The question for Kevin Durant is whether he waited too long to make his trade demand.
It’s nearly August and Durant remains a Brooklyn Net with no serious contenders for his services.
The Phoenix Suns backed out of the competition by matching the Pacers’ offer for Deandre Ayton, taking away their biggest trade chip. The Suns are moving on with their previous roster and hoping for a resurgence.
The Heat may not have enough assets for the Nets. Kyle Lowry is available. But the last time we saw him, he was dealing with conditioning issues in the Celtics series. He also has two years left on his deal and is 36 years old. Is a package with Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and slew of draft picks going to move Brooklyn GM Sean Marks?
That’s highly unlikely. The Heat cannot send Bam Adebayo to the Nets because of the obscure rule that prevents teams from acquiring two players on rookie max extensions. Brooklyn traded for Ben Simmons in February, meaning any player on a rookie max is ineligible to play for Brooklyn.
The Heat will attempt to maneuver their salary cap and roster to create an attractive package for the Nets. But two of Miami’s highest-paid players are over 30 (Lowry and Jimmy Butler) while Adebayo can’t be in any Durant deal. That takes the Heat out of the equation and shifts their focus into acquiring Donovan Mitchell.
The Raptors have the pieces to make an attractive offer for Durant but they don’t want to relinquish Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes. Without Barnes, the package is less enticing, despite the potential inclusion of Pascal Siakam. OG Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr., and Precious Achiuwa are attractive players along with draft picks, but the Raptors may be reluctant to gut their roster to get Durant.
The Nets want prospects and players that can help win now. Royce O’Neale and T.J. Warren were signed through free agency while the club brought back Patty Mills and Nic Claxton. And, lastly, Kyrie Irving remains on the Nets roster and has every intention of playing this season, while Simmons should enter training camp completely healthy.
This is not a championship roster but it’s a competitive one. Brooklyn could try to wait out Durant and hope he has a change of heart as the season approaches. He has not gone on record as to why he demanded the trade but he hasn’t changed his mind either.
The Celtics can offer the best player for Durant in Jaylen Brown but not necessarily the best package. The Nets are going to also want Marcus Smart and perhaps a third player, as well as multiple first-round picks and pick swaps.
The Nets don’t have to make a deal now. Training camp doesn’t start for two months. Durant, who turns 34 in September, has yet to state whether he’ll play for Brooklyn if a deal isn’t consummated. With no sense of urgency to complete a deal, we wait.
The availability of Mitchell availability adds another layer of complexity because teams such as the Heat and Knicks are after the Jazz guard. If there is no team that presents a capable package for Durant, the organization will be best suited to stand pat and wait for an ultimatum.
What also complicates matters is the four years remaining on Durant’s contract. That’s why the Nets asking price is so high, because most superstars are available at the end of their contracts, not the beginning.
It’s hard to determine how Durant will look two years into the deal when he’s 36 but if he wins your team a championship at 34, it really doesn’t matter. The Celtics shouldn’t offer Brown in any deal for Durant.
Their best hope is the Nets become desperate, Durant decides to hold out, and the Nets lower their asking price.
So the best plan for the Celtics, Heat, and Raptors is to wait. It sounds like a boring strategy because it is. But the Nets are not going to make a deal now unless they’re overwhelmed. And interested parties have no incentive to make a deal because they know the Nets will eventually reduce their price once the season approaches.
So nothing’s going to happen now. It’s best to enjoy the rest of the summer, get excited about the schedule release, and convene in late September when the Nets reconsider their stance, assuming Durant maintains his trade demand.
Ainge not done remaking Jazz
New Celtics forward Danilo Gallinari was once considered a rising star with the New York Knicks. He has played 13 seasons and established himself as an elite shooter. In 2021, Gallinari helped Team Italy reach the Olympics for the first time in 17 years. The Italians finished fifth and it was a time Gallinari won’t forget.
“It was a great experience for us,” he said. “The Olympics is something that you dream of when you are a little kid. It was a dream come true for me. It was my first one. I knew even if it was a young group of guys, I knew the guys already.”
One of Gallinari’s teammates, forward Simone Fontecchio, was plucked away from his Baskonia club in Spain by former Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, signing a two-year, $6.5 million deal with the Utah Jazz.
Fontecchio proved to be one of the better players in the Tokyo Olympics and could be an impactful signee as Ainge tries to reshape the Jazz. He has already dealt three-time defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert to the Timberwolves for four players and four first-round picks, and is considering dealing away Donovan Mitchell.
Fontecchio could become part of the new core. His style is similar to a young Gallinari, a physical small forward who can stretch the floor with his shooting prowess. He averaged 19.3 points and shot 45.5 percent from the 3-point line in Tokyo, leading Italy in both categories.
“Simone is a great guy and a very good player,” Gallinari said. “He’s been playing great basketball for the past few seasons in the EuroLeague. And I’m sure that he’s gonna be able to be himself and do what he does, even in the NBA. I’m very excited for him. Of course, it’s a dream come true for him. And I’m looking forward to playing against him this summer in the European Championships and see what we can do.”
The question for Fontecchio will be the transition to the more fast-paced NBA style. Gallinari said it will not be an easy adjustment to the elite level, but the Jazz, with new coach Will Hardy, are in rebuilding mode and should give the swingman the opportunity to learn the game.
“He plays the three and he’s the same position that I was and played for most of the years in my pro career,” Gallinari said. “I think he’s ready for the NBA. He has an NBA body. He can play on the offensive end and defensive end and also on smaller guys. Like I said, I’m excited for him. It’s not going to be an easy process. But I think he has the experience in basketball to do it and to establish himself.”
Ainge was also able to acquire Jarred Vanderbilt, Patrick Beverley, Walker Kessler, and Malik Beasley in the Gobert deal to go along with holdovers Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley. The Jazz are in a bizarre position of being talented enough to compete for the final playoff spot but having no chance to compete with the conference’s elite teams.
Trading Mitchell to the Knicks would seem to make sense, but Ainge wants a haul in return. He wants multiple first-round picks and a group of New York’s younger players. Are the Knicks willing to offer part of their young core — they have the picks to sacrifice — for a chance to pair Mitchell with Jalen Brunson? And if the Knicks make this deal, will they be championship contenders?
Opinions are mixed as to whether Mitchell is a franchise player. He is considered an elite scorer who doesn’t always pay attention defensively. His relationship and chemistry with Gobert deteriorated over the years to the point where they couldn’t beat a shorthanded Mavericks team in the first round, despite Luka Doncic missing the first two games of the series.
So far, there’s no Mitchell deal because it’s the middle of the summer and there’s still two months before training camp. There is no sense of urgency and Ainge may still be trying to determine Mitchell’s value around the league.
WNBA’s in-season Cup has won over followers
The WNBA could be considered a testing ground for the NBA, as for the second consecutive year, the league has conducted a Commissioner’s Cup — an in-season tournament — with the winners playing a championship game during the season.
It was a match of the WNBA’s two best teams in Chicago and Las Vegas. In the WNBA’s version, every team plays a handful of Commissioner’s Cup games that are also regular-season games. The teams with the best winning percent through those games (61 this season) will play in the final. Players in the championship game share $500,000, while another $165,000 goes to charity.
If the NBA is going to adopt such a format, it would be best for there to be one championship game instead of a full-fledged tournament that does not count for regular-season wins. The NBA would be asking players to participate in extra games for reward money and for some of the league’s highly paid brethren; it may not be worth it.
“It’s an interesting format the way it came about,” Sky coach James Wade said. “I think it’s really interesting. I like it. I spent most of my time playing overseas, and my wife also, so we always played for a cup, a national cup, along with a championship, and you always did it in-season. We’re used to those values.”
The charity aspect is an interesting because it adds motivation for players. What if the NBA matched the charity reward for the winning team? What if star players such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry contributed their winnings to their favorite charity? Then the in-season tournament also turns into a positive public relations move. That may be the best way to encourage league standouts and the NBPA to participate.
“I think as time goes, as the tradition grows, you’ll see more and more teams take pride in it, especially when you add the element of the charitable cause that you play for. It adds even more incentive,” Wade said. “I think it’s a good Cup. I think it’s about us donating our time and our energy and our efforts to represent the causes that we stand for, and I always think that’s something that’s going to mean something. The Cup element is big. It gives you championship experience when it comes to playing in money games.”
There was a recent suggestion the WNBA should move its annual All-Star Game to Las Vegas to coincide with the NBA Summer League. But Chicago has become perhaps the most popular WNBA city with the rise of the Sky.
“Just because the history of Chicago basketball, away from the Bulls. It’s a lot of winners that have been raised here, and when you talk about toughness, that’s what you think about,” Wade said. “It’s a lot of metropolitan cities when it goes all the way around, but Chicago has a special place when it comes to basketball, and you can just count out the history away from the Bulls.”
The Sky’s ascension coincided with the signing of hometown player Candace Parker, who led Chicago to its first WNBA title.
“I think right now it’s our time. I’m just happy to be a part of it. I feel the energy. I felt it at All-Star Game. I felt it last year in the Finals,” Wade said. “We had a game on the same day as Green Bay and the Bears, and our game still sold out, and that’s just right up the road, and that just tells you what women’s basketball means to the city.
“A lot of it goes with the culture that our leadership has created when it comes to bringing in a player like Candace Parker.
“I just love these stories, and to actually say, ‘OK, we’re going to grind and continue to be blue collar. I think that blue-collar attitude that we’ve created here has kind of represented what the city stands for. Now I think a lot of people are taking notice, and the fact that we get to host all these things, it kind of puts Chicago at the forefront of all the conversations.”
Former Celtics big man Aron Baynes will sign with an Australian club hoping to boost his stock for a return to the NBA. Baynes suffered a devastating fall in the locker room while playing for Team Australia in the Tokyo Olympics last summer and was hospitalized for weeks. Baynes was a useful piece on defense as a center but he’s 35 and saw his playing time reduced during his final season with the Raptors . . . The Lakers are still trying to move Russell Westbrook and the $47 million of the final year of his contract and had discussed a deal with the Pacers that would have netted Buddy Hield and Myles Turner. But the Lakers are hesitant to relinquish picks along with Westbrook. At this point, the lone reason the Pacers would take Westbrook is the draft assets and expiring contract. Tyrese Haliburton is already their starting point guard. Teams are going to demand the Lakers attach draft assets and perhaps another player, such as Talen Horton-Tucker, to any Westbrook trade. What will be fascinating is Westbrook’s NBA worth next summer. If he turns in a bounce-back season, will he get another multiyear deal? Or has Westbrook reached a point where he is a one-year, mid-level exception type? . . . Despite the Celtics allowing that $17 million Evan Fournier trade exception to expire, they still have six more exceptions to potentially use over the next several months, including a $6.9 million exception from the Juancho Hernangomez deal and $5.8 million exception from the Dennis Schröder trade. The rest of the remaining exceptions are below $2 million and are unlikely to be used. But it shows how much president of basketball operations Brad Stevens has collected in his deals over the past year . . . It seems the Hornets are down to two former Celtics in choosing a backup point guard. Kemba Walker, who is likely to have his Hornets jersey retired when he’s finished playing, is a free agent looking for another opportunity after his stint with the Knicks fizzled out. Walker was traded to the Pistons and then waived last month. Isaiah Thomas had a solid end-of-the-season stretch with the Hornets and accepted his reduced role and became a locker-room leader. He may have the edge in returning because of his positive impact. But Walker has always been a favorite of former/new Charlotte coach Steve Clifford.