The NBA simply refuses to go into hibernation, as evidenced by middle-of-the-night and early-morning reports that the Boston Celtics offered a package headlined by Jaylen Brown to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Kevin Durant.
ESPN first reported the Celtics’ interest in a deal while noting the ability to include Brown as a centerpiece, but noted that "there are no deals believed to have traction for Durant." The Athletic reported that Boston had "tremendous interest" and offered a package of Brown, Derrick White, and a draft pick that was rejected by Brooklyn.
Throughout much of the Danny Ainge era and especially since Brad Stevens has taken over that post, the Celtics often have operated under a cloak of secrecy in trade negotiations. The deal to secure White at the trade deadline earlier this year and the more recent acquisition of Malcolm Brogdon flew quietly under the radar until both were near the finish line.
All of which makes the public declaration of Boston’s interest from the top of the NBA’s top insiders in late July a little suspicious. But let’s take the news at face value and ponder a few questions:
Why would Boston want to trade Jaylen Brown?
In Brown, the Celtics have a 25-year-old All-Star who has worked hard to improve his game every offseason since being secured with the No. 3 pick in the 2016 draft.
Brown is under contract for two more seasons at less-than-max money after signing a four-year extension in 2019. The Celtics can offer Brown an extension in October, but Brown can collect a far heftier payday by waiting for the summer of 2024.
If the Celtics are concerned that Brown might desire to explore free agency and is not a slam dunk to re-sign in Boston, there would be obvious motivation to ponder trade options sooner than later. To this point, there has been no indication from Brown or the Celtics that he does not envision a long-term future in Boston.
Brown did like a Tweet that suggested he is, "so disrespected by Celtics fans" in the initial aftermath of Durant’s trade request, when fans and analysts breathlessly speculated about potential Brown-for-Durant packages.
While Brown is in the conversation as a Top 25 player in the NBA, it’s undeniable that Durant is near the top of those rankings, even as he nears age 34. Boston must ponder all options to improving after coming up short in the NBA Finals.
Does the package make sense?
Brown would undeniably be as strong of a centerpiece in a deal that any NBA team could craft for Durant. The Nets would have a young All-Star to pair with whatever pieces remain, including Ben Simmons, to remain competitive and still restock draft assets.
With the addition of Brogdon, White slides a little lower on Boston’s guard depth chart, which might cause some to view him as expendable. Alas, Brogdon’s injury history and Boston’s overall need for depth suggests that White remains highly valuable, particularly given the way he fits Boston’s play-type desires on both ends of the floor.
Stevens has certainly not been bashful in his willingness to move first-round picks to bolster Boston’s roster. He’s already traded first-round picks in 2021 (as part of the Al Horford-Kemba Walker swap), 2022 (as part of the White deal), and 2023 (as part of the Brogdon deal). The Celtics could offer a robust package of future picks starting with their 2025 first-round pick and include other pick swaps (though they already have a potential 2028 first-round pick swap with San Antonio as part of the White deal).
With Durant and Jayson Tatum at the helm, the Celtics would seemingly be an NBA favorite for at least the next four seasons, limiting the value of Boston’s first-round picks. Boston would likely have to overwhelm Brooklyn with the amount of picks and the team should be reluctant to extend too far if giving up multiple starter-level players.
Could there be alternate motivation?
The buzz around Durant’s next home has dropped mightily in the aftermath of the draft and summer league. There’s more attention now on Donovan Mitchell’s availability in Utah as much of the league eases into the more typical August hibernation.
If the Nets are eager to jolt potential Durant suitors, the notion that Boston has emerged as a viable landing spot would surely aid that cause. That all reports have indicated that the Nets are no closer to a Durant deal even after Boston’s reported offer suggests this could simply be an attempt to force others into action.
Last week, in the aftermath of formally adding Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari, Stevens suggested Boston’s goal moving forward was to add without subtracting.
The Celtics have a few open roster spots but have a depth chart that is at least 10 deep, and there is little urgency to fill out those spots if the current free-agent options are less than desirable.
The bottom line
We’ll see if Monday’s reports snowball to greater action on the Durant front. The Celtics wouldn’t be doing their due diligence if they didn’t inquire about Durant’s availability and Brown’s name was invariably going to be part of any discussion about a deal.
Alas, Brown’s name dangling in these sort of reports will force Stevens and the Celtics to have potentially uncomfortable conversations with the player about the team’s desires. But being on the same page with Brown about both sides’ plans moving forward is key to evaluating his future and just how serious Boston needs to be about any such Durant inquiries.