Would you give up a lot for Kevin Durant?
The player is great. The age and contract are trouble.
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BY HENRY ABBOTT
The Ringer’s Dan Devine speaks for most of the NBA when he writes about the trade market for Kevin Durant:
Stars of Durant’s caliber rarely become available. Even at age 33, with an Achilles rupture in his rearview and just under 41,000 total minutes on his odometer, he’s one of the five best players on the planet—an MVP-caliber scorer and offensive engine who also happens to be 7 feet tall and capable of playing both point guard and center on a championship-level team. If the going rate for Dejounte Murray, a very nice one-time All-Star, is two unprotected first-round picks, another protected first, and a pick swap, then the mind positively reels at what kind of return Marks and Co. will demand for Durant, who just averaged a tick under 30-7.5-6.5 on .634 true shooting in his 14th season played, and who has four fully guaranteed years left on the extension he signed just last summer.
In a vacuum, all 29 other teams should be lining up to take their best shot at landing the kind of world-shaking talent who can shift the NBA’s balance of power all by himself. (After all, he’s done it before.)
And then there’s my business partner, David Thorpe, who told me that if he ran a team with a long-term plan, he wouldn’t consider Durant for a moment.
Conundrums like this are why, with the help of Steve Ilardi and the insight of Dunks and Threes, we just created Bonus Wins—an intuitive advanced metric to assess the dollar value of every NBA player. By that measure, Durant’s three seasons as a Net, which featured a skyrocketing salary and a lot of time missed to injury, was a net negative.
No matter which team gets Durant next, what is the right number of games to expect from him a year? A year ago, we dug into the extraordinarily small number of NBA players who are in their 30s and also perform at elite levels.
Fifty-nine other players were drafted with Durant in 2007. Of those who made the league, almost all have already had injuries catch up with them, or they retired for other reasons. (Think Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Marc Gasol, Greg Oden, and Jared Dudley.) The handful still playing (the likes of Al Horford, Mike Conley, Thaddeus Young, Jeff Green) have been iron men to make it this far. It would be very humane to consider that Durant—33 and the past victim of some major injuries—is due to slow down. That would be normal.
The problem is: His supermax contract promises the opposite.
The result is an older player who performed masterfully to match his salary last season, but who is still owed raises in each of the four seasons to come.
With the best players in the NBA, we have all developed the knee-jerk assessment that they would be worth any price. And with the best players, that was basically true for most of NBA history. But the reality of John Wall is we now know salary alone can ruin the value of even good players. (At a different salary, the contending Clippers believe Wall can make their team better.) If your salary gets big enough, and you age enough, any player can become a burden. There’s a hefty bill for the team that misses that moment.
If the bet is that Durant’s the magic ingredient you stir in to make a title-winner, didn’t the Nets just lose that? Most of the points in this story were also evident, if not yet as true as they are now, the night the Nets signed Durant.
This analysis is more or less missing intangibles. But how well can you score Durant on that front? The Thunder were once the most promising team in the league, and Harden wanted to leave to feel the full extent of his own powers. The Warriors of Steve Kerr and Stephen Curry, who won titles with Durant, might be the happiest team in the history of the NBA—he still felt he needed something else.
Several teams had players who were vaccine-nervous. On Durant’s team, they never got on the same page. Trust was low. Team didn’t come first. Harden wanted out, too. You’d think a player this good would be impossible to leave, but people keep leaving.
There are some teams in the NBA right now who are already betting on expensive players near the end of their deals. The Lakers, the Suns, and the Heat have been in full-YOLO mode. They might trip into the alchemy of a contender with a trade for a high-risk, high-reward contract like the last four years of Durant’s current deal.
But for teams with young stars—there has been scuttlebutt about the Raptors, Pelicans, Celtics, Grizzlies, or Hawks—the risk of giving up blue-chip prospects and high picks is huge.
Not too long ago, the Nets were also a team with a promising young roster. Now Jarrett Allen is an All-Star in Cleveland; Spencer Dinwiddie is scoring playoff buckets for the Mavericks; the Rockets own the Nets’ next five drafts; and Kenny Atkinson is due a shiny new ring.
And what to the Nets have to show for it? About as much as some team is willing to give them for Kevin Durant.
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