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Identifying 5 sleeper NBA teams to trade for Kevin Durant

Identifying 5 sleeper NBA teams to trade for Kevin Durant

As the Kevin Durant saga reaches its latest chapter, both sides are digging in for what could be an even more drawn-out process. He's already told Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai to either trade him or fire head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks, so his desires to leave Brooklyn are clear.

There's a lack of trust in the organization’s direction moving forward, but the Nets already have shown they won’t bend to every demand the future Hall-of-Famer makes.

But unless Brooklyn eventually lowers its asking price — which is presumably what many interested teams are betting on — there’s no reason to believe this process won’t drag into the regular season. If so, the next step will be Durant sitting out games away from the team until his next destination is found.

From the beginning, Durant’s desired destination was the Phoenix Suns to team up alongside Devin Booker and Chris Paul. Six weeks later, we don’t know whether Durant has backed off that stance. If not, that could be the reason why this is dragging out even longer. Phoenix is seemingly falling off many radars, but we shouldn't rule them out of the sweepstakes just yet. Brooklyn holds power, but so does Durant to keep this tug of war going as long as possible.

As the Suns' noise quieted down, new suitors emerged — the Miami Heat and, most recently, the Celtics. SNY’s Ian Begley mentioned the Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers as new choices atop Durant’s updated wishlist.

“Our front office and coaching staff have my support,” Tsai wrote on Twitter in response to his meeting with Durant. “We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.”

With Tsai picking his side, we'll all wait to see what offers are truly in the best interest of the Nets’ murky long-term outlook. In the meantime, it’s hard not to let the mind wander on what that could entail.

What if the Nets look back upon the Pacers’ situation with Paul George in 2017, taking the best offer on the table for their disgruntled superstar in a non-preferable destination? While it seems far-fetched, anything at this point seems possible within this ongoing battle at the bargaining table for who gets what in the end.

When it was over, Indiana acquired two blossoming All-Stars in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, even when it felt like leverage wasn’t on its side. George wanted to go to the Los Angeles Lakers, but the Pacers stood firm on getting a proper return for their star forward.

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Who could come out of nowhere and surprise us all as the Nets' possible trade partner a la the Thunder to the Pacers five years ago? Excluding the known top contenders for now — Phoenix, Miami, Boston and the Toronto Raptors — let's try to find a potential team lurking in the shadows who would also check off both parties' boxes.

Philadelphia 76ers

This all comes down to the possibility of including Tyrese Maxey. If you’re in the position of Sixers president Daryl Morey, with your chips already all-in on winning a championship with Joel Embiid and James Harden, Durant certainly makes you think for a moment. Knowing Morey’s aggressive nature, a blockbuster centered around Maxey for Durant works well within their win-now time frame. The allure of Maxey is there (only 21 years old and blossomed upon Harden’s arrival midseason), but this is arguably the greatest three-level scorer ever we’re talking about.

Forming a trio consisting of Durant, Embiid and Harden is simply unfathomable to envision. The possibilities are endless, and hopefully the third time would be the charm when it comes to the former Thunder teammates reuniting less than a year removed from their split.

Philadelphia can quickly make salaries work for Durant by adding in Tobias Harris, who reportedly has been on the trading block since Morey’s arrival. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Brooklyn’s asking price for Boston was a young player on a star trajectory (Jaylen Brown), a solid starter (Marcus Smart), another role player and multiple draft picks. The Sixers check every box in that scenario, which should automatically make them a viable dark-horse candidate.

Would a package centered around Maxey, Harris, Matisse Thybulle and Philadelphia’s 2029 first-round pick with little to no protections be enough for the Nets to accept? For the Sixers, there’s a real pathway to getting a top spot at the table once the dust settles sometime on Durant.

New Orleans Pelicans

In any superstar-type trade rumor, the Pelicans tend to pop up one way or another because of their newly assembled war chest of assets. Following the Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday trades, New Orleans sits on a treasure trove of draft capital spanning the next five years.

At any point, Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin could decide to cash in on the last piece of the Pelicans’ puzzle to become the next version of the Suns — acquiring an established veteran star to take a talented young core over the top. CJ McCollum could qualify as such following the Pelicans’ deadline move for him, but what if Durant was intrigued enough to play alongside Zion Williamson in the Bayou?

Boston putting a player of Brown’s caliber on the table makes this debate even more interesting. In my opinion, Brandon Ingram would be a better return in comparison to Brown for Durant. Both are on the same tier, but Ingram gets the slight edge for me. Witnessing his ascent on the postseason stage, Ingram is poised to take another step forward in his rapidly climbing career.

If the Nets desire a player who meets or exceeds Brown in trade talks, Ingram is the one who'll get the job done. The question in the end, of course, would be Durant’s blessing. If Durant doesn’t want to play the next four years in New Orleans, these thoughts would quickly dissipate into fantasy.

However, you can’t deny the Pelicans as a legitimate jaw-dropping destination because they have the list all checked off for Brooklyn’s needs as well. Ingram is the young star, and Larry Nance Jr. qualifies as the ideal veteran role player. Maybe New Orleans would have to throw in either Herb Jones or Trey Murphy III on top of draft picks too. It's a massive asking price, but one that would be necessary to make something like this go down.

Until the Pelicans eventually cash in on what they've worked so hard to build, they will always be a sneaky contender for any eventual disgruntled superstar. And if the Pelicans rise as expected in 2022-23, they will become a destination anyway for win-now veterans.

Chicago Bulls

Outside of Philadelphia and New Orleans, we now reach the organization that would truly shock everyone. What about the Bulls? Would they be willing to throw an All-NBA player into another superstar deal?

DeMar DeRozan is only 11 months younger than Durant, but he is the best chip they could bring forward to Brooklyn. On top of DeRozan — whose salary wouldn’t be enough in a straight-up swap — Chicago would presumably include a key piece of its young core. The obvious candidate is Patrick Williams; the former No. 4 overall pick flashed promising two-way potential before sustaining a wrist injury early last season, reentered the fold in late March and became a crucial component in the postseason. Then, Chicago would probably need to throw a solid role player into the mix. Either Lonzo Ball or Alex Caruso fit the Smart type of role we discussed previously.

Although Chicago gutted its draft capital in separate deals for DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic, the organization still owns a future pick from the Portland Trail Blazers that could convey as early as next season. The Bulls’ next eligible draft pick that can be included in a trade is their own 2027 first-round selection.

As I wrote earlier this offseason, the Bulls feel one big splash away from truly taking the next jump in the Eastern Conference. Rudy Gobert made so much sense to complete their defensive overhaul, but Durant represents a roster upgrade of seismic proportions — a bump that might be necessary to become a Finals contender the next few years. Why not push the chips in and see what happens with Durant and Zach LaVine as a 1-2 punch?

For a team that has to remain in win-now mode because of its draft picks being sent elsewhere, Brooklyn might be intrigued enough to listen to something centered around DeRozan, Williams and other assets.

Atlanta Hawks

Fresh off making their own blockbuster trade to improve before the new league year, could the Hawks make sense as a Durant out-of-nowhere landing spot? There are very slim odds on that possibility, but it's a scenario worth exploring because Atlanta's roster still feels a move or two away.

Trae Young and Dejounte Murray will bring fireworks to the Hawks' backcourt on a nightly basis, but is the core right now strong enough to take the necessary steps forward in the reloaded East? We know at this point what John Collins and Clint Capela bring to the table. Bogdan Bogdanovic is a solid third guard for Atlanta, but injuries have become a problem as of late.

Atlanta's young collection of players is what makes this thought interesting, at least for a moment. Would the Nets be intrigued by De'Andre Hunter, Onyeka Okongwu, A.J. Griffin and one of Collins, Capela or Bogdanovic to make salaries match? Compared to the other known suitors and ones already listed, it really isn't in the same stratosphere unless Brooklyn bets big on Hunter taking a huge leap. Based on Hunter's postseason performance, don't rule out the 24-year-old becoming more of a two-way focal point in Atlanta.

It might not be enough to be a real threat to swoop in for Durant, but it'd be wise to keep an eye on the Hawks as we get closer to February's trade deadline. If the Young/Murray backcourt gets off to a hot start, maybe Atlanta will go for broke and decide the time is now for a Finals push.

Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee is not a destination market for superstars, but Giannis Antetokounmpo brings enough pull to make it such. Giannis is nowhere close to escaping the prime of his career, but could you imagine him playing next to Durant? My goodness, that's basketball heaven right there.

Before we go too deep down that rabbit hole, though, it feels almost impossible regarding the actual odds of this happening. Not only are the Bucks starved of draft capital because of the Holiday trade, but Brooklyn would need to believe Middleton could replace Durant long-term. Only a few years younger than KD and deserving of a max contract next offseason, it might not make much sense for either side to even explore this potential thought.

For the Bucks to even bring a respectable offer to the table compared to everyone else, they would likely have to include Middleton and Holiday in a massive blockbuster that sends back both Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Yeah, that's for sure fantasy land right there, but I do appreciate the few minutes we had talking about Durant and Giannis playing on the same basketball team.

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With no end in clear sight right, who knows how long this standoff between Durant and the Nets lasts? As time continues to drag on, maybe some front office executives from teams we're not even thinking of decide to call Brooklyn to inquire about an all-time great.

George wanted the Lakers, but he ended up in Oklahoma City. Kawhi Leonard's desired destination was Los Angeles upon asking out of the San Antonio Spurs franchise, but he was sent packing to Toronto instead. There is a precedent where a superstar doesn't get what he wants in the end, but a player of Durant's caliber takes it up a whole new level.

The best interest of the Nets might not be what Durant wants, and vice versa. The next steps are falling into place regarding how this could all end, and a new pseudo deadline of training camp looms around the corner.

Whether Kevin Durant remains in Brooklyn by then remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: The NBA has shown us time and again that anything is possible when it comes to superstar movement.

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