EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

How the Suns will have the Kevin Durant trade discussion

Jun 30, 2022, 1:01 PM | Updated: 3:16 pm
Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) becomes entangled with Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul during ...

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) becomes entangled with Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, April 25, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Kevin Durant requested a trade away from the Brooklyn Nets, and the Phoenix Suns are at or near the top of a wish-list for a new home, according to multiple reports three hours out from the official tip of free-agency talks.

Now, as Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro reports, Phoenix has shifted into discussing a Durant acquisition at least internally just after noon in Arizona.

Trading for one of the game’s top five players will force general manager James Jones to consider his team-building philosophy, one where team is very much at the forefront of things.

The discussion likely centers around this: Will a more top-heavy team have a better championship shot than keeping the core together?

Phoenix point guard Chris Paul’s age and contract guaranteed fully through 2023-24 indicates the Suns know the title-chasing window might not be beyond this year and next, and now it becomes a matter of what the financial cost will be down the road. Durant’s deal for four years would extend any window if he remains something close to his present self.

But more immediately, what does a 2022-23 roster look like if the team goes through with a Durant deal?

Assuming the Nets would like to remain a playoff contender if Kyrie Irving truly opts in as he said and Ben Simmons can play, a sign-and-trade for Suns restricted free agent Deandre Ayton will only be the starting point of a deal. The Suns would have to send significantly more out — not only for the Nets to be satisfied after dealing a top-five player but for the financials to make sense.

If the Nets will not budge and do not want Ayton as part of a package, as Gambadoro reports, other teams will be required to join any swap involving Durant.

Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson are two high-level complementary pieces to consider in a trade, with Bridges already being on a long-term deal that looks even better after he followed the extension signing by being the runner-up for NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Johnson is extension eligible and is one of the league’s best shooters.

Jae Crowder, Dario Saric and Torrey Craig are on expiring contracts that could help push through any deal financially or help maneuver other teams into such a trade.

Unprotected draft picks will have to be included in any trade, as well. Traded picks almost always have protections, but Brooklyn can ask for none given Durant’s stature.

If the Nets like the Suns’ core pieces around Paul and Devin Booker, then you’d expect Phoenix has to brace for gutting the roster. It’s a philosophical challenge for Jones, who has preached filling out his rosters as 3X5 index cards: as in three players deep at all five positions.

Creating the most enticing Durant trade offer means including Ayton, Bridges and Johnson.

It would give the Suns a roster that immediately after such a theoretical deal would like so:

$42,969,845 – Kevin Durant
$33,833,400.00 – Devin Booker
$28,400,000.00 – Chris Paul
$10,183,800.00 – Jae Crowder
$9,500,000.00 – Landry Shamet
$9,240,000.00 – Dario Saric
$6,500,000.00 – Cam Payne
$5,121,951.00 – Torrey Craig

Add it up, and it’s a salary commitment of $145,748,996 to eight players.

Phoenix would be less than $5 million away from the luxury tax line already before considering their $6.5 million tax midlevel exception.

Then the team would need to fill out the other six spots with minimum deals.

Of course, that is looking at a very theoretical proposed trade by only considering what Phoenix has and what Brooklyn might want from only the Suns. Moving the Crowder, Saric or Shamet contracts would help save money for more bodies if the Suns deem that necessary.

The point of this exercise is less about guessing what a trade package would look like.

That’s up for imagination, if only for a few hours or days.

But what the Suns are now discussing is about what that above roster can do, compared to standing closer to pat, and considering how injuries striking the team’s remaining stars in Paul or Booker would stress such a roster to a higher degree, even if Durant remains as good a player worth a threesome of high-level starters, draft capital and maybe more.

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