As Kevin Durant’s trade demand forces the NBA’s offseason into a state of utter disorientation, fake trades, rumors and hypothetical destinations for someone who might still be the best player alive have dominated all conversations. Where it will go next, and what it will cost to get there, will hover over the entire 2022-2023 season. The ripple effects will spread far and last for years.
Taking stock of the current league landscape, some organizations are better built to land Durant and put him in position to win the title than others. But a semi-realistic team that may or may not be in contention to land KD also happens to provide a more mutually beneficial situation than any other: Portland.
The idea is certainly as inconceivable as it is fulfilling. While the Blazers might not have enough to offer the Nets — besides an All-Star, don’t be shocked if Brooklyn’s haul includes eight or nine first-round picks from two (or maybe three) other teams — c It’s OK to dream up a relatively simple and delicious outcome that makes sense on many levels.
For starters, this might be Durant’s most satisfying success. In Portland, his team’s expectations would be tempered for the first time in years, with a solid opportunity to outdo themselves and wow them. A season away from a 27-win disaster that saw them demolish and sell some of their best veterans (CJ McCollum, Norm Powell, Robert Covington), the Blazers are not far from being considered the favorites of the championship, even if Durant comes aboard. Damian Lillard’s season was also cut short by abdominal surgery. He played just 29 games and shot a career low 32.4% from behind the three-point line.
Storytelling and legacies are almost always irrelevant in discussions like this, but here, tied to what could be its final pivot, they matter. For Durant, there’s a chance to spend the remaining years of his prime on the only team that passed him into the draft, embedded in a roster that can’t be described as a juggernaut, fighting alongside the one of the most loved and respected. players of his generation.
It would be impossible to criticize Durant in this scenario. The Blazers may be good but aren’t a super stacked team even after he arrives. Over the past four years, no team has had a worse defense. Not that he’s never performed spectacularly on a big stage before, but to win anything here would require an excellence that even Durant might not be able to summon. It is a colossal challenge. It would also be an explosion.
Durant plus Lillard equals the area of the sun. These two along with Jusuf Nurkić, Gary Payton II and Jerami Grant (if he’s not in the business!) form a physical, complementary and two-way quintet that would rival any starting five in the league. Everything else on the roster as currently constructed is slim and will demand a lot from his dynamic new duo. It’s unclear which of Josh Hart, Nassir Little and/or Justise Winslow would be involved in this notional trade; Speaking of which, building an actual package that 1) works and 2) makes sense won’t be easy. Here, briefly, is an honest attempt, with a first look at everyone’s favorite topic: future project compensation.
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If Portland avoids the lottery next season, their 2023 first-round pick will go to the Bulls, completing the bond. But in an effort to build a massive trade offer, the Stepien rule is currently preventing the Blazers from making a deal involving future picks. The Blazers would have to renegotiate an amendment with Chicago to shorten the length of that protection — like the Heat did in February with the Thunder — before one of their future picks can sweeten the offer.
If it goes well, Portland can offer unprotected firsts in 2025, 27, 29, plus Milwaukee’s first four protected in 25 – courtesy of New Orleans from last year’s McCollum trade – and choose exchanges galore. Shaedon Sharpe is another prime asset to be included alongside Anfernee Simons, who turned 23 last month, just signed a $100million contract and could possibly become one of the most electric shooters and the most autonomous in the league in his position.
(Brooklyn is capped if she acquires someone in a sign-and-trade, which along with her base year compensation makes it harder for Simons to get involved. But if in this simulation both parties commit to making it happen (they can work with a third team to get something done and/or look more aggressively to dump Kyrie Irving/Ben Simmons.) The rest of Portland’s offer is salary filler. As lucrative as it would be to own the future of a small-market team that’s all around two aging stars (Durant is set to turn 34 and Lillard turns 32 later this month), he It’s not easy to sell a trade that’s only marginally higher than what the T-Wolves paid for Rudy Gobert. It also lacks a guaranteed star and is far from the best deal Brooklyn could otherwise find. But …
He could play in a town nestled in the Pacific Northwest, neighboring where his professional journey began. It would not be his team, but this ship has sailed no matter where it goes. Durant would undoubtedly become his best player, however, in an environment devoid of melodrama and off-court distraction. Life would be basketball, alongside Lillard, a new teammate as self-aware, confident and authentic as the franchise players. Victim of his own undying loyalty, Lillard doesn’t care to be vulnerable in public, That is. He knows what he wants. There is no pretension. This established culture would be the antithesis of everything Durant just went through in Brooklyn.
A reunion in Golden State could only be a sugar rush, the same experience that failed to satiate his hunger the first time around. Win it all in Toronto, and some will find it hard to separate that feat from what Kawhi Leonard has already done. Do the same in Miami — with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo — on a team that just had the best record in the Eastern Conference, and he’d cosplay LeBron James. Raising a banner in Phoenix would be nice, and that’s apparently where Durant wants to be. But assuming Chris Paul and Devin Booker are still around, he’d also team up with a group that made the final in 2021, just won 64 games and have already laid the groundwork for what could come.
A title in Portland would be different. It would more than cement Durant as the greatest mercenary in history. It would yield a career that no longer needs the accolades that other NBA icons of Durant’s stature already have. The Blazers would be a perfect fit for this reason and many more, even if ending up there feels like a Hail Mary.
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