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Suns trade for Kevin Durant and alter playoff path for Celtics

The Suns completed a blockbuster trade on Thursday morning to change the NBA landscape.

Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

In case you slept through it — the Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns completed a blockbuster trade to send Kevin Durant to the western conference. Phoenix regained its status as a NBA title contender. Brooklyn effectively ended its chance of chasing the same goal.

The move came hours after the Celtics defeated the 76ers and activity began around the league. The Lakers added D’Angelo Russell. The Knicks acquired Josh Hart, and long-rumored Celtics target Jakob Poetl landed back with his former Raptors team. Boston stood pat, for now, as the 3 p.m. deadline approaches and everyone grapples with the move.

Players wondered about what deals happened as they shuffled into the locker room post-game on Wednesday, with the greatest shock to greet many of them in the morning.

“It’s easier said than done, just ignoring it and not listening to anything,” Brogdon told CelticsBlog on Wednesday morning. “Of course you’re watching. You want to see which teams are making upgrades and what teams are deciding to go in the other direction.”

The Suns retained Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton while acquiring TJ Warren from Brooklyn, too. They sent the Nets Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Jae Crowder, four unprotected first-round picks and rights to a 2028 pick swap. The trade ended any speculation Durant, signed through 2026, would attempt to make it work with the Nets following the Kyrie Irving trade.

Irving, dealt to Dallas earlier this week, scored 24 points in his debut win over the Clippers. He reached the podium with enough time to react to the move.

“It’s not the first time we’ll be in competition as brothers. I’m just praying for his happiness and praying for his well being,” he said. “We had a lot of conversations throughout the year of what our futures were going to look like. There was still a level of uncertainty. We just cared about seeing each other be places where we can thrive, and whether that be together, or whether that be apart, there’s never been one moment where I felt like he’s been angry at me for decisions I’ve made, or I’ve been angry with him.”

Durant and Irving’s exodus to the west creates a far more compelling playoff picture in both conferences. The Suns become favorites with a trio of scorers who dominate from all three levels, and a solid defensive structure. Denver remains atop the conference. The Mavericks and Clippers boast scary one-two punches and the Warriors and Lakers linger as dangerous play-in contenders. We can’t forget the Sacramento Kings anymore either.

Those teams would make compelling Finals opponents for the Celtics, but particularly the theater of an Irving return in a different location or the stature of Durant’s new team. A Suns run would raise the question — should the Celtics have inquired, or even closed the deal?

Stephen A. Smith raising the possibility of a Jaylen Brown for Durant swap makes far more sense now. The Nets likely doubted his future and subtly announced his availability with a high asking price. Chris Haynes reporting Paul’s availability in Irving negotiations with Brooklyn falls into context too. Phoenix tried to acquire both Irving and Durant.

The Nets received a haul for the latter from a team lagging in the standings and needing to bolster its contention window around Paul. It’s an enormous, yet understandable risk that alters the path to a championship for the Celtics slightly for now, and potentially drastically later.

Boston wouldn’t meet the price Phoenix paid. They could’ve offered five first-rounders, though the Suns appear more likely to deteriorate later this decade than the Celtics would’ve. Another rotation player or players, like Derrick White, needed to join the deal.

Should they have? There’s a case. The price looks awfully high.

Danilo Gallinari’s contract wouldn’t have moved the Nets as much as Crowder’s, which they can now try to move or buy out once the deadline passes. Boston also sits in a less desperate position than the Suns did. Make no mistake, the championship field is now more crowded for allowing a deal. There’s a chance Durant could’ve set the Celtics apart.

Boston will no longer need to worry about the Nets. They shouldn’t overlook them, at least to see what the price would be to acquire Seth Curry or any one of their growing array of strong role players. Royce O’Neale, Joe Harris, Patty Mills and Yuta Watanabe could all help playoff teams, or continue to help the Nets compete.

Trading Irving for Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith doesn’t make as much sense with Durant departing. Ben Simmons remains, whatever that means now. Bridges should shine in a larger role. As should Johnson. Jacque Vaughn can coach. The Nets fared decent.

It’s also hard to see where they’re going, owing picks to Houston through 2027.

“I’m just glad that (Durant) got out of there,” Irving said.

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