Where is Kevin Durant headed? What NBA executives are saying

By Rick Bucher
FOX Sports NBA Writer

LAS VEGAS — Not all the action in the NBA Summer League is taking place on the court.

The brain trusts of all 30 teams are in Las Vegas to observe the No. 1 draft pick, Orlando’s Paolo Banchero, and all the other new talent entering the league. But they’re also closely monitoring the No. 1 question waiting to be answered:

Where will Kevin Durant play next season?

Nets reportedly pushing for KD trade before moving Kyrie

Nets reportedly pushing for KD trade before moving Kyrie

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving both appear to want out of Brooklyn. The Nets reportedly want to trade KD before Kyrie. Hear why Shannon Sharpe is “as close as 100 percent” that the two stars won’t suit up for Brooklyn next season.

The LVSL has lost a good deal of its intimacy since 2004, when it began with six teams playing in UNLV’s Cox Pavilion. Now all 30 teams take part and games are played on both Cox and the Thomas & Mack Arena courts for a stretch of nine hours nearly every day before standing-room-only crowds.

Even so, Summer League remains one of the best people-watching parties the NBA throws, with players — former and present — coaches, GMs and owners mingling in plain view just beyond one baseline or the other.

As of right now, the consensus is that Durant is holding up most, if not all, major transactions, including one involving his current Nets’ teammate, Kyrie Irving.

That’s what made it scintillating to see Nets GM Sean Marks, Raptors team president Masai Ujiri and Lakers GM Rob Pelinka huddled at one end of the Thomas & Mack Arena floor, and then Marks and Ujiri ducking under the stands to continue their conversation in private. (The Raptors are reportedly one of the teams interested in acquiring Durant, and the Lakers and Irving reportedly have mutual interest in joining forces.)

Such visuals are guaranteed to generate conversation, even if they may have been just discussing their favorite brunch spot on the Strip.

But while there is no consensus on where Durant will wind up — or what it would require — there are a healthy host of opinions on where it should or will be, and several league executives were happy to share theirs with FOX Sports.

The question posed to them: What destination makes the most sense for the Nets, Durant and the team acquiring him? Neither feasibility nor evidence that the Nets have engaged with a particular team were prerequisites. This was an in-a-perfect-world exercise.

There was only one answer for an Eastern Conference GM: a return to the defending champion Golden State Warriors. The GM sees them as the team that should want Durant the most, the team he should most want to rejoin, as well as the one capable of offering the most comprehensive package of talent in return.

Do Warriors fans want a Kevin Durant return?

Do Warriors fans want a Kevin Durant return?

While Golden State has been mentioned as an option for the Brooklyn star, Colin Cowherd isn’t so sure Warriors fans want the trade.

Here’s the GM’s reasoning: The Warriors’ championship-contending window closes with the decline of Finals MVP Steph Curry, who is 34. The GM isn’t buying that their crop of young players — Jordan Poole, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody and James Wiseman — is capable of carrying the mantle, at least not soon enough to maximize Curry’s remaining availability.

One hitch: Golden State making a deal for Durant would require including Andrew Wiggins, Klay Thompson or Draymond Green to meet salary-cap trade requirements. As instrumental as Wiggins was in the Warriors’ winning the 2022 title, the GM would be willing to deal him to reunite the back-to-back championship core of Durant, Curry, Thompson and Green.

“I would give up all those young guys,” he said. “And who would you rather have, KD or Wiggins? The time is now. When Steph goes, so do their championship chances.”

A return to the Warriors, the GM said, would also benefit Durant, in that they are his best bet to win more championships. While his importance to winning the 2017 and 2018 NBA titles has been downplayed by some fans and media, Durant was not only Finals MVP both years but led the Warriors in rebounding (8.3) and blocked shots (1.6) while finishing second to Curry by a fraction in scoring (25.1 to 25.3).

By all appearances, Durant has fully recovered from the torn left Achilles tendon that he suffered in the 2019 Finals, which led to Golden State’s eventual loss in six games to the Toronto Raptors.

There are several stumbling blocks to a deal, however. For starters, league rules prevent a team from trading for two players with designated rookie contract extensions, which both the Nets’ Ben Simmons and Wiggins received. (Simmons signed with the Philadelphia 76ers before being dealt to the Nets in exchange for James Harden.)

How likely is a Kevin Durant, Warriors reunion?

How likely is a Kevin Durant, Warriors reunion?

NBA writer Ethan Strauss joins Colin Cowherd to talk about the chances of Kevin Durant reuniting with Steph Curry and Draymond Green after requesting a trade from the Nets.

Then there are all the factions within the Warriors that would have to be on board with a reunion — not to mention Durant. A league source says Curry has reached out several times to Durant, eager to improve his chances of winning a fifth championship and surpassing LeBron James, with whom Curry is currently tied at four titles each.

Curry, playing in a golf tournament near Lake Tahoe, was asked about Durant possibly returning and gave an answer that was the equivalent of a drive straight down the middle of the fairway. He played it safe, not undermining his relationship with those currently on the roster yet not dismissing the idea of ​​playing with KD again.

“The rumor mill and all that stuff is part of the nature of the NBA and the league,” Curry told NBC Sports Bay Area. “You take it for what it is. You know how quickly things can change, but I like where we’re at.”

Other league sources indicated that Warriors owner Joe Lacob would have to be convinced to bring Durant back because their split was less than amicable. Durant reportedly felt slighted by remarks made at the second championship celebration that portrayed him as less important to the franchise than Curry, contributing to his decision to leave.

But Lacob, asked about the Warriors potentially trading their young prospects for an established star such as Durant, did not publicly dismiss the possibility.

“Some options to build the team, if we were to pivot in some way, some partial way, might give us an even higher upside near term, but might decrease the long term,” he told The Athletic. “So these are the things that [general manager] Bob [Myers] and the group all have to look at and determine what’s the right path.”

Warriors brass is reportedly open to Durant’s return

Warriors brass is reportedly open to Durant's return

Kevin Durant won two titles and two Finals MVP awards with Golden State. But he left the organization feeling slighted.

Another option for Durant is his reported first choice, the Phoenix Suns. That scenario makes the most sense to several GMs. There is at least one proposed three-way deal, a Western Conference GM said, involving the Suns, Nets and Utah Jazz.

The proposed trade would send Durant to the Suns, Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell to the Nets and a package of draft picks and other assets to the Jazz, who appear to be in rebuilding mode after trading All-Star center Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves. It would be a special kind of torture for Knicks fans to see Mitchell, a New York native, return home only to don a Nets uniform.

There are several hurdles to that deal being consummated as well. It is widely believed that trading Gobert was the start of a Jazz makeover by their new CEO, Danny Ainge, who earned the nickname “Trader Dan” during his 13 years as president of the Boston Celtics. Whether that rebuild includes Mitchell could depend on the influence of part owner Dwyane Wade, who has forged a friendship with Mitchell. GM Justin Zanik, with Ainge sitting to his right, was as noncommittal about Mitchell’s future with the Jazz as Lacob was about the Warriors’ interest in reacquiring Durant.

“Things evolve in the NBA, so I couldn’t sit here and say anybody is [untouchable]” Zanik said. “We’re trying to build a championship team. But there’s no intent there [to trade Mitchell]at all.”

With Mitchell also signed to a designated rookie contract extension, Simmons would have to be moved elsewhere; of course, he could be sent to the Jazz as part of the deal.

Who would you not trade for KD?

Who would you not trade for KD?

Colin Cowherd reveals his list of players he would not trade for Kevin Durant.

That’s not the only potential stumbling block. The Indiana Pacers’ reported interest in Suns restricted free agent center Deandre Ayton could be another hurdle to that three-team scenario. If the Pacers give Ayton an offer sheet, the Suns would be limited to matching it and keeping him or trading him to the Pacers.

If, however, the Suns sent Ayton to the Pacers in a sign-and-trade in exchange for center Myles Turner, it might still make a Durant three-team deal feasible, with Turner being part of the package going to the Jazz.

There has already been plenty of speculation that connects Durant to the Warriors and Suns, but one Eastern Conference GM floated a new entry. There are several reasons that Durant’s hometown team, the Washington Wizards, makes sense, at least for KD.

One, he couldn’t be accused of trying to tip the scales on his odds of adding another championship to his résumé by joining an established powerhouse such as the Warriors, Suns or Miami Heat, another team reportedly on Durant’s desired list. Joining the Wizards would be viewed as a magnanimous gesture to the place where he grew up.

Two, he would be treated unconditionally as a returning hero by the fan base and media.

“If he wants to get the stink off that he has right now, I can’t think of a better place to do that,” the Eastern Conference GM said. “I don’t know where else they would embrace him quite the way they would if he went home.”

There is also a strong sentiment among multiple executives that Durant may not be going anywhere, that the Nets may simply hope he gets over his disappointment that the team isn’t giving Irving a max-salary extension, which is what league sources said inspired his trade request. The thinking is that a strong showing in training camp by Simmons could change Durant’s view of the Nets’ title chances.

Durant will “absolutely” be in a different uniform next season

Durant will

Nick Wright believes that Kevin Durant has all the leverage and will no longer be on the Nets next season.

“If I were them, I wouldn’t trade him,” a Western Conference executive said. “He has four years left on his contract. Take a stand.”

Let’s be glad that the Nets haven’t already decided to take one. If nothing else, that would make the interaction between Marks and every other GM who crosses his path in Las Vegas a whole lot less entertaining.

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” the story of NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds,” the story of NBA center Yao Ming. He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @Rick Bucher.

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