The biggest question around the NBA: How will the Brooklyn Nets-Kevin Durant situation unfold?
Will the Nets trade him (and to whom) or will they play hardball and not acquiesce to his ultimatum of keeping either him or general manager Sean Marks and coach Steve Nash?
Durant reiterated his request for a trade and the ultimatum in a meeting with Nets owner Joe Tsai, who quickly tweeted his support for the front office and coaching staffs after details of the meeting became public in a report in The Athletic.
It's unusual for offseason drama to extend this far into the summer, but it happens. The summer LeBron James rejoined the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, Kevin Love was traded from Minnesota to Cleveland in late August, and the Cavs also sent Kyrie Irving to Boston in 2017 in late August. In 2012, Oklahoma City trade James Harden to Houston in late October, just before the regular season began and after Harden and the Thunder failed to reach terms on an extension.
As the Nets-Durant situation intensifies, USA TODAY Sports contacted team executives and agents to see where they thought Durant might end up. They requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about a player on an opposing team or a player they don't represent.
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The Nets need to determine how much they are going to let this impact the 2022-23 season. Three team executives said they wanted the Nets to call Durant's bluff. Don't trade him, don't make front office or coaching changes and see if he reports to camp or is willing to hold out and forsake salary. One executive believes Durant will start the season with Brooklyn and end up elsewhere before the trade deadline.
Durant is entering the first year of a four-year, $194.2 million extension he signed a year ago. Of course, that's easier for rival execs to wish for since it's not their dilemma. However, there are executives who believe stars asking for trades so early into new contracts will be a topic of discussion among owners as it relates to a new collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA ends following the 2023-24 season.
Phoenix, Boston, Toronto and Miami have been the three teams most closely linked to a potential Durant trade. Once the Suns matched Indiana's offer sheet for center Deandre Ayton, that essentially eliminated the Suns from acquiring Durant because Ayton can veto any trade this season.
While acknowledging this is the NBA and anything is possible, three people said they think Boston has moved on from a possible Durant deal. The Boston Globe reported this week that Brooklyn sought both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in a trade for Durant, which is preposterous. It never hurts to ask but that is laughable. Using the previous caveat of anything is possible, executives don't believe Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens is reluctant to drag players through more trade rumors.
This week, Philadelphia gained traction as a preferred spot for Durant in reports by SNY TV and NBA Radio on Sirius/XM after Durant was spotted with Harden in London at a Travis Scott concert. Given that Brooklyn sent Harden to Philadelphia at the trade deadline, it seems a stretch the Nets would help out a conference rival with another star.
Multiple execs and agents aren't discounting Toronto and Miami but under one condition: the Nets drop their asking price. The Heat do not want to include Bam Adebayo and the Raptors don't want to split the Scottie Barnes in a deal for Durant. Teams are concerned about acquiring the soon-to-be 34-year-old Durant, who missed the entire 2019-20 season recovering from an Achilles injury and played in just 90 of 154 possible games the past two seasons.
Another team that gets mentioned by execs is New Orleans. The Pelicans have a stash of first-round picks, but they have to weigh the risk. Will Durant be happy playing for New Orleans and will the Pelicans soon find themselves in the same position as Brooklyn, dealing with a player who wants a trade?
It's tantalizing to think about Durant alongside Zion Williamson and CJ McCollum, but it also means trading Brandon Ingram. Do the Pelicans have the stomach for such a gamble?
The Nets could also try to convince Durant to see how the season starts and revisit a trade later in the season. Remember when Kobe Bryant wanted a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2007? The Lakers resisted and ended up with a team that won consecutive titles - the fourth and fifth (and final) championships of Bryant's career.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kevin Durant trade: Where will Nets star land? NBA execs weigh in