tatum, becoming part of a top-ranked defense and his own annual improvement, he’s only signed for two more years. The reason to trade for Durant would be his ability to vault the team’s offense into the upper-echelon of the league even though Brown’s pending free agency is an ancillary consideration.

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Brown and Tatum have repeatedly played up their bond and Brown’s invested in the city through a pop-up store for his clothing brand and education programs with local colleges. However, Brown recently liked a tweet commenting on disrespect from Celtics fans, and joined the Donda Sports marketing agency, with its head Kanye West reportedly considering Brown underappreciated. Durant’s desire to play in an intense Boston market is worth considering, too. Brown’s lived it and thrived whereas Durant has clapped back at criticism about his Warriors tenure.

Brown tweeted “smh” after the reports came out Monday morning. There may not be any issue beyond an annual annoyance of his name being mentioned in trade rumors. NBA history does show players as talented, influential, and holding the potential Brown does desiring their own team, city and influence independent of how respected they feel. However, the Celtics can ultimately offer him the most money by far, not unlike this summer’s deals for Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal.

It’s impossible to predict the future, whether it’s Durant’s or Brown’s, but given that Boston can only offer a three-year, $123-million extension to Brown beginning on Oct. 1, he will inevitably become an unrestricted free agent in 2024. Then, it’ll be difficult to recover any fraction of value if Brown decides to leave — one year before Tatum can reach his own free agency.

The first consideration should be on the floor today. Does Durant bring you significantly closer to a championship today if you replace Brown with him?

That answer is yes, depending on how much more Boston gives up beyond Brown. Both the Celtics and Warriors showed the value of depth, continuity and how many reliable contributors you can court in the playoffs. There’s too much talent in the league now to make yourself a thin super team. Others like the Nets and Lakers faltered due to their lack of complete, versatile rosters.

We don’t have a concrete motive for why Durant demanded a trade one month ago, whether in defense of Irving or to escape him, but Brooklyn has Durant under contract for four years. It’d take a serious or disruptive holdout or ownership intervention to force Sean Marks into a deal they don’t find substantive. Brooklyn gave up its first-round picks through 2028, so they’ll need to recover what they lost to the Rockets in the Harden trade. There’s financial incentive for them to remain competitive as one of the most expensive teams in NBA history.

The Celtics couldn’t rest on their success last year either. Ime Udoka acknowledged the offense did Boston in. Brad Stevens admitted the need for more playmaking and brought in Brogdon. While internal growth could inch the team closer to a championship, being able to throw Durant the ball and get a basket from him at will would help shake up much of the team’s offensive stagnancy from the postseason.

Durant helps passing, movement, turnover and efficiency issues. Tatum’s presence takes some facilitating and scoring load off Durant, allowing him to rest more often. As a seven-footer who can play some center, he’d be an ideal fit for Udoka’s defensive system. Udoka coached Durant during the 2020-21 season in Brooklyn, after leading Durant and Tatum together on Team USA last summer. Whereas Tatum stays above the fray, Durant’s fiery edge could be a productive complement for the star.

The question for the franchise and fans alike will be which they prefer, a stronger immediate chance or two at a title, or a longer window with a younger team that might fall just short like they did last season?