Sources offer crucial context to Boston Celtics’ trade proposal to Kevin Durant.
The Celtics’ most serious discussion—as first reported by The Athletic’s Shams Charania on Monday, in which Brad Stevens’ front office was amenable to parting with Jaylen Brown, came weeks ago at the beginning of July, sources said. Representatives from most rival teams spoke with Nets general manager Sean Marks and other Brooklyn officials during the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League.
Since the end of summer league, the majority of consequential trade conversations around the NBA have come to a momentary lull, and team personnel are not expecting any blockbuster trade any time soon. That will only change when a team makes a sudden full-force effort to acquire Durant or Utah Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell.
Both teams, specifically, considered Boston’s conversations for Durant, as part of the Nets’ first stage of continuing negotiations, sources told.
Durant is one of the NBA’s unquestioned elite players and has four years remaining on his contract. The market price for an established All-Star has grown to unprecedented levels, thanks to Utah’s massive haul for Rudy Gobert and San Antonio’s significant return for Dejounte Murray. But with Durant turning 34 in September and a notable injury history that’s limited him to only 90 games over the past three seasons, no rival teams’ trade offers have come close to meeting Brooklyn’s lofty expectations. Several opposing executives contacted by B/R have suggested the Nets’ terms are so significant because Brooklyn has no intention to truly move Durant.
The Nets have sought at least one bona fide All-Star-caliber player, other contributing players and significant draft capital to consider any Durant package, sources said. Brooklyn also maintains a stance that Durant may ultimately survey the Nets’ training camp roster and determine that playing in Barclays Center represents his best chance for a 2022-23 championship run.
For now, the Celtics’ true legitimacy as a Durant suitor, as with any inquiring team, will be determined by their willingness to meet Brooklyn’s wishes. However, the Nets’ firm positioning has not stopped rivals from drawing their own hard lines.
Interested teams are hopeful Brooklyn may ultimately have to lower its terms depending on Durant’s response come late September, several months following his trade request. There has so far been zero indication he is plotting any type of holdout, but rival team executives have repeatedly mentioned that scenario as the one variable that could force Brooklyn to drop its expensive demands.
Is Brown really Brooklyn’s Option?
As Boston’s second-leading scorer during a sprint to the 2022 NBA Finals, Brown would clearly qualify as one of the league’s premier young players Brooklyn could theoretically gain from a Durant departure. But is Brown, 25, really a centerpiece capable of leading the Nets on a deep playoff run without Durant, a two-time Finals MVP?
Would Brooklyn view Brown on the same level of, say, Pelicans All-Star swingman Brandon Ingram or Toronto reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes? Both Ingram and Barnes are believed to be the type of cornerstone headliners the Nets are seeking in Durant conversations.
Gobert’s trade value has provided Brooklyn with precedent to replenish its chest of draft capital—depleted during the James Harden blockbuster in January 2021—but the Nets have been described by league personnel as far more interested in a package that positions them for a title run.
Playing it out, if Phoenix’s now-not-happening offer of Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and the richest possible number of draft picks likely wouldn’t have been enough to satisfy Brooklyn, then Boston has a large gap between the Nets’ towering price point and a package of Brown, Derrick White and a first-rounder. Ayton can no longer be traded until Jan. 15 after the Suns matched his offer sheet from Indiana.
Boston’s Growing Tolerance for a Brown Trade
This seems to be the first moment the Celtics have truly explored the possibility of moving Brown.
All the way back in 2018, Boston never made Brown available in its efforts to land Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs, sources told.
When Anthony Davis was on the trade block in 2019, the Celtics only internally deliberated on including Brown in a package to New Orleans—the Pelicans’ one significant offer for Davis came from Los Angeles, sources said. Moreover, when Boston inquired about Ben Simmons last fall, the Sixers held firm in their own demand for an All-Star-caliber centerpiece and additional assets, and their talks never grew substantive.
When Boston stumbled to 23-24 in January, team personnel only began to consider the possible returns from parting with Brown this offseason, sources said, to better optimize the Celtics’ contending window starring Jayson Tatum. The Celtics did not seriously entertain any inquiries for Brown ahead of the February trade deadline, sources said.
There aren’t many players Boston would swap Brown for, but the Celtics’ franchise has coveted Durant since before his 2006-07 draft year, when they fumbled games in an attempt to land him or Greg Oden that June. Then in 2016, Boston sent a buzzworthy traveling party—featuring Tom Brady—to the Hamptons in an attempt to lure Durant as an unrestricted free agent, before he joined Golden State.
Since their momentous run to the Finals, Celtics figures have spoken of wanting to add to a burgeoning championship core. Boston found additional ball handling in Malcolm Brogdon, and free-agent acquisition Danilo Gallinari is slated to provide a valuable scoring punch in the second unit. Sam Hauser is expected to play a more significant rotation role as a reserve expert shooter.
If the Celtics do not land Durant, Boston will still be positioned as one of the favorites to emerge from a competitive Eastern Conference, with a bit of internal housekeeping likely in order.