Could the Trail Blazers Have Engineered a Kevin Durant Trade?

A potential Kevin Durant trade is currently at the epicenter of the NBA news/rumor cycle. The Brooklyn Nets superstar might not be back with his team next year. The Boston Celtics currently have the inside track, but the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors have also been mentioned as potential destinations for the future Hall-of-Famer.

Out here in Portland, one reader wants to know if the Blazers might have gotten in the bidding war for Durant, had certain mis-season moves not been made last year. That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.

Dave,

With the recent news of Durant asking for a trade AND Dame & Nurkic creating some buzz by posting the image of Durant in Blazers uniform, I can’t help but think about Durant joining the Blazers.

As it is now, it seems painfully obvious that the Blazers lack the assets to acquire Durant in a trade. My question isn’t a naive question of how do the Blazers make it happen now, but more of a hypothetical, what if it were different. What I can’t help but wonder is IF the Blazers hasn’t blown up the Olshey-constructed roster last year, would they have the assets right now to create a Durant trade? If they hadn’t traded away CJ, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, and Larry Nance Jr, etc. last year, would there be some sort of deal they could construct with last year’s pre-trade deadline roster to now acquire Durant? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the Nets’ interest in any of those core players, knowing this is would be a hypothetical trade?

As some additional context, I had long believed that Olshey would be the GM to package multiple assets to acquire a 2nd/3rd star to play alongside Dame (and maybe CJ). He did it with the Clippers, although you could argue the league helped him out by voiding the trade that would have sent CP3 to the Lakers instead, so I was naively hoping it would happen again in Portland. When the Blazers trades happened last year, it seemed the approach to package multiple assets and draft picks for another star came off the table, so I guess a secondary question implied in my question above is are the Blazers better off with the recent changes to the roster? Not whether that team could have won it all, but would it have been better to wait for a disgruntled star to potentially have the assets to acquire a Durant-type player than making the trades they did?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts,

Corey

Let me ease your mind. No.

If the Nets Jettison Durant and Kyrie Irving, they need to do one of two things:

  • Get a young, star-level player or players to give them a boost in rebuilding.
  • Get a bushel full of draft picks to reset and restock for a longer rebuild.

I’m not arguing the talent level of the Trail Blazers players you mentioned. CJ McCollum was an offensive maestro. Nods of respect to Norman Powell, Robert Covington, and Larry Nance, Jr. for their skills and game.

Notice, though, that all of them are mid- to late-stage veterans, closer to 30 than 23. One could argue that McCollum was a “star”, but what kind of performance boost could the Nets expect from acquiring him, or all of those form Blazers together? How far did this collection of players advance on their own, or with Damian Lillard alongside? They didn’t put the Blazers in contention. They wouldn’t be expected to carry the Nets there either.

Every player you mentioned was, or will be, paid at an appropriate, veteran level. McCollum’s contract is more than that. The Nets wouldn’t get much cap relief in that kind of deal, certainly not enough to add a difference-maker to the talent pool.

This was the problem with the Olshey-era roster construction you referenced. The cost for the players Portland acquired rose over the years but their value declined. Their utility remained stable, but it wasn’t enough.

Once upon a time, the Blazers acquired Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu on the cheap. They didn’t turn the tide, but the cost was low. They served for a couple years, and Portland either traded them for modest gain or let them go. But you can trace the cost of acquisitions getting more and more expensive as the years rolled. Nance, Jr. cost a first-round pick. Powell cost Gary Trent, Jr. Those deals left Portland fewer assets to use and/or bargain with. They also left the Blazers less cap room, as many of these players had to be re-signed to be retained.

This would have been acceptable had the win total risen, but it didn’t. Portland ended up doing the same old thing at a higher and higher price, mortgaging more of their future assets in order to keep the wheels spinning.

Had the Blazers wanted to fulfill the second criterion of the Nets trade—blitzing them with a package of draft picks—the couldn’t have done it very easily. Had they managed it, they would have left themselves bereft of future picks, completely vulnerable should Durant or Lillard get injured and fail to perform.

Under Olshey, the cupboard was emptying out at an alarming rate. Jettisoning their former veterans was Portland’s way of getting off of this carousel.

The players involved were all at or past their career apexes, without much further value to the team, and costing a fortune. They couldn’t have drawn a superstar in trade because, by definition, any team wanting to succeed at a highly-paid, apex level would simply keep the superstar they already had instead of trading for a group of lesser players in exchange for their best one.

The Blazers took a discount in those mid-season deals, but if they wanted to get them done at that time, they probably had to. They might have cruised into the summer still carrying all those players, but there’s no guarantee the offers would have been better. Their payroll would have skyrocketed as they re-signed Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons. They’d have been forced to make whatever deals they could to lessen it. Also they wouldn’t have had the flexibility or assets to pursue Jerami Grant.

Portland will bank on Grant and Simons being better for them than the collection of veterans they traded away. And if a Durant deal somehow remains in the offing, it’s likely a package centering around Grant and Simons would be more attractive to the Nets than one centering around McCollum and all those mid-level veterans.

Thanks for the question, Corey! You all can send yours in to blazersub@gmail.com!

Leave a Comment