As Kevin Durant’s trade demand forces the NBA offseason into a state of total disorientation, fake trades, rumors and hypothetical destinations for someone who might still be the best player alive have dominated all conversation. Where he goes next, and what it costs to get him there, will hover over the entire 2022–23 season. Ripple effects will spread far and last for years.
Taking stock of the league’s current landscape, some organizations are better constructed to land Durant and put him in a position to win the title than others. But one semirealistic team that may or may not be in the actual running to land KD also happens to provide a more mutually beneficial situation than any other other: Portland.
The idea is admittedly as inconceivable as it is fulfilling. While the Blazers might not have enough to offer the Nets—in addition to an All-Star, don’t be shocked if Brooklyn’s haul includes eight or nine first-round picks that stream in from two (or maybe three) other teams—it’s O.K. to daydream about a relatively straightforward and delightful outcome that makes sense on several levels.
For starters, this could be Durant’s most satisfying success. In Portland, his team’s expectations would be tempered for the first time in years, with a solid opportunity to overachieve and blow them away. One season removed from a 27-win catastrophe that saw them tear things down and sell off some of their best veterans (CJ McCollum, Norm Powell, Robert Covington), the Blazers aren’t one piece away from being considered championship favorites, even if Durant climbs aboard. Damian Lillard’s season was also cut short by abdominal surgery. He played in only 29 games and shot a career-low 32.4% from behind the three-point line.
Narratives and legacies are almost always irrelevant in discussions like this one, but here, connected to what may be his final pivot, they matter. For Durant, there’s a chance to spend the remaining years of his prime on the one team that passed on him in the draft, embedded in a roster that can’t be described as a juggernaut, battling uphill alongside one of the most beloved and respected players of his generation.
It’d be impossible to criticize Durant in this scenario. The Blazers can be good but aren’t a stacked superteam even after he’d join. Over the past four years, no team had a worse defense. Not that he hasn’t performed spectacularly on a grand stage before, but winning it all here would require an excellence even Durant may not be able to summon. It’s a humongous challenge. It’d also be a blast.
Durant plus Lillard equals the surface of the sun. Those two with Jusuf Nurkić, Gary Payton II and Jerami Grant (if he isn’t in the trade!) make a physical, complementary, two-way quintet that would rival any starting five in the league. Everything else about the roster as currently constructed is thin and will ask a lot of its new dynamic duo. It’s unclear which of Josh Hart, Nassir Little and/or Justise Winslow would be involved in this theoretical trade; speaking of, building an actual package that 1) works and 2) makes sense won’t be easy. Here, briefly, is an honest attempt, with a first look at everyone’s favorite subject: future draft compensation.
If Portland avoids the lottery next season, its 2023 first-round pick will go to the Bulls, concluding the obligation. But for the purpose of constructing a massive trade offer, the Stepien Rule currently prevents the Blazers from making a deal that involves future picks. The Blazers would have to renegotiate an amendment with Chicago to shorten the length of that protection—like the Heat did in February with the Thunder—before any of their own future picks can sweeten the offer.
If that goes well, Portland can offer unprotected firsts in 2025, ’27, ’29 and pick swaps galore. Shaedon Sharpe is another blue-chip asset to include alongside Anfernee Simons, who turned 23 last month, just signed a $100 million contract and could conceivably grow to become one of the league’s most electric, self-reliant shotmakers at his position.
(Brooklyn is hard capped if it acquires someone in a sign-and-trade, which, along with his base year compensation, complicates Simons’s involvement. But if in this simulation both sides are committed to making it happen, they can work with a third team to get something done and/or look more aggressively to dump Kyrie Irving/Ben Simmons.) The rest of Portland’s offer is salary filler. As lucrative as it would be to own the future of a small-market team that’s all-in around two aging stars (Durant is about to turn 34 and Lillard turns 32 later this month) it isn’t easy to sell a trade that’s only mildly superior to what the T-Wolves forked over for Rudy Gobert. It also lacks a guaranteed star and is far from the best offer Brooklyn could otherwise find. But …
He could play in a city that’s tucked away in the Pacific Northwest, neighboring where his professional journey began. It wouldn’t be his team, but that ship has sailed, regardless of where he goes. Durant would undoubtedly become its best player, though, in an environment void of off-court melodrama and distraction. Life would be basketball, beside Lillard, a new costar who’s as self-aware, confident and authentic as franchise players come. A victim of his own undying loyalty, Lillard doesn’t mind being vulnerable in public, either. He knows what he wants. There is no pretense. That established culture would be the antithesis of everything Durant just endured in Brooklyn.
A reunion in Golden State could be nothing but a sugar rush, the same experience that failed to satiate his hunger the first time around. Win it all in Toronto, and some will find it hard to separate that achievement from what Kawhi Leonard already did. Do the same in Miami—with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo—on a team that just had the best record in th Eastern Conference, and he’d cosplay LeBron James. Raising a banner in Phoenix would be nice, and it’s reportedly where Durant wants to be. But assuming Chris Paul and Devin Booker are still there, he’d also be teaming up with a group that made the Finals in 2021, just won 64 games and already laid the foundation for what could come.
A title in Portland would be different. It’d do more than cement Durant as the greatest mercenary in history. It’d give a career that doesn’t need any more accolades that grounding capstone other iconic NBA figures of Durant’s stature already have. The Blazers would be a perfect fit for that reason and so many more, even if actually ending up there feels like a Hail Mary.
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