Monday, August 15, 2022
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Could Kevin Durant wind up in Portland?


Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant
Photo: Getty Images

Kevin Durant is under contract for one more year with the Brooklyn Nets, but based on the bevy of reports and leaks on the extremely fluid Kyrie melodrama and its potential fallout, his employment is volatile. That uncertainty has spawned a multitude of options for Durant, but only the Portland Trailblazers have taken their sales pitch to Mad Men levels. It started with Jusuf Nurkić quote-tweeting the image of a Durant-Lillard photoshop, and adding an emoji that implied Durant was the missing piece. Damian Lillard shared the same image on his Instagram page. Lillard desperately shooting his shot at KD isn’t as efficient as the Golden State Warriors getting the whole gang together for their Hamptons pitch to Durant in 2016, but this may have been the opening salvo.

Kevin Durant’s older brother tried to throw flame retardant on the grease fire Lillard kicked up, but the issue had already gained too much traction for a tertiary figure to squash. Additionally, the Blazers might make the most sense in the current landscape. Durant gives Portland the incendiary partner who can finally give Lillard an upper hand against Golden State. After putting Golden over the top, doing the same thing with Steph Lite would salvage his rep after he failed to capitalize on a stacked Nets lineup from 2021 through early 2022. Durant has been associated with almost every single star point guard of his generation. He’s played the two-man game with Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, James Harden, and Irving. Two of those three partnerships have gone sour. Durant would be better off going for 2010 Point Guard Bingo with Lillard, who is built from the leftover Curry mold.

Unlike Curry, Lillard has been going stag during a player empowerment era where superstars have taken the lead in arranging their own mergers. Lillard’s push for Durant is the ultimate full-circle moment. The Blazers already had their chance to land Durant in 2008. All they had to do was take him with the top pick in the 2007 NBA Draft.

Before the dawn of positionless basketball and philosophies on floor spacing reigned supreme, Greg Oden fit the then-contemporary model for a franchise player. Durant was the first unicorn of this era. Durant was clearly the more complete offensive talent, but while the average scores were typically bogged down in the high 80s, low 90s, a plodding big was the ideal pick. In 2007, the NBA was still a copycat league. Former Texas big LaMarcus Aldridge and Oden were an easy bridge to sell as the next Twin Towers duo.

Had Portland been able to harness a healthy Oden, maybe they wouldn’t be in the precarious situation they’re in today. It’s been 15 years since the Blazers selected Greg Oden over Durant and they’re still pining over him. Durant’s virtuoso game would slot perfectly beside Lillard, Jerami Grant, and Jusuf Nurkić — if he re-signs next month.

From the Nets’ perspective, Brooklyn has the most promising assets to offer. Anfernee Simons or their recent lottery pick, Shaedon Sharpe, and future picks are superior prospects to protected firsts from Durant suitors that expect to be drafting outside the top 20 for the next few seasons. Sharpe has the potential to be the best wing from this draft, but the scouting report on him is thinner than Chet Holmgren after he sat out the entire season at Kentucky to reclassify from the 2022 class.

Anfernee Simons is an ideal Irving replacement and a future top-20 player who could thrive alongside Ben Simmons. That deal would only work as a sign-and-trade for Simmons, who is a restricted free agent this summer, although the Blazers are expected to match any offer he receives from interested teams.

Durant seems to have a latent affinity for the Toronto Raptors. However, Masai Ujiri would likely have to surrender some package that includes the promising Scottie Barnes. Pascal Siakam is Toronto’s best player at the moment, but he and Fred Van Vleet comprise what’s left of the core that defeated the (hobbled) Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals. What they have plus Durant may be good enough to get them 50 wins, but that could leave Durant carrying the load on a scrappy, clever, well-coached-but-outgunned playoff roster.

A Celtics’ offer of Jalen Brown and multiple picks would be enticing for Brooklyn, but would Boston be willing to break up an NBA Finals runner-up? They’ve got a young core that plays soul-crushing defense against 29 out of 30 teams. Brown is still a healthy, 25-year-old All-Star. For all of his gifts, good health has not been one for the past three seasons. Although he remains a force to be reckoned with, Durant has missed 126 games since tearing his achilles in 2019. A Thin Towers lineup would be the biggest upside to an Oklahoma City reunion. While Durant, Holmgren, and Poku are a cool novelty, they don’t fit Durant’s timeline. Durant back in Golden State is an unlikely scenario and after all the flack he caught from signing with them after they lost in the Finals, he would never live down chasing another title in Curry’s town.

A Durant-Lillard pairing is the best of both worlds. There was a time when Lillard and Curry were thought of as peas in a pod. Since then, Lillard has been the Clyde Drexler to Curry’s MJ. He’s 8-26 against Curry in the regular season, 0-10 in the postseason and four titles behind. What better way to finally make a run at the Warriors than by luring Durant to Portland as his championship sherpa? Uplifting a basketball city that’s starving during their near-50 year title drought to boot would be one hell of a way to get back on equal footing.



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