The Warriors are in the NBA Finals, the Nets are not. And in a pre-Finals report on The Athletic, Tim Kawakami writes about how the Nets willingness to do a sign-and-trade at the time of The Clean Sweep in 2019 was the first step in getting Golden State back in contention.
It was one of two reports Wednesday on the subject. Ramona Shelburne of ESPN also produced a video on the Warriors post-Kevin Durant.
It can take franchises years to recover from the departure of a superstar. This is how Golden State pivoted from loss to a gap year back to the Finals. Smart essay from @ramonashelburne, edited by @mbodmer: pic.twitter.com/mtz0qdLO5q— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) May 31, 2022
While Kawakami’s story lays out the value of the deal to the Warriors, it was also important to the Nets.
Kawakami spoke with Warriors GM Bob Myers and owner Joe Lacob about how reconstructing (not rebuilding) the Warriors began that night, how they had a sense of what they were going to do following their devastating loss to the Raptors in the 2019 Finals.
It’s complicated but the bottom line is that the Warriors were prepared for KD’s departure.
[S]o much more was happening in the span of those frantic days and hours than merely some personal closure to Durant’s three seasons with the Warriors. So much planning. So much negotiating. So much hoping. So much wheeling and dealing that it could make anybody’s head spin.
The Nets held most of the cards, most prominently Durant’s agreement to sign with Brooklyn along with Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan. But the Warriors held a few themselves. Key to the Warriors plans was getting the Nets and Durant to agree to a sign-and-trade involving D’Angelo Russell rather than a simple Durant signing. But everyone had to agree.
“There were a lot of moving parts,” Myers recalled to Kawakami last week. “We were holding a lot of balls in the air. Can we move off (Andre) Iguodala to make the room under the apron and at the same time can we negotiate a deal with Russell, which ended up becoming a max? Was he open to coming to us? Was Kevin OK with the deal? Was Brooklyn OK with the deal?
“All in the wee hours of the night on the East Coast. I was in New York with (assistant general manager Mike) Dunleavy in a suite up ’til 3 or 4 in the morning East Coast time trying to get that all done. The rest of the group had a midnight meeting with Russell that Joe was at and a couple of other front-office people in L.A. after the bell rang so we could investigate if we might be a place for him to come. We kind of split ranks to try to do all this.”
Of course, D’Lo did agree to sign with Golden State at $117 million over five years, the amount and length enhanced because of the sign-and-trade arrangement. Then, Durant and Sean Marks had to agree. Kawakami portrays the negotiations as Myers and Lacob using built-up good will with Durant — and business partner/agent Rich Kleiman — as critical to the process.
“Brooklyn could’ve said no,” “Kevin could’ve said no. We’re thankful. It at least gave us a chance,” Myers told The Athletic reporter, a veteran of Bay Area basketball coverage. “Thankfully, we had some equity with Kevin and Rich (Kleiman), his agent,”
That, however, was only part of the story. While relations with Durant, Kleiman and Marks helped, the Nets also had needs a sign-and-trade could alleviate, as Bobby Marks wrote in September 2019. Without a sign-and-trade, the Nets would have had to construct the contracts of KD, Kyrie, DJ ... and rookie Nic Claxton in ways that would have been not just complicated but also not in their or the Nets long-term interests.
Because there was not a sign-and-trade agreement in place for D’Angelo Russell when Brooklyn’s new stars committed on June 30, both Irving and Durant at first were set to have $4-5 million in unlikely bonuses in their contracts. That extra $10 million — generated because unlikely bonuses don’t count toward the salary cap — would have allowed the team to sign Irving and Durant outright and use the remaining room on free agent DeAndre Jordan and second-round pick Nicolas Claxton.
However, both players caught a financial break when Golden State approached Brooklyn later that night about the possibility of acquiring Russell in a sign-and-trade for Durant. Because cap space was not required to sign Durant, Brooklyn only needed to structure $1 million in unlikely bonuses for Irving to still have room for Jordan and Claxton. In total, Durant and Irving could have opened the door to lose a combined $16 million had the Warriors not stepped in at the last minute.
As a result of the sign-and-trade and some sequenced signings, the Nets had enough cap space to sign Jordan to a four-year, $40 million deal and Claxton to a three-year, $4.2 million deal rather than giving him the minimum for only two years. The Nets brass believed it might take the Georgia product more than two years to develop and Claxton would be happier with the added security.
Moreover, while KD agreed to the S&T construct, he also reportedly demanded that the Nets get something beyond Russell in the trade and according to Brian Windhorst’s reporting later that July. Durant wanted the Warriors to give the Nets a first round pick.
Durant initially balked at being traded for Russell straight up, multiple sources said. He didn’t think it was a fair deal, and in this case, the Warriors had to not just satisfy the Nets, but also Durant.
Leverage was applied by the player, and Golden State had to include a first-round pick before Durant would agree to sign off. The Warriors begrudgingly gave it up and did so with a heavy condition: If the pick falls within the top 20 next year, they don’t have to send it, and instead will only give Brooklyn a second-round pick ... in six years.
Kawakami asked Lacob about that aspect of the negotiations.
The most direct answer I got on this was from Lacob, who said: ” I can’t say for sure. But these guys do have egos. There may have been something like that.”
The Warriors, Kawakami writes, weren’t sure how well D’Lo would work next to Curry and indeed seven months later, they pulled the plug on the Russell experiment and sent him to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins who had disappointed after being taken the overall No. 1 in the 2014 draft, and a lightly protected (1-through-3) first in 2021 that became Jonathan Kuminga. The deal was a steal.
“We liked D’Angelo,” Lacob said. “We thought he might fit; we weren’t sure. There were some mixed opinions inside our organization, I’m not going to lie. But it certainly did at the very least retain that salary slot. And we knew that, worst case, if it didn’t work, maybe we could move him for something else, not knowing what that would be.”
“I think the Wiggins trade is the key to all this,” Steve Kerr said last week, as Kawakami recounted.
Of course, for two years, Golden State suffered through losing seasons filled with injuries to Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. But that got them two long-term prospects in James Wiseman and Moses Moody in the Draft. (Their lack of success also meant that the Nets would not be getting that first rounder KD demanded. It turned into a 2025 second that the Nets traded away in the DJ salary dump last September.)
“Bob gets the credit for this,” Lacob said referring to his GM. “He was thinking about what are the options if Durant leaves? He and I both. We had a pretty strong sense that he might. And it was really dependent on where he might end up going. We tried to game plan it out just, if it’s the Knicks, what we can do in a sign-and-trade? Or if he went to Brooklyn, we had a pretty good inkling there was a chance we could do a sign-and-trade.
“We were rooting a little bit secretly for it to be Brooklyn.”
- How the Warriors turned Kevin Durant’s departure into Andrew Wiggins and Jonathan Kuminga (and more) - Tim Kawakami - The Athletic.
- NBA Finals appeared light years away for Warriors, Celtics after exits of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving - Dan Wetzel - Yahoo! Sports
- NBA Finals 2022: The grueling, expensive and risky reconstruction of the Golden State Warriors - Ramona Shelburne - ESPN