Boy, that escalated quickly.
What many thought would be a quiet deadline is no more, with the Nets accepting a godfather offer to move Kevin Durant to the Suns. You don’t need me to tell you that the Suns got better by adding one of the three best players in the league and a potential MVP by year’s end. The question is how much better they got.
Kevin Durant trade details
Suns receive: Kevin Durant, T.J. Warren
Nets receive: Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Jae Crowder, four unprotected first-round picks (2023, 2025, 2027, 2029), 2028 pick swap
How Kevin Durant fits with the Suns
Durant will likely start alongside Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Torrey Craig, and Deandre Ayton. That works on paper as a five-man unit that brings a little bit of everything to the table.
The Suns were the no. 16 offense and tied for the no. 7 defense in the league prior to the trade. Durant should certainly boost that offense easily into the top 10. Keep in mind that he had the Nets as the no. 6 offense in the league with Kyrie Irving missing a third of their season and Ben Simmons afraid to shoot.
Midway through the Nets season, in an interview with Bleacher Report, Durant asked people to look at how weak the team’s starting lineup was and change their expectations. He will not be asking that same question in Phoenix. This is championship or bust time.
Durant is an easy fit into the Suns’ offense because he’s probably the best tough shot-maker in the league. He can hit consistently from anywhere on the floor. The spacing may be a little bit awkward at first, given that Durant does like to work in post-ups and coming off screens in the same areas as Ayton. But the easy answer there is to give Durant the ball and tell Ayton to get the heck out of the way.
Durant also fits into what the Suns already run. They generate a ton of their offense through elbow actions and Spain pick-and-rolls, which rely on having good movement shooters on the floor that can come off screening actions. Durant is great in those sets, and leveraging him and Booker together in those screening actions is going to be impossible to guard.
Mental note but I like the flow of this set from the Nets. Elbow action, Harden screening for Durant and good luck. Prince tries to deny, KD goes backdoor, defesne tries to switch and that’s an easy open look. pic.twitter.com/B4RRnPwffX
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) October 15, 2021
The Suns also have decent spacing around Durant when he does choose to cook. Chris Paul, plagued by injury for much of the year, hasn’t had a great offensive impact by his high standards. But as he has aged, he has started taking a higher percentage of his shots as 3s. He’s hitting a very solid 39 percent on those looks this year. Booker is obviously a good shooter. And Craig is above 40 percent from 3 this season.
Defensively, Durant was having an underrated season. He and Nic Claxton were the linchpins of the Nets’ defense. Durant’s wingspan has been reported at 7-5, and he’s a very good secondary rim protector that can totally wall off the rim alongside Ayton. Per CraftedNBA, opponents have shot 8.3 percent worse at the rim with Durant guarding, ranking in the 90th percentile of players.
Durant also gives the Nets a small ball five option that they can use to be more versatile in the playoffs, which was their major weakness last year.
T.J. Warren and the Suns bench
Warren might sound like a random throw-in, but he will play more for the Suns than he did for the Nets. The ultra-talented scorer had his career slowed down by a nasty ankle injury and hasn’t looked quite the same since. The Suns traded away their three best wings, and they will need Warren to soak up minutes there.
That brings up an important weakness that this trade created within the Suns — quality depth at wing. Craig will probably get the start. He’s a very good on-ball defender, can space the floor on wide-open shots, but doesn’t contribute much else on offense. He is going to have to let it fly when teams help off him.
How do Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and Jae Crowder help the Nets?
Bridges was the crown jewel in this trade for the Nets. He finished runner-up in Defensive Player of the Year voting (he would have had my vote) and was starting to show some more signs of working on the ball and running the offense this year. He has expanded his scoring up to 17.2 points per game this season. At 26, he still has room to get even better. He will get plenty of opportunities to grow his game even more in Brooklyn.
Johnson has hit a scorching 45.5 percent of his 3’s this season. His defense is up-and-down — while he has held up well in the regular season, he did get targeted in last year’s playoffs. The Suns couldn’t agree on terms of an extension, so he will be a restricted free agent this summer and due a big payday if the Nets choose to keep him.
The Nets flipped Crowder to the Bucks for five second-rounders shortly after completing the trade, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. That trade makes sense because the Nets have more wings than they can handle at this point. With the trade for Dorian Finney-Smith, they have five capable starters (Bridges, Johnson, Finney-Smith, Royce O’Neale, Joe Harris) and one of the best 3-point shooters in the league in Yuta Watanabe coming off the bench.
The Nets are going to have a killer defensive identity. Claxton and Bridges give them two legitimate young Defensive Player of Year candidates. If Ben Simmons ever returns to form, then that makes three. And they’re also stacked with defensive wings. They may need Cam Thomas to keep on averaging over 40 a night to compete, but defense will be their bedrock.
The Nets clearly took a step back by trading Durant and Kyrie Irving over the past few days. But they also got a lot younger and replenished their draft assets. This will be an interesting team that will be fun to root for over the next few years.