The Celtics are doing their due diligence in determining the market price for Kevin Durant. He’s one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history, and the Celtics have been eyeing him for 15 years.
The cost, at minimum, will be Jaylen Brown. And the Brooklyn Nets want another front-line player and draft picks.
There is no hurry for the sides to work out a deal. Durant has four years left on his contract, and training camp doesn’t begin for two months. But there’s something that could have long-term negative effects about Brown being suggested in Durant talks.
Brown responded to Monday’s report with a “smh” on his Twitter account, and for folks who don’t understand, that translates into “that’s a damn shame” (”shaking my head”).
The reality is Brown would be the most marketable piece in any Durant deal because Jayson Tatum can’t — and won’t — be involved. Because one team cannot acquire two players on designated rookie extensions, Tatum cannot go to Brooklyn — and the Celtics would never send him there — with Ben Simmons still on the Nets roster. And the Celtics are not going to acquire Simmons in any deal.
Brown could be flattered by being in these talks. It’s Kevin Bleeping Durant, a generational player, one of the top five players in the game — and arguably one of the top three — who remains in his prime and who will be under contract until 2026.
But rumors can be embellished. Instead of Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens talking with Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks, and Brown’s name being mentioned, the rumors have grown into Stevens dangling Brown, as if he’s expendable.
The dynamic of the Celtics would change without Brown. They would lose grit and toughness. And there’s something intriguing about Brown, more than any other player on the Celtics roster. His potential is alluring, difficult to take your eyes away from every time he plays. Each summer, when Brown improves on his 3-point or mid-range shooting or his defense, he becomes more untouchable.
He was the Celtics’ best player in the NBA Finals and it wasn’t even close. He dropped 34 points in the close-out Game 6 while Tatum was mystified by Andrew Wiggins’s defense and lost his confidence.
The Celtics would be a different team with Durant but not necessarily better. It’s difficult to determine how Durant would mesh with Tatum, although it would be enjoyable to watch them take turns gashing defenses.
One of the primary reasons the Celtics would offer Brown is if there’s an indication that he will not sign an extension. Brown has two years and $58-plus million left on his contract, and he’s eligible for a three-year extension this summer.
But signing such a pact wouldn’t be financially feasible for Brown, who, like many of his brethren, has watched contemporaries such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, and Damian Lillard sign extensions worth $50 million per season in the latter stages.
But according to an NBA source, Brown is invested in Boston. He enjoys playing for the Celtics and wants to be part of the team’s bright future. But being the best available player on any roster, especially a championship-caliber roster, can be bittersweet.
Brown is the first player any team is going to ask for, perhaps even in situations where Tatum is available (he isn’t). Every team needs a dog — a tough, rugged player who does not back down and accepts even the most arduous of challenges. Tatum proved during the NBA Finals he has not quite reached that level.
Brown has proven he has, which may make him a more attractive trade asset. He shouldn’t be insulted by being in Durant trade talks, but the Celtics will have to determine whether he’s a must in any deal for the Top 75 player, whether it’s worth it to lose a prime cornerstone for an aging one.
One complex aspect of the Durant situation is his contract extension. Usually, superstar players who become available are on short-term contracts. In Philadelphia, Simmons had just signed a contract extension when he asked out and the 76ers swapped him for James Harden. Simmons has yet to play a game for Brooklyn and has three years left on his deal.
Durant is a plug-and-play for the Celtics. He’s eager to win another championship, listened to Boston’s free-agent pitch six years ago, and besides his social media fascination has no drama off the floor. There are good reasons to trade for Kevin Durant.
But there are even better reasons to keep Jaylen Brown. Unless he’s disgruntled, unless he has told management that he has no intention of signing a long-term extension, and unless the Celtics feel they are guaranteed to win a title with Durant, there’s every reason to stand pat.
Stevens has already shown he doesn’t value first-round picks, having traded three of them already. But to attach three more and a pair of pick swaps and another contributor such as Marcus Smart (the Nets are not going to take Derrick White unless it’s a sweetheart deal) is quite costly. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition. If the Celtics were to win a title with Durant, Stevens is a genius. If they don’t, he’s Billy King.
If the Celtics can wiggle Durant from Brooklyn without sacrificing Brown, then go for it. But something doesn’t seem right about this deal. Brown has too much upside, too much passion, and too much fortitude to move (with a slew of picks) for one player. Even if it is Kevin Durant.