Kevin Durant Traded to Phoenix in Deadline Blockbuster
The NBA trade deadline was already hot with the news of Kyrie Irving being traded to the Mavericks, but it exploded late Wednesday night when the Phoenix Suns acquired Kevin Durant from the Nets in a blockbuster deal. Let’s look at every angle of this deal.
Fallout of Kevin Durant Trade: Brooklyn Nets
We’ll start with the Nets side — and unfortunately for them, the team has not a whole lot to show for the Durant/Kyrie Irving/James Harden “era” in Brooklyn. They did recoup some of the draft pick capital that they gave up to acquire Harden in the full Durant trade –
Including the first-round pick in 2029 that was acquired in the Kyrie Irving trade Sunday, that’s a total of six firsts for Brooklyn, although they don’t have a superstar player as of right now. If they make no further trades (not a given, as there are still rumors swirling), they’re looking at a core group of Spencer Dinwiddie, Cameron Johnson, Mikal Bridges, Dorian Finney-Smith, Nic Claxton, Ben Simmons and likely Cam Thomas since he’s now a 40-point-per-game scoring threat. That is a lot of wing players, so it will be interesting to see where the dust settles for them at 3 p.m. ET Thursday.
The most obvious aspect they are missing right now is scoring, as the best threats on the team are a mix of Dinwiddie, Johnson and Thomas. Maybe they don’t have to score a ton of points since Claxton is a viable rim protector (they allow the second-lowest field goal rate within five feet of the basket) while Bridges and Finney-Smith are widely regarded as two of the better defensive wings in the game. Bridges is also the crown jewel in the trade — he hasn’t missed a game in college or the NBA and is scoring a career-best 17.2 points per game. The offensive game for Bridges is interesting because the Suns have been hit so hard by injuries, he’s taken his most shots per game at 13.6. That’s not likely to stop now, given the current makeup of the Nets and his contract runs through 2025-26, his age-30 season.
As for Johnson, he will be a restricted free agent after the year. He can be a weapon from beyond the arc — in the past two seasons (83 games combined), he’s averaged right about 5.8 3-point attempts per game and has shot above 43% from beyond the arc. That is the best mark on the team among players playing more than 18 minutes per game, and Royce O'Neale is the only player attempting more than five threes per game. Johnson and Thomas would give them a significant scoring punch off the bench if that’s what the Nets elected to do –
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this team right now is if they try to take a big swing before Thursday’s deadline. They restocked the cupboards for draft picks and have saved a lot of salary moving forward and $36 million in taxes, according to Bobby Marks of ESPN:
Dinwiddie was immediately connected with other trades after he was brought in for the Irving trade. The goal for this season is to see how the core group can mix together, and if Thomas is going to be a real player moving forward. The albatross right now is Ben Simmons, who hasn’t been able to resuscitate his career in Brooklyn. It’s hard to imagine they can move off Simmons in just about any format as he is still owed the rest of this season’s salary and is due nearly $80 million in the next two years. Overall, the Nets probably got the maximum return they could in a distressed asset that was Kyrie Irving, and KD held the cards to where he wanted to get dealt. Other teams weren’t forking over this amount of assets for Durant to be unhappy on their team, so to get Bridges and six first-round picks was likely the best possible outcome. I feel strongly that before next season tips off at the latest, the Nets will still look far different than the early hours of Thursday.
Fallout of Kevin Durant Trade: Phoenix Suns
Brooklyn is either reloading or possibly rebuilding all the way, but it’s the opposite of that in the Valley of the Sun as they are now the Western Conference favorites. Some may not agree with that take, and I’m not enjoying writing this as a Denver Nuggets fan, but facts are facts. This team is going to be tough to deal with –
Let’s start at the point guard position, because Chris Paul suddenly has the keys to one of the best offenses in basketball, and he’s already 11th in passes made per game at 58.4. Paul is also running the pick-and-roll as the ball handler at the highest frequency in the league, which I don’t know how you defend. Deandre Ayton is fifth in the league in possessions as the roll man and scores the third-most points per game. Teams will have to respect that, but they also can’t collapse on that as hard as they used to. The 43.2% field goal rate for Paul from the floor this year is the second lowest in his entire career, but now teams will have to somehow defend Devin Booker and Kevin Durant at the same time. Those two players are both in the top 12 in points per game and now get to work with one of the best ball distributors of the past 25 years in the league, and they have a talented center to do the dirty work down low and is elite in scoring in the paint and as the roll man.
While the Suns did lose some defensive prowess with Bridges heading to the Nets, let’s not forget that Durant is pretty strong defensively when he needs to be. As it stands, the individual defensive rating (not the only thing that matters) is 113.5 for Bridges and 111.0 for Durant on the year. The Suns don’t miss Jae Crowder at all since he hasn’t played a single minute, and T.J. Warren can chip in toward the bench scoring role that Johnson helped fill, not that they need it when Booker and Durant are on the floor. New Phoenix owner Mat Ishbia does take on a tax approaching $40 million for this season, and the team now does have $118 million committed for next year between three players (Durant, Booker, Ayton). That’s an issue for next season because the Suns are all in this year to win that elusive title.
The Suns are 8-2 in their last 10 as it was and have found some stable ground after looking like this year might be lost. They’re only four games behind the No. 2 seed in the West, although they are just 2.5 games ahead of the 10 seed as well. Booker is making his way back from an injury, and Durant is doing the same, so they may not share the court for another 2-3 weeks. They can still capture a top-four seed in the West and the rest of that conference doesn’t look like they are good enough in the immediate reaction.
The Nuggets are leading the West by 4.5 games, but they are not suited to defend this Phoenix team. As much as I think Nikola Jokic is passable defensively, the Nuggets are third in field goal rate allowed within five feet of the hoop and Jokic is tied for allowing the second-most points per game as the defender against the roll man. If the Suns can get him into that action and then have Durant and Booker as options for Paul to pass to, it’s not going to be a fun series. Memphis is second, but they are also 2-8 in their last 10 and just 15-16 in the conference, not ideal marks. Perhaps they pony up for an OG Anunoby trade to help defend the Suns, but the duo of Booker and Durant could well be the best tandem in the league when they are healthy. I’m very much with Chris that this is worth taking a gamble on before the number changes too much: