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Kevin Durant round up: Tyrese Maxey or Jaylen Brown, Nets stalemate & leverage plays galore

Never a dull moment as we unpack some of the latest rumors on the NBA’s most critical stalemate.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Brooklyn Nets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers made some headlines recently when they were connected in trade rumors to none other than Kevin Durant. There doesn’t seem to be a ton of in between on this matter. If you’ve waffled back and forth, still unsure of what the best way to go might be, I suspect you’re in a small group of fence sitters when it comes to this subject.

Most fans I’ve talked to seem to come down on either this side: “meh, keep Tyrese Maxey and the last draft pick(s), KD is turning 34 next month, it shortens the window” or this side: “dude, Durant, James Harden, and Joel Embiid? That might be the best Big Three ever, and it aligns perfectly with James and Joel’s primes, I’ll literally cry to lose Tyrese but you get it done if you can.”

About two out of three seem to go with the latter, although members of the former group are quite passionate.

Let’s round up some of the latest and examine a few angles.

Don’t doubt the mutual interest

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

So there truly does appear to be mutual interest....which may not come as a total shock to fans who listened closely to the near-season-long slew of praise Durant and Embiid heaped upon each other last year:

As we’ve analyzed here, Ian Begley of SNY reported that: “Something worth noting: As of earlier this week, there were high-ranking members of the Sixers who’ve felt strongly about engaging with Brooklyn on a Durant trade. It is unknown if Brooklyn and Philadelphia have made any recent progress on a trade.”

Begley added that KD would view Philly as a “welcome landing spot,” and after that post, Frank Isola added that KD would be open to reuniting with twice former teammate James Harden.

That last part is a little surprising because after the Harden-Ben Simmons trade, we’d read stuff like “‘Kevin and James had a cold war going for the last several months that made everyone miserable,’ one person with knowledge of the situation said,” from B/R’s Jake Fischer.

But clearly there’s been a thawing, and there appears to be no deadly heat either:

KD first asked for this trade in June and has since doubled down, issuing a them or me ultimatum involving Nets GM Sean Marks and head coach Steve Nash.

Per OddsChecker’s Kyle Newman: “the Nets are -500 to keep Durant, that’s an implied 83.3% chance.”

And when the Begley report first broke, the Sixers were pulled off the board as markets processed the new info. Here was how it looked last week:

And since, the Sixers have settled in at +2000, giving them the same odds as the Knicks and Hawks to land the legend from Prince George’s County. Boston is a heavy favorite.

(The Celtics ownership group never hired the Colangelos, or let a “collaborative front office group” group waste assets for half a decade mid-rebuild, so that’s really why they have the edge here).

It’s hard for me to make grand takeaways from this stuff. Can we assume that Durant has had or now has unsolvable issues with his GM and coach? I thought he was mostly frustrated the Nets owner Joe Tsai didn’t want to max Kyrie Irving, following a season’s worth of unvaccinated turmoil. But what does any of that have to do with Marks or Nash? Surely the call to max Irving is above even the GM’s pay grade, right?

(Even though Marks has delivered some restore Nets culture language that felt pointed, it doesn’t seem like a GM’s call to withhold a four-year deal which may in turn cause KD to hit eject, but maybe Marks did let go of one of KD’s favorite assistants, Adam Harrington without sufficient communication, who knows).

Is KD simply using them as pawns here, as he knows publicly asking for their heads isn’t something Tsai (his true “opponent”) would consider, and it all just makes Durant less popular? As Ben Simmons learned, and James Harden before him, if even a mini-subset of the fanbase gets sick of your act, then it’s suddenly much easier for an owner to green-light a trade. And KD has four years remaining on a deal with little leverage (even for a mega star) so he may have to embrace a lot of villainy here to get what he wants.

Maybe he could take a page out of Simmons’ playbook via holdout, and still find a way to make some money?

There was even a rumor that Durant might retire if he didn’t get the trade he’s hoping for:

But these “some rival exec thinks” updates are often tantamount to “Pepsi exec believes Coke is seriously considering implementing sardine flavoring this fall.” Surely, if I can cause Tsai to worry KD will retire, then maybe you can goad him into making a deal?

And KD, (like Kyrie Irving before him) has quickly shot down these retirement rumors:

NBA: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Tyrese Maxey vs. Jaylen Brown

The prevailing thinking (and the betting markets) seem to really like this Boston Celtics offer for KD and I mostly agree with them. Brown, Grant Williams, Derrick White and a couple firsts? Would Robert Williams or Marcus Smart in over Grant get it done? Seems very possible.

Sam Amick of The Athletic gave that idea more credence by suggesting his league contacts are beginning to think a Brown-centric offer is the unofficial front-runner to eventually land Slim Reaper in leprechaun green. (And that would also fit with the old narrative that KD only wants to play for teams who are favored to win the title without him, which is certainly what many Sixers fans would remind us if KD did land on the bitter rival).

But might Tyrese Maxey be a better combination of talent and salary than Brown?

Maxey is set to earn $2.7M dollars this season, and he’s looking at restricted free agency in 2024. Depending on how he plays, he could command around a rookie max extension in the $195M over five year range! But the team could always wait and see how his market evolves and match any offers under that mark. Obviously, any acquiring team would enjoy the same Bird Rights.

There’s also the outside chance Rich Paul, Maxey’s agent, and Founder of Klutch Sports, advises Maxey to turn down the first massive payroll of his life and roll the dice, playing out the 2023-2024 season on a middling one-year deal in hopes of aligning his five-year payday with the projected 2025 cap spike. If Maxey did that, he could still command far more money from the Sixers (we could be talking like north of $260M potentially). Still, in either of those two instances, you’re talking about potentially seven or eight years of service from a dude who’s still just 21 years old.

Most (but not all) would agree that Jaylen Brown is a bigger get as a headliner than Maxey. It’s a wings league, and having ones who can score from a triple threat against any matchup, as well as defend the Durant’s, blah blah, you’ve heard it all.

But Brown’s contract situation is murkier. Brown represents a bigger flight risk. He’s a free agent in 2024, and he may not even want to sign more than a one-year deal that summer, since again, there’s the projected 2025 cap spike. And who knows if he’d enjoy his time in Brooklyn, presumably playing with Ben Simmons, a reprise with Kyrie Irving, it may not be the perfect fit for him.

With Brown on board would the Nets trade Irving for Westbrook and picks, and limit their chance to win in one of just two seasons they know they’ll have Brown? Or do they risk losing Irving to free agency come 2023 putting a big dent in Brown’s title hopes during a year his contract will be expiring. Yeesh. You can at least see why potentially seven years with Maxey might appeal here, even if you’re not getting that top-level defense.

Some of this uncertainty is likely why the Celtics are shopping Brown. He could end all of this speculation if he stays in Boston this season and makes one of the three ALL-NBA teams. Then he would become supermax eligible with the Celts. Because of that possibility, locking in a huge payday, maybe he’d tell the Nets not to bother trading for him.

When you remember that the Celtics have the highest projected (54.5) win total in the league, it doesn’t seem that farfetched Brown, now 25, could make third team All-NBA, so his wanting to remain in Bean town despite being shopped may not be too weird.

Then there’s Tobias Harris. How bad do the Nets view his contract? If they’re even considering Westbrook, might they consider a substantially better player and fit with one extra year on his deal?

If Brown were somehow off the table, then Maxey starts to look like a pretty enticing blue chipper compared to headliners not named Scottie Barnes, Brandon Ingram, or Zion Williamson, right?

Still, my read on the whole thing has been some version of this for the last week:

Brian Windhorst has noted that KD’s theatrics haven’t gained him much leverage. The offers coming in are not to the Nets liking... yet.

Assumptions

I assume (with a fair amount of confidence) that the Sixers have already called Sean Marks or Joe Tsai to float the idea of reducing protections on their outgoing picks (the Nets have Philadelphia’s 2027) and offering their 2029 first, along with Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, and let’s throw in Matisse Thybulle, because the Nets may have wanted him at one point.

And I’m fairly confident that was already met with a bit of a scoff from the Nets... at least so far. And I think all of that happened even before these KD-Sixers rumors started to pick up steam just over a week ago. So I think the stuff we’re hearing is someone’s best efforts to persuade a team like Boston or Toronto to offer a lot more. The Sixers may have already made their “all in” offer and gotten swiftly rebuffed. Now they can always hope the Nets reconsider, but I figure Brooklyn would prefer to try awkwardly running it back before they struck another deal with Daryl Morey.