The Kevin Durant Trade: How it Affects the NBA Landscape


Credit: AP / Matt York

Noah Cahill, Sports Editor

On February 9th, 2023, NBA fans woke up to a bombshell piece of news: Kevin Durant had been traded from the Brooklyn Nets to the Phoenix Suns. He was dealt with T.J. Warren in exchange for Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder, four unprotected first-round picks, and a 2028 pick-swap. This was a historic haul for a historically great player, maybe the best to ever be traded at the midseason deadline. This deal has a massive impact on the entirety of the NBA, as it propels the Suns into contention, places the Nets into an interesting middle ground, and strikes fear in the rest of the Western Conference teams…potentially.

On paper, the deal is a home run for the Suns. Their front office took a stagnant team sitting in the middle of the tightly contested West and placed them in a position to win the conference as well as an NBA championship. Under the previous construction, this was not even a possibility. However, while everyone is quick to crown them as favorites in the West, including the Vegas oddsmakers, it is important to acknowledge the risks involved with making this deal. Kevin Durant is probably the most malleable superstar in NBA history, as his playstyle allows him to fit into any team. He can get a bucket whenever he wants and wherever he wants while playing elite wing defense and passing at a high level, higher than most give him credit for. That’s what he was doing in Brooklyn when they won 18 of their last 20 games with Durant.

That said, for the third season in a row, he has endured a lower leg injury that has sidelined him for an extended period of time. He is 34 years old, his new teammate Chris Paul is 37 years old and dealing with muscular injuries, and Devin Booker, despite being the youngest of the three, also has dealt with serious muscle problems. Despite their outstanding potential on-court fit, this team may not be able to stay consistently healthy. Even with a fully healthy team, Phoenix has lost a great deal of depth and wing defense in the Durant trade. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have both blossomed into great players who starred in their 3-and-D role, especially Bridges, who is one of the best overall defenders in the league and was averaging 17.2 points per game on 38.7% 3-point shooting.

The Suns will also have to compete with Denver, who has the two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and a surging Jamal Murray, who is quietly averaging 25.9 points per game on 49.5/41.3/91.3 shooting splits over his last 10 games. Golden State and Memphis will also have something to say despite their recent struggles. Nobody wants to go up against a Warriors team with a healthy Steph Curry, who has played on an MVP level when available, and while Memphis has dropped many of their recent games, the threat of Ja Morant and Desmond Bane in the backcourt with Jaren Jakcson Jr. anchoring the defense still looms large. This is all mentioned to remind fans not to overreact and start etching Pheonix’s name on the Larry O’Brien championship trophy just yet.

The secondary storyline that is still worth talking about is how this trade impacts the Brooklyn Nets. While it is the less interesting of the two teams, the Nets are now in an interesting position. They sit in 5th place in the East and remain 2.5 games ahead of 7th at the time of writing this. They still have a legitimate shot to make the playoffs and are incentivized to do so considering the Rockets have their 2023 first-round pick. They probably now have the best wing depth in the entire league with the likes of Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Royce O’Neale, Joe Harris, and Yuta Watanabe. On top of these players, they have reliable guard play from Seth Curry, Spencer Dinwiddie, and recent scoring sensation Cam Thomas, who already has more 40-point games this year than Kyrie Irving. Add a budding defensive superstar in Nic Claxton and all this team needs is a star.

In theory, they have some salary cap flexibility and assets to go get said star this off-season. The elephant in the room, however, is Ben Simmons, who, unfortunately for Brooklyn, has barely even been an NBA-caliber player this season, no less a player deserving of the max contract that he is currently signed to. It is most likely the worst contract in the NBA as he contributes so little while commanding so much money and carrying no trade value. It sounds a bit harsh, and one does sympathize with his mental struggles, but those are the cold, hard facts of the Simmons disaster in Brooklyn.

In the words of Alex Schiffer, Nets beat writer for the Athletic, these new-look Nets may be similar to “the team they were in 2018 and 2019; likable, gritty, drama-less and maybe a little overlooked.” While this is true, another cold, hard fact is that the asset flow from Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden, a trio that was unstoppable when on the court together, to this new core and Ben Simmons is not good for Brooklyn. This Nets super team experiment wins the award for being the best-ever theoretical team, but unfortunately for them, that’s the only thing they will win as their time together has officially ended.

This deal was undeniably the highlight of the trade deadline, taking the spotlight from the Kyrie Irving trade, which sent Irving to Dallas to pair up with Luka Dončić. This deal is mentioned to provide context for Durant’s departure, as he no longer felt he could win with the new Nets core and wanted to join Paul and Booker in Phoenix. After the deal went through, it was reported that it was Durant’s only desired destination. The Nets got a favorable return and finished the deal. It is also important to note that this deal does not happen if Robert Sarver, the previous Suns’ owner, was still with the team. As an owner infamous for his lack of spending, the Suns moving on to Matt Ishbia could prove to be the ownership change that wins them a title. In three years, however, it could also be looked at as an impulsive and ill-advised splash deal that never resulted in the desired outcome. Fans and media will make assertions now, but only time will tell in the end.