Brooklyn will get Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder and four first-round picks
The Phoenix Suns are landing superstar Kevin Durant from the Brooklyn Nets for a bevy of players and draft picks in a stunning NBA trade deadline blockbuster, CBS Sports’ Bill Reiter confirmed. The Suns will send Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Jae Crowder, four unprotected first-round picks and a 2028 pick swap to Brooklyn for Durant and T.J. Warren. Durant had previously asked for a trade during the offseason, but at the time, the Nets did not find a deal for him. He eventually agreed to rejoin the team. The Suns, at that point, were Durant’s preferred destination.
For most of the season, this sort of trade appeared to be unthinkable. The Nets looked like a championship contender after a bumpy start, going 18-2 in Durant’s last 20 healthy games. Phoenix, meanwhile, hovered around .500 for much of the season while dealing with injuries to Chris Paul and Devin Booker. They’ve righted the ship in recent games, however, while Brooklyn has gone the other direction. Kyrie Irving requested a trade after contract extension talks with the Nets fell apart last week. He was quickly granted his wish and sent to the Dallas Mavericks.
This seemingly kick-started negotiations between the Nets and Suns. Without Irving, Brooklyn was likely out of the championship race. That forced them to reconsider trading Durant, and Phoenix swooped in to make a deal.
Now the Suns have one of the most explosive scoring duos in the league in Booker and Durant. Chris Paul remains to act as a floor general, and the Suns still have Deandre Ayton to serve as their center and defensive anchor. Reacquiring Warren, who started his career with the Suns, gives them a bit of forward depth to replace what they lost in the trade, and the Suns will likely be among the most desirable destinations on the buyout market.
Brooklyn, meanwhile, enters a period of great uncertainty. In less than a year, they have now traded Durant, Irving and James Harden. Houston controls their first-round picks for the next five years. While they have quite a bit of veteran talent, Cam Thomas and Nic Claxton are the only young players with significant upside. Sean Marks has rebuilt this team under far worse circumstances. The Nets overcame sending Boston the picks that became Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Now he’ll have to rebuild them again, but this time with the knowledge of what went wrong with his first super team. Now Phoenix is the super team, and unless someone makes a major trade to compete with them before Thursday’s deadline at 3 p.m. ET, the Suns appear to be the new favorites in the Western Conference. Unsurprisingly, that earns the Suns top marks for this deal.
Phoenix Suns: A-
Why didn’t the Suns win one of the last two championships? There are a number of viable explanations. Their backup center minutes killed them against Milwaukee in the 2021 NBA Finals. They didn’t have enough ball-handling to deal with a hedging Mavericks defense last postseason. A COVID outbreak hit them right before Game 7 of the Dallas series. We could go on.
Or we could trust Occam’s Razor and assume that the simplest explanation is the correct one: the Suns lost to the Bucks and Mavericks because the Bucks and Mavericks had the best player in both series. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 50 points in a Finals closeout game. Luka Doncic came just shy of averaging 50 combined points, rebounds and assists against them last year. The Suns of the past few years had a number of great players. Never, not once in their entire franchise history, have they had someone who could do that.
Well, now they do. Durant has outplayed Antetokounmpo in a playoff series. He’s won championships and Doncic hasn’t. Sometimes, these things can be simple. When Kevin Durant is on your basketball team you have a chance to win a championship. Before this trade, the Suns probably didn’t. Their near-misses over the past few seasons relied on the sort of technical precision that comes with flawless chemistry and impeccable luck. Well, Chris Paul is finally beginning to succumb to the rigors of age. Jae Crowder held out hoping to get traded. Deandre Ayton signed with another team over the summer only to see the offer sheet matched. Whatever factors allowed them to outperform their talent over the past two seasons simply didn’t exist anymore. Now they don’t need to. The Suns are going to bludgeon you the old-fashioned way: with sheer star power.
Is there any duo of wing defenders in the NBA who can guard both Durant and Devin Booker? Heck, the idea of Chris Paul picking apart a team’s third-best defender in crunch time is just as terrifying. Phoenix miraculously managed to keep Ayton in the deal. He’s spent less time near the rim this season than he ever has in his career. That’s going to change now based purely on the number of open dunks and layups he’s about to receive. There is not a better combination of four players in all of basketball than the core Phoenix now has, and that’s especially true late in games, when mid-range shot-creation is the single most valuable skill in basketball. The Suns outscored their opponents by 107 total points in the clutch last season. Now they’re adding Kevin freaking Durant to that mix. You’d better hope you beat this team in the first 43 minutes because you don’t stand a chance in the last five.
So why not an “A” or an “A+?” Well, this team is hardly flawless, and the Suns don’t have much leftover draft capital or young talent to use for another upgrade. Who’s the fifth best Sun right now? Torrey Craig? Landry Shamet? Phoenix just lost its best defensive player in Bridges. Craig can take that assignment, and Durant is a strong team defender, but the Suns took an undeniable step back on that end of the floor. The Suns rank 24th in paint points and 29th in fast-break points. Durant doesn’t get to the rim too often and while he’s a strong transition player when he wants to be, he’s not known for pushing the pace at this stage of his career. This is very much a jump-shooting team. Sometimes the jump shots don’t fall. The Suns no longer have elite defense or depth to fall back on. These are not the 2017 Warriors. This roster is imperfect.
But every roster is imperfect this season. Less than two years ago we watched Durant come an inch or two away from beating the same Bucks team that ended Phoenix’s title hopes with a one-legged James Harden and no Kyrie Irving by his side. He doesn’t need much, and he still has an All-NBA sidekick, a Hall of Fame point guard and a max contract center to work with. Don’t overthink this. The Suns are going to be awesome.
Brooklyn Nets: C-
The prevailing question for Brooklyn is … why now? Surely the Suns made this sort of offer last offseason. Surely they would’ve made a similar one over the summer. Why rush this thing before the trade deadline? Why not wait until the summer, allow other teams to get their ducks in a row and have a proper bidding war? Durant has three years left on his contract. He has no recourse. There was no way for him to force his way to Phoenix, specifically.
The Suns gave up quite a bit in this deal, but they didn’t give up everything. When the Nets traded for James Harden, they gave up control of seven years of first-round picks. Phoenix gave up five: four picks outright and a single swap. Phoenix was able to keep Ayton instead of either sending him to Brooklyn or, preferably, flipping him to a third team for more assets that could have been sent to the Nets. Even the best Suns offer pales in comparison to what New Orleans, with plenty of excess assets after trading Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, could have offered. Memphis had more assets as well. If James Harden returns to Houston this summer, the Rockets surely could’ve topped this. There was simply no good reason for the Nets to make this exact trade today. There were probably better offers last summer. There almost certainly would’ve been better offers next summer.
The Nets didn’t get a single blue-chip asset in this deal. The picks Phoenix sent to Brooklyn? Those are nice, but they’re not nearly as valuable as the ones the Nets sent the Rockets two years ago. Devin Booker is only 26. He’ll still be in his prime when the last of these picks conveys. Bridges is a stellar 3-and-D wing, which is among the most valuable commodities in basketball. He’s never made an All-Star Game, and based on his playing style, probably never will. Johnson has serious injury concerns and will be a restricted free agent this summer. Crowder is likely to be flipped for second-round picks.
If there was any chance the Nets were going to deal Durant, why did they emphasize taking a win-now package from Dallas for Kyrie Irving over the two unprotected future picks the Lakers were seemingly willing to offer? Heck, in hindsight, the Nets probably wish they hadn’t traded a first-round pick for Royce O’Neale last summer. This is a rebuilding trade out of a team that has spent the past several years making win-now moves. Some of those moves were entirely justifiable, but some of them, in the context of Durant’s well-known dissatisfaction, never made any sense.
Yet despite everything, despite one of the greatest disasters in NBA history, despite three traded stars and more controversies than we can even count the Nets aren’t exactly in horrible shape here. Seven years ago, when the Nets hired Sean Marks to fix a team that was about to enable Boston to draft Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, their best asset was … Brook Lopez? The cupboards aren’t nearly as bare this time.
The Nets currently own five unprotected picks from other teams: four from Phoenix and one from Dallas. They have a lightly protected pick from the 76ers as well thanks to last season’s Harden deal. They also have a number of veteran players that could be flipped for more assets. Brooklyn just swiped 3-and-D star Dorian Finney-Smith from the Mavericks in the Irving deal. Guess who could use a 3-and-D star right about now? Every Western Conference team that is now preparing to face the Durant-Booker duo. O’Neale holds value for the same reason. If you need shooting, the Nets would probably happily trade you either Seth Curry or Joe Harris. As important as Spencer Dinwiddie was to Brooklyn’s last rebuild, the Nets probably aren’t attached enough yet to keep him through this one. A Crowder trade is a near-certainty.
Some of those veterans will be traded. Some won’t be. Whoever sticks around will be able to support a surprisingly potent young core. Nic Claxton is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Cam Thomas is currently engaged in a 2023 reboot of Linsanity. Bridges is still only 26 and plays the NBA’s most important position. Heck, we should even bring up Ben Simmons, who can now take his time getting healthy knowing he’s playing in a fairly low-pressure environment. The Simmons-Bridges-Claxton trio is the foundation of an elite defense. Thomas needs a passer like Simmons to keep the offense moving.
There’s a foundation here. The Nets aren’t starting from scratch. They can remain competitive for the next few years, hoard their assets, and then use all the picks they’ve accumulated from these trades to land a new franchise player. Hopefully the next one is a bit less mercurial than the last few. It’s not going to be easy. This era of Nets basketball is almost inarguably the greatest disappointment in the history of professional basketball, and this trade puts a capper on that. But Brooklyn has overcome worse in recent years. The Nets won’t be down forever.