Trading for Kevin Durant: a conversation

Bill Sy: ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith kinda sorta reported/gossiped that the Celtics are revisiting a possible Jaylen-Brown-for-Kevin-Durant trade in the wake of Kyrie Irving’s departure from Brooklyn. Two of CelticsBlog’s newest writers have volunteered to talk it out a day before the NBA trade deadline.

Harris Rubenstein: First off, hello, Ben! Fellow new writer on the staff, this should be fun. I’ve gone back and forth on this topic since the summer and honestly, I think I’m full-in on getting Kevin Durant for Jaylen. I can’t get over the idea of Jayson Tatum and Kevin Durant on the same team in a playoff series surrounded by elite two-way players. I’m intrigued by what the rest of the trade package would look like of course, but a general top-7 of Durant. Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, Al Horford, Derrick White/Malcolm Brogdon, Grant Williams is…I mean, barring injuries, it’s about as good as modern basketball can get.

Benjamin Torbert: There’s no doubt a Tatum-Durant pairing is one you dream about. Durant has been in the conversation for best player in the world for the last 10 years, and his game is an easy fit on any roster. However, he’s also 34 years old with a fairly significant injury history (including, um, right now).

Jaylen Brown is not as good as Kevin Durant. He’s a top-25 player in the league instead of a top-10 player. But he’s also 26, has improved every year in the league, and just came within two wins of a championship last year. Give me Tatum and Brown for the next 10+ years over Tatum and Durant for Durant’s age 34-38 seasons.

Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

HR: Age and injury are definitely the two big hold ups, but I think Tatum is the answer to both of those issues. Tatum can carry the heavier load between the two minutes wise during the regular season and if anything, having KD might allow the team to rest Tatum more since KD is KD. Besides, Durant is ONLY 34 and is still operating at an MVP-level. A little more load management is probably needed, but I think Durant’s game is going to age pretty well and this roster is prepared to support him if he falls off a tad. The goal would always be for Durant to be 100% come playoff time. Not saying you give him the Kawhi treatment, but if he’s healthy come playoff time, that’s all I care about.

BT: It comes down to two things in my mind. 1) How high do you think the ceiling is for a Tatum-and-Brown-led Celtics team? I think there is no ceiling for them. They’ve been making deep playoff runs for years now. They are just entering their true primes. And they continue to get better and better. There is no reason the Celtics can’t continue to be a championship contender for the next 6-10 years as the Jays progress through their primes. 2) What is your confidence level in Brown re-signing with the Celtics? My confidence level is extremely high that Brown will stay with the Celtics. He’s with a top 5 organization that can pay him the most money, and he is paired up with an elite talent in Tatum that is not a headcase diva. I don’t understand where Brown would go or why he would want to leave. The only scenario where I could see Stevens moving Brown is if he has some inside info that Jaylen wants to leave, and I don’t buy that scenario.

HR: I don’t doubt the Celtics being contenders for however long JB and Tatum are playing together, but who knows if Jaylen will ever get to Kevin Durant’s level. I know that I can acquire his level of talent right now and likely sustain that for 2-3 more seasons after.

Not to mention, think of the price. Someone at Durant’s level would usually require 4-5 picks and young players. If I can acquire him for Brown and a reasonable package, an opportunity like this may never come again. I think one of the major issues in a deal like this is the emotional connection the fanbase and organization have to Jaylen, we can’t discount that. But the Jays may never win a title together, even with a decade. Getting Durant now makes it more likely that you will get at least 1 championship, even if it comes at the cost of one of everyone’s, mine included, favorite players. The contract argument is a whole other thing. Debating which guy is more valuable at what number is a tough one. Durant has ~4/194 left on his deal. JB is eligible for a 5/290 contract if he makes all-NBA this season. I’ll leave that to our great, Keith Smith.

Los Angeles Lakers (121) Vs. Boston Celtics (125) At TD Garden (OT)

Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

BT: You are right. The emotional connection piece is significant. I won’t lie. A Tatum-Brown championship would mean more to me than a Tatum-Durant title. I’ll end with this thought. Hypothetical scenario #1: The Celtics trade Brown for Durant. They win a title this year, but they never win again during Tatum’s career. They are a solid playoff team but never get over the hump again as Durant ages out, and they fail to adequately replace him during Tatum’s 30s. Hypothetical scenario #2: Tatum and Brown are guaranteed to be with the Celtics for the next 10 years and do not suffer a career-ending injury. However, there is no guaranteed championship in this scenario. Call me a gambling man, but I’m taking scenario #2 and banking on Tatum and Brown getting at least one together through their primes.

HR: It really is one of the great questions of roster building in basketball. Do you stick it out with the homegrown talent or go big and try to get the superstar. A tale as old as time at this point in the NBA, I’m sure we’ll see it hundreds more times! Great news is that either way, we get great basketball to watch. Either it’s the Jays continuing to grow or KD and Tatum pairing up as one of the better duos on paper this decade. Should be a fun trade deadline, thanks Ben!

BT: Agreed. All that’s left is to grab some popcorn and see what happens. Thanks, Harris!

BS: You guys don’t get off that easy. Harris, a deal will gut Boston’s depth. How much are you willing to include in the trade?

HR: I think that’s the ultimate issue for me with this deal. It’s not just Jaylen Brown for Kevin Durant straight up, there is still a decent gap there. You have to make the money work, but the team also seems resistant in including Gallinari in any of those deals. You’re probably locked into giving up multiple picks alongside one of Derrick White or Brogdon. Could also be a Grant/Pritchard package if the money works. It wouldn’t be cheap by any means, but I think you’d be getting Durant for .80 on the dollar compared to the insane price of other stars. I think Tatum and Durant is worth it long-term, but even NBA trades aren’t inflation proof.

BT: I’m in the keep JB camp anyways, but I certainly wouldn’t be interested in attaching a ton of additional assets to him in any potential Durant deal. If Stevens felt that his hands were really tied and that Brown is a significant flight risk, Brown and Gallinari for Durant actually works salary wise. I could maybe see a 2025 first rounder included with that deal, but no more than that. I have a hard time believing the Nets would find any other single asset close to Brown’s value on the open market.

HR: I just wonder what player besides Durant could come available that would seriously affect the ceiling of this team. We’re dealing all in hypotheticals here, but if you give Jaylen that 5/290 and the team can’t get over the hump, is there a way you could even upgrade on him? Or if you keep him, do you move Tatum at that point? These are all negative-based “what ifs”, so pretty east to pick apart, but I don’t know if the team will ever get a shot at another Tier 1 super star like this again to play with Tatum.

BS: That’s a fair point, Harris. And we’ve seen wing duos like this not work out like Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady and Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Ben, outside of their record of being a winning pair, is there something this season that convinces you that this could be a Banner 18 year?

BT: The Celtics are currently top-5 in both offensive and defensive rating, and they are the only team currently in that category. That is a statistical profile of a true contender. They are 8-deep with proven playoff performers. They don’t have a single glaring defensive liability in their top 8. 7 of their top 8 can shoot from 3. They have the personnel to defend any style or type of star player. Honestly, I think they are the best constructed contender and the favorite to win it all this year. It’s certainly no lock at all. There are 6-7 teams in the league that COULD beat them in a playoff series, but I would pick a fully healthy Celtics team going into a series against any other fully healthy contender.

HR: I agree with Ben on that. This team, as constructed, is still the best roster in basketball. As of now, this team looks like an improvement from last season, they deserve to have the #1 odds in basketball heading into the all-star break. I think we’re dealing with the 90/10 policy, right? It’s as hard to improve that last 10% as it was to improve the first 90%. I think in this case, it might be even closer to 95/5. What can the Celtics do to improve those final few % points over the course of the next couple of seasons? It could be just relying on internal improvements from players and a couple of nifty trades or it’s making a more drastic move and hoping for the upside. Unless, they win the title this year of course and then that goes out the window.

BS: Well, on Thursday night, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that KD and the Nets are dicussing the direction of the team and so far, they’re telling other front offices that he’s unavailable. With roughly 24 hours left until the deadline, that could all change in a New York minute though.

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