EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Atop Kevin Durant wish list, it’s complicated for the Suns and Heat
Piecing the desires for the Phoenix Suns and Brooklyn Nets in any trade that ships Kevin Durant west only leads to more questions.
From various reports, we do know a few things:
— The Nets do not at the moment appear interested in adding Suns center Deandre Ayton, a restricted free agent who could be had in a sign-and-trade, reported Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro on Thursday after news broke of Durant requesting a trade with Phoenix and Miami as preferred landing spots.
Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer also had that tidbit, adding that Brooklyn wanted to start negotiations with Devin Booker — probably a non-starter for both Phoenix as well as Durant.
— With Ayton not appealing as a target for Brooklyn, the Suns’ side of a Durant trade “would very likely center around the maximum four first-round picks allowed (to be traded) and the Nets’ ability to swap picks with the Suns in several other years,” Gambodoro reported on Friday.
Especially after ESPN featured Phoenix’s lukewarm philosophy of using the draft as a form of team-building, we know that the Suns more than any other NBA team would be open to sending as much draft capital to Brooklyn as any team in the NBA.
But there’s also the money aspect to consider. In addition to picks, Phoenix still must send out a considerable about of money in a two-team deal or more. Until we hear otherwise, it would be safe to assume the Nets or another team would want to acquire Mikal Bridges by participating in such a trade.
As The Lowe Post podcast co-hosts Zach Lowe and Kevin Pelton discussed on Thursday, it gets complicated from there.
Pelton, in making mock trades, wrote about the problems if the Suns were including Ayton and Bridges in a deal.
If Brooklyn receives Ayton in a sign-and-trade, the team would trigger the NBA’s hard cap at the apron , a little more than $7 million above the luxury-tax threshold ($150 million). Since Ayton (at his max salary) and Bridges would make a combined $51 million, $7 million more than Durant’s 2022-23 cap hit, the Nets would have to shed payroll elsewhere.
Pelton proposed a mock trade that saw Durant heading to Phoenix, Irving going to the Lakers and Los Angeles’ Russell Westbrook heading to the San Antonio Spurs. Brooklyn received Josh Richardson from San Antonio, and picks were heavily involved in that trade.
Of course, hard cap problems might not be a thing if a third team wants to acquire Ayton.
“If the teams can even make it work with the hard cap rules,” Lowe said on his podcast, “is Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and all the draft equity Brooklyn wants (enough)? Let’s say it’s not the entire four picks, three swaps (allowed to be traded by the Suns). I do think there’s going to be some caution with Durant being 34 and having been injured a lot of the last four seasons. Let’s say Ayton, Bridges … three picks, two swaps.
“If they could even make that work — and we can talk about the mechanics of that — is that enough for Kevin Durant … ?”
Ayton not being included in any deal would make things a little less messy but require the Suns to reroute other players’ contracts to the Nets or other teams if the trade is expanded beyond Brooklyn and Phoenix.
Bridges and Cam Johnson are core roster pieces with relatively strong team control, youth and upside. Dario Saric, Jae Crowder and Torrey Craig are on expiring deals.
Negotiating over those key pieces of a trade obviously will take time.
Then, figuring out how the heck Brooklyn and Phoenix or Miami get from Point A to Point Z is hard to understand from a cap standpoint alone.
Among other suitors for Durant, the Heat only have so much to offer, like the Suns. Tyler Herro is an obvious inclusion, but starting center Bam Adebayo couldn’t be traded to the Nets unless Brooklyn first offloads Ben Simmons’ contract, as both Simmons and Adebayo are on max rookie extensions. Simmons’ availability could make that near-impossible.
Also complicating matters is wondering if the Nets want to offload Kyrie Irving along with Durant in one mega-deal. And for Phoenix, if Ayton’s sign-and-trade needs to be involved, what deal he would sign and where he goes makes this super complex.
“I think both the Phoenix offer and the Miami Heat offer on their own is not enough for Brooklyn today,” Lowe said on his podcast Thursday. “Now, that’s today.”