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‘Winning trades’ takes time, but right now, Brooklyn Nets look good

The Nets sent Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns in a classic superstar trade: young players and picks for the aging star. Christmas in Phoenix made it look like Nets did well.

Brooklyn Nets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s that time again, time to reevaluate the trade of the new century for the Brooklyn Nets and their fans, the trade that sent Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns. Why now?

On Christmas Day, one of the NBA’s periodic times for taking stock, two things happened: 1) Adrian Wojnarowski revealed on ESPN that Durant was “frustrated” by what’s happening in Phoenix and 2) Durant looked like he was sleep-walking through the NBA’s primetime matchup between the Suns and the Mavericks, scoring 16 points to Luka Doncic’s 50 in a big Mavs win that that dropped his new team to 14-15, same as his old team. (Kyrie Irving, out with a heel injury, didn’t play for Dallas.)

Woj, no doubt echoing Durant’s team, had this to say...

“Start with Kevin Durant. You talk to people in Phoenix and around that organization, they can feel the frustration [from] Durant,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Monday on NBA Countdown. “Part of that, certainly, is the missed games for Brad Beal. This team was built around those three stars. The underwhelming supporting cast, that comes from those massive trades for Durant and Beal that really gutted the organization.”

“And then understanding they lack the assets, the draft picks, the trade capital to go out and really improve this team,” Wojnarowski said of the Suns. “This is something they’re going to have to manage in Phoenix with Kevin Durant. You’ve seen it before — and it reminds you, it’s a stark reminder — of how short of a window and how this team has to win big, and they have to win big quickly based on how it was constructed. Having Kevin Durant still playing at an all-NBA level and a healthy Kevin Durant — there’s a lot at stake for this organization, it has to change soon.”

Been there, done that, as have fans in Oklahoma City, Golden State and Brooklyn. At least Warriors fans got a couple of parties out of the experience. Durant’s distress seems to be the result of the haul new (and very impatient) owner Mat Ishbia sent the Wizards for Bradley Beal. Beal has been injured and by piling up payroll and dispatching more picks and swaps, the Suns have no flexibility. They are over the dreaded second apron of the new CBA and have no picks, first or second round, under their control through 2030. It’s hard to imagine Durant didn’t give his blessing.

It’s not that the 35-year-old Durant is having a bad season. He’s averaging 30.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists while shooting 51.8% from the field and 46.9% from 3-point range. It’s just that he, Beal and Devin Booker have only played 24 minutes together in two games. As C.J. Holmes points out in the Daily News, the Suns bench is averaging 29.3. (In case you’re wondering, the Nets “Big Three” played 365 minutes together in 16 games.)

So, the combination of the Woj comments and KD’s play vs. Dallas set off a fan firestorm Christmas night in Phoenix...

With all that, can we say the Nets won the KD trade? No! No one should think that less than a year after the trade. But let’s review the deal in full. Remember, it was a four-team trade and see where the Nets stand.

Phoenix Suns received:

Brooklyn Nets received:

  • Mikal Bridges
  • Cameron Johnson
  • 2023 unprotected first-round pick (from Phoenix)
  • 2025 unprotected first-round pick (from Phoenix)
  • 2027 unprotected first-round pick (from Phoenix)
  • 2028 unprotected first-round pick swap (from Phoenix)
  • 2028 unprotected second-round pick (from Milwaukee)
  • 2029 unprotected first-round pick (from Phoenix)
  • 2029 unprotected second-round pick (from Milwaukee)
  • Draft rights to Juan Pablo Vaulet
  • $18.1 million trade exception which expires February 8, 2024 (Durant)
  • $1.8 million trade exception which expires February 8, 2024 (Warren)

Milwaukee Bucks received:

Indiana Pacers received:

Since then, a number of things have happened:

  • The Nets took Noah Clowney with the Suns 2023 first round pick, the 21st selection.
  • The Nets re-signed Cam Johnson to a four-year, $94 million contract which with mostly unlikely incentives could balloon to $108 million.
  • The Nets used the 2029 second round pick from Milwaukee — along with a 2029 pick from Dallas acquired in the Kyrie Irving trade — and $110,000 in cash considerations to send Joe Harris to Detroit in a salary dump, generating a $19.9 million trade exception that expires July 5, 2024.
  • The Nets used the 2028 second round pick from Milwaukee to send Patty Mills to Houston, in a salary dump. The Nets also acquired future draft considerations — reportedly a future top 55 protected Rockets pick — and generated a $6.8 million trade exception. It expires July 6, 2024.
  • The Suns did not re-sign Warren, who is currently out of the league.

The big players in the trade — Durant and Bridges — have played extremely well. Since the deal, KD has played in 33 (out of a possible 56 games) and averaged 29.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists on 52/47/88 shooting splits. Bridges has played in 56 (all of them) and averaged 23.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists on 47/37/88 shooting splits. There is an almost an eight-year age difference between Durant, 35, and Bridges, 27.

Johnson has played 47 (out of a possible 56 games) and averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 47/39/84 shooting splits. He’s 27 as well.

Since the trade, the Suns are 29-26, the Nets are 28-30. The Suns are $4.9 million over the CBA’s highly restricted second apron after the Bradley Beal deal just before the draft while the Nets are $8.0 million under the luxury tax threshold and $25.0 million under the second apron.

The big thing, when talking about who won what, is what happens with the picks. Sam Quinn of CBS Sports, in an analysis of all 30 teams traded first rounders, wrote this summer that of the top six traded firsts, four of them are currently controlled by the Nets: three of the four Phoenix firsts that are still outstanding from the KD trade as well as the 2029 Dallas first, also unprotected, from the Kyrie trade. He ranked the 2029 Suns pick the single best external pick in the entire league.

Not long after, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report went a bit further, grading all 30 teams by the value of all their picks: traded firsts, their own firsts, protections, swaps and even seconds. In his evaluation, the Nets are No. 5.

As for the four trade exceptions generated by the KD and Kyrie deals plus those of Harris and Mills — a total of $48.7 million — it’s highly unlikely the Nets will make much use of them. They want to stay below the tax threshold not only this season but next as well to avoid the repeater tax and other sanctions that will hurt flexibility. However, in a multi-team trade scenario, something the Nets are quite familiar with, TPEs can be useful. They can be used like cap space permitting other teams to park an asset temporarily in return for things like draft assets. Also, twice in the last three years, Marks has used an eight-figure TPE to make things work.

So where do we stand while we wait? Things can change, as anyone who has ever been a Nets fan knows.

Bottom line, if you want: Brooklyn did very, very well considering KD had demanded a trade only a day or so before the deadline after doing the same thing earlier the previous summer just hours before the beginning of free agency. But things can change ... no doubt will. In the meantime, we’ll have to be comfortable with that trite saying, “only time will tell.” This time, it applies.