Just mere hours before the opening of NBA free agency, Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant requested a trade from the team.
Durant has reportedly listed the Phoenix Suns as a preferred destination, with the Miami Heat also mentioned.
The 33-year-old is entering the start of a four-year, $194.2-million extension next season. He’s set to make approximately $44.1 million next year and is due to make about $54.7 million in the 2025-26 campaign.
Teams looking to trade for the 12-time All-Star will need to come up with a competitive package that includes salaries that roughly match the $44.1 million Durant will be owed in 2022-23. This can be one or two giant contracts or a slew of smaller ones.
Given Durant’s elite status in the game, every team should be looking at ways they can acquire him, regardless of his personal preference of destination.
This, of course, includes the Toronto Raptors, who have multiple ways to execute such a transaction.
Here’s a look at some of the assets the Raptors have at their disposal to try to fulfill the pseudo-prophecy Drake made in 2014.
Executing a trade in the NBA comes down to matching the respective salaries closely enough. The mark most teams are looking to hit is to ensure the pre-trade salary they may be inheriting doesn’t exceed 125 percent of the traded player, plus $100,000.
So, if the Raptors are looking to trade for just Durant, then they need to ensure the package they send doesn’t exceed the $44.7-million mark.
Among the easiest ways for Toronto to reach that threshold would be to use one of its own big-money contracts to get a deal off the ground. Specifically, Pascal Siakam is set to make about $35.4 million next season and Fred VanVleet is due $21.2 million.
Not only are Siakam and VanVleet Toronto’s two best players, they’re also Toronto’s two most expensive contracts.
In fact, if the Raptors were looking to just acquire Durant and no one else on the Nets, then they could theoretically make a one-for-one swap of Siakam for Durant. The same can’t be done if you were to try to attempt VanVleet for Durant, meaning other assets to make the money work would have to come into play (more on this below).
If there is a trade to be made for Durant, including one of Siakam or VanVleet should be expected, as their salaries would most easily bring a deal into the realm of possibility. They wouldn’t both be able to be flipped for Durant by himself, but if other Nets assets were to come with him – maybe someone like Joe Harris – a deal that would see the Raptors sending their two best players to Brooklyn could be made.
Enticing mid-value contracts
The Raptors owe Gary Trent Jr. and OG Anunoby $17.5 and $17.3 million, respectively, next season.
Both are good, young two-way wing players who would be coveted by just about every team in the league, and that should include Brooklyn.
Packaging one of the two along with Siakam or VanVleet would make for a legal trade and would obviously be a more appealing deal for the Nets, who should be looking to get as big of a haul as they possibly can.
The reigning Rookie of the Year
This may be painful for some Raptors fans to hear, but when a player like Durant is on the table, anything goes, and that includes Scottie Barnes.
This is a front office that’s shown itself to be ruthless in its pursuit of a championship when it traded DeMar DeRozan in the Kawhi Leonard trade. With Durant, the Raptors would be getting four seasons of control – a much larger value proposition.
Barnes may very well become a superstar, but he isn’t at that level yet. Durant certainly is, and he’s among the greatest players the game has ever seen.
Acquiring an all-time player while he still has some juice left in his prime is a dream scenario for every franchise, and there’s a chance Toronto can make it happen.
If Barnes were to be a casualty in bringing Durant north of the border, Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster and Co. likely wouldn't lose much sleep over it.
In regards to actually using Barnes as a trade chip to land Durant, though, it’s a little trickier. While his on-court value appears to be immense, his salary isn’t. Barnes is set to make $7.6 million next season, meaning he would have to be part of a larger transaction.
If the package the San Antonio Spurs got for Dejounte Murray is any indication (three first-round picks with two being unprotected, a first-round pick swap and Danilo Gallinari), then it’s likely any deal the Raptors would have to make with the Nets for Durant would require a lot of picks.
Toronto has all of its first-round picks for the foreseeable future, but one thing that’s important to remember is that teams can’t trade picks in consecutive years. So, if the Raptors were to offer four first-round picks starting with next year’s draft, they would have to come from years 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029.
To help mitigate surrendering picks down the line, the Raptors can do pick swaps, although those might not be as highly valued.
Regardless, any trade proposal the Raptors would put in front of the Nets for Durant would include multiple picks in addition to players to make salary-matching work.
For more complex trades, the Raptors do have a means to help match salaries in the form of a couple of trade exceptions created when they traded Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic.
Lowry’s exception is worth a little over $3 million, while Dragic’s is $5.25 million. Lowry’s trade exception will expire on July 6, while Dragic’s won’t be lost until February 2023.
It’s important to note the Raptors don't have to use these exceptions, but they’re still tools at their disposal.
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