When Kevin Durant informed the Brooklyn Nets he would like to be traded away from the franchise, it kicked off one of the biggest negotiations in NBA history.
How do we know this? Because, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, half the teams across the league have already made inquiries. But it’s far from the first time an all-time great player has changed teams in the NBA. In fact, over the past 20 years, it has happened time and again, from Shaquille O’Neal to Kevin Garnett to Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, just to name a few.
So in order to process exactly what a Kevin Durant deal might look like, here are three lessons learned from some of the biggest trade demands in NBA history.
Lesson 1: Don’t expect to get the other team’s best player
Naturally, a team in Brooklyn’s position is going to ask for the best young player on the other team. That’s exactly what the Los Angeles Lakers did in 2004 when they began discussing parameters to land O’Neal. Their target? An explosive rookie shooting guard named Dwyane Wade.
The Heat quickly hung up the phone.
Eventually, Los Angeles called back with a different ask: centering a trade around emerging young forward Lamar Odom, who had partnered with Wade to lead the Miami Heat to an impressive run to the second round in the Eastern Conference playoffs the prior season, and whom the Heat had pursued for years before landing him as a restricted free agent the prior summer.
The Heat agreed.
And so it was settled. Miami sent its second- and third-best players, Odom and Caron Butler, to Los Angeles, along with draft picks, in exchange for O’Neal’s services.
So while the Nets will undoubtedly be seeking the premium player from every one of Durant’s suitors, it is more likely that the package looks like a bigger version of what Miami gave up: promising young players plus a multitude of draft picks going to Brooklyn.
Lesson 2: The stars often have a say
When a star player makes a trade demand, they tend to have input in how the negotiations play out.
Consider the eventually failed negotiations between the Lakers and Chicago Bulls in 2007. Kobe Bryant had decided he wanted to play for the Bulls, but in every package that the Lakers proposed, forward Luol Deng was the centerpiece going back to Los Angeles.
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There was only one problem: Bryant wouldn’t approve a trade to Chicago that included Deng in the deal. Why? Because he didn’t want to wind up in another situation in which he wouldn’t have the kind of chance to win a championship.
And so the whole deal screeched to a halt.
How is this instructive for what’s happening now with Durant? Two reasons: 1) Teams aren’t going to put themselves in a position in which they have to trade so much of their roster that they won’t be in championship contention. And, 2) For his part, Durant won’t be thrilled, either, with the prospect of joining a team that isn’t able to contend.
Lesson 3: Sometimes it takes a surprising missing piece
When a team is trying to acquire a player of Durant’s caliber, it’s not always the case that they have everything that a team like the Nets would be looking for in exchange.
That was something the LA Clippers learned in 2019 — the last time the league endured a seismic shakeup like this one — when Kawhi Leonard chose to join them.
However, when Leonard informed the Clippers of his decision, picking them over — among other teams — the Toronto Raptors, with whom he’d just won an NBA championship, and the Lakers, he had a stipulation: He wanted to play with Paul George.
There was just one problem: George was under contract for multiple seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
That meant the next call the Clippers made wasn’t to set up a party to celebrate Leonard’s arrival — but, instead, to the Thunder, where Oklahoma City’s executive vice president and general manager, Sam Presti, extracted a massive haul of players, including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and multitudes of draft picks to send George to Los Angeles.
Throughout these negotiations, there will be teams that likely have some assets Brooklyn desires — but not everything. It would be hard for any team to check all the boxes in what could be the biggest return for a star player the league has ever seen.
But what the Nets can do, like Leonard did three years ago, is tell those teams what they want, and work with them to supplement the return to get a deal over the line.
Every negotiation is unique. But as we look ahead to how the Kevin Durant deal could take shape, history shows the various factors the Nets will be working through to find an acceptable deal for their superstar.