Tyrese Maxey glides to the basket for a layup during pregame workout; photo by Austin Krell/The Painted Lines

The best products have the biggest prices. Whether it’s multi-billion-dollar sports franchises or mom-and-pop operations, that’s just business. For the Sixers and any pursuits of star forward Kevin Durant, that price likely includes prized young guard Tyrese Maxey. The only thing more predictable than a college freshman getting drunk off two cans of Natural Light beer is there being division amongst Sixers fans as to whether or not the local team should cash in on the charismatic youngster’s potential in an effort to land the superstar wing. So, let’s look at the only two immediately realistic ways in which the Sixers could acquire Durant.

Comparing the Sixers’ assets to other trade assets

First is the possibility that Brooklyn might favor Maxey over any other core trade asset out there.

The Suns, Heat, Celtics, and Sixers have all been mentioned as Durant’s preferred destinations. The Raptors have been mentioned as a team that presents arguably the most lucrative trade asset in the league. But, that isn’t the same thing as being on Durant’s list. Nonetheless, those are the teams that have been mentioned in conversations about Durant. So, those are the teams on which I’ll focus.

The Suns

Phoenix could’ve already completed the deal if Brooklyn was moved by a Deandre Ayton sign-and-trade. Perhaps Ayton alone as the center of a package isn’t enough. One would think that including other young assets and draft compensation would be enough if Brooklyn had any degree of significant interest in him. But, Ayton signed an offer sheet from the Pacers, which the Suns then matched. That Brooklyn let it get far enough for Ayton to sign an offer sheet elsewhere is a strong indicator that they aren’t particularly enthused by a package built around him.

Perhaps Durant holds out, and perhaps the Nets can’t stomach letting the situation drag out. In that scenario, maybe the Nets decide to accept a package around Ayton when he becomes eligible for a trade. But, the Suns appeared out of the running as soon as Ayton signed that offer sheet. 

The Heat

That takes us to the Heat. The Nets are reportedly interested in Bam Adebayo. As of this offseason, the Heat are not expected to show any openness to dealing either him or Jimmy Butler. Even if the Heat became open to dealing Adebayo, the Nets would have to trade Ben Simmons. That’s because teams are not permitted to roster more than one player signed to a designated rookie scale extension acquired via trade. So, that means any trade sending Adebayo to Brooklyn for Durant will have to involve a third team. Ultimately, if Miami remains steadfast in not trading Butler or Adebayo, that leaves Tyler Herro as the center of a trade package for Durant. 

You could make a very compelling case that Maxey is a more desirable asset than Herro is. But, Miami also owns 6 of its next 7 first-round picks. So, Maxey may clear Herro as a one-for-one trade chip. But, Herro and a bevy of first-rounders is ostensibly more enticing than Maxey is.

Still, Simmons’ presence in Brooklyn may complicate any avenue to acquiring Durant enough to make it unrealistic.

Miami actually serves as an excellent example of a point that must be made. The Heat aren’t wrong for being adamant about keeping Butler and Adebayo. The only reason to trade for Durant is if you have a core to which adding him vaults the team into title contention. If you’re giving up your whole foundation to acquire Durant, and thereby not moving or even worsening your own odds of winning a championship, there is no point. So, Miami is right to hold strong on Butler and Adebayo. Just as Phoenix is right to hold onto Devin Booker, Philly to Joel Embiid, and Boston to Jayson Tatum.

That’s also why there are only 5 or 6 teams worth discussing in the conversation. Most other teams have to compromise their structures so much to get Durant that they may be worse off when all is said and done.

In terms of ease of building a trade and asset wealth, there are then 3 teams remaining: the Raptors, Celtics, and Sixers.

The Raptors

It ultimately doesn’t really matter whether or not Durant wants to be in Toronto because he’s entering the first year of a four-year contract. He doesn’t have a no-trade clause. So, unless he comes out and says he will only play for a specific team, the Nets have total control. The Raptors have not been mentioned as a desired destination. But, they have arguably the most lucrative trade asset in the entire league in Scottie Barnes. All the reporting is bearish on Toronto including Barnes in a package for Durant. But if they decide to get serious, Barnes, matching salary, and an assortment of their 7 first-round picks through 2029 could certainly do the trick. 

Still, there’s an argument to be made that Maxey is a more desirable trade chip than Barnes is. Barnes has the physical profile of a superstar in the making. But, he’s deficient in star-level offensive skills. Coming off his rookie campaign, it’s anyone’s best guess as to whether those skills develop and translate at tip-off. You may very well be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. In that case, the raw nature of his game as we most recently knew it won’t matter much and he clears Maxey without any questions asked.

On the other hand, maybe the Nets are higher on a youngster who already has significant progressions under his belt. Maxey doesn’t have the physical gifts that Barnes has. But, he has tangible skills that have already translated in high-leverage moments. The time-tested truth is that under-sized players can achieve stardom if they are skilled enough as scorers or playmakers. Players who possess the physical gifts but lack elite offensive skills have finite ceilings, and those ceilings manifest in supporting roles.

The Celtics

Jaylen Brown is at the center of any package for Durant. His physical profile matches what you want in a modern star perfectly. He’s also a far better defender and vertical athlete than Maxey is. Brown has two years of team control on his rookie-scale extension remaining, including 2022-23, before being eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Maxey, on the other hand, is arguably a better shooter. He has established himself as a much better ball-handler, and has taken more significant leaps in less time. He also has two years left on his rookie contract before his qualifying offer, and then can enter restricted free agency. 

Neither are impressive playmakers at this point in their respective careers.

But, Maxey is five years younger than Brown is. 

All of that is to say that Brown is better right now. But, who’s to say that Maxey doesn’t surpass him — at least on offense — by the time he’s done his rookie contract? Given their career trajectories, Maxey figures to have a sharper positive slope. 

Brown still hasn’t entered his prime. But, he hasn’t made significant strides in any department outside of shooting efficiency, scoring, and defense.

So, can we reasonably assume that Brown’s ceiling is a true 3-and-D wing capable of playing off the ball and self-provisioning offense to the extent of being an All-Star candidate through his prime? If so, is he more than a complimentary star on a championship-contending team? 

You could make the case — and perhaps the overwhelmingly likely to be correct case, at that — that Maxey’s ceiling is also as a complimentary star on a championship-contending team. The difference, however, is that the age gap and career trajectories suggest that Maxey’s ceiling is as a better second star than Brown’s is. 

And perhaps the Nets are more interested in building towards the future than they are in adding a star whose next five years will likely be his best. 

Even if they are more interested in the future, they’re going to want picks conveying in the long run. There’s little point in trading Durant for a package headlined by picks that will sit late in the first round of their respective drafts. 

The trouble for the Sixers is that even in the case where the Nets view Maxey as a better one-to-one asset than they do Brown, the Celtics have 5 of their own first-round picks eligible for inclusion in a trade. 

In fact, that’s the problem the Sixers face in competing with just about any team that chooses to get involved in the Durant sweepstakes. The only first-round pick they’re eligible to trade right now is their own in 2029. It’s not like they can offer pick swaps either, as the Nets are barren of first-round picks to swap. 

So, the Nets could very well prefer Maxey over Brown as the centerpiece of a trade. It’s very difficult to imagine they’d prefer Maxey over, say, Brown and Robert Williams III or Marcus Smart. It’s very difficult to imagine they’d prefer Maxey over Brown and multiple first-rounders. 

The Celtics have reportedly been unwilling to include either Williams III or Smart, to date. But, might that tolerance change if their options are to get Durant or lose him to the rival Sixers?

It also must be considered that the Sixers need to match salary to acquire Durant. So, that means Tobias Harris must be included, whether to the Nets or elsewhere in a three-team deal. It’s incredibly difficult to imagine the Nets taking on Harris’ negative-value contract in the same deal that they send out Durant’s superstardom. It’s also difficult to imagine a third party assuming Harris’ deal to help the Sixers get Durant. 

There’s nothing all that wild about making the case that the Nets could view Maxey as the single best centerpiece asset that anyone in the Durant sweepstakes can offer. It’s increasingly unrealistic that they would choose Maxey and whatever other assets they perceive the Sixers as having over the numerous core players and/or bevy of first-round picks other teams can offer. 

There’s no concrete reporting as to who the Nets covet in these trade talks. All we know is that the Nets plan to completely dry the asset well of the team to which they trade Durant, according to Shams Charania.

We’ve established that the Sixers realistically don’t have the treasure chest necessary to land Durant on their own. So, it’s time to move on to the other possible path.

“I’ll only play for Philly.”

The second feasible scenario is that Durant grows impatient with the Nets. Maybe he’s not ecstatic about the teams making progress in talks. So, he decides to flex his muscles by letting it be known that he will only play for the Sixers. Teams might remain in pursuit because Durant has a long-term contract and that gives them time to convince him to be all-in on their franchise. But, competitors would ostensibly be persuaded to cap what they’re willing to offer if they know that Durant isn’t going to be happy to be there. 

And that’s when the Sixers take control.

It’s one of the more realistic possibilities that that is how the Sixers gain the upper hand. That does not, however, mean that it’s a particularly likely or even feasible scenario. There is the angle that Durant has a tendency to be bothered by how others view him. Hamstringing his current franchise to that degree would certainly provide fresh ammunition for his biggest detractors. 

There’s also the angle that he just doesn’t have the leverage to pull that stunt. As has already been established, Durant does not have a no-trade clause in his contract and he’s entering the first year of a four-year extension.

That’s what a source close to Durant brought up when asked whether Durant would try that move. “He doesn’t have the leverage,” the source said. “They [Brooklyn] still need some leverage, especially when they’re on bad terms like this.”

A league source is adamant that Durant isn’t concerned with going to any particular team. He just wants out of Brooklyn. The preferred destinations have been made known. But, at this moment, it does not seem likely that he’d try to force his way to any particular team. 

Still, there’s public footage of Durant running around Europe with Harden. If that’s any indicator, his preference for the Sixers may be understated. And as I reported more than a month ago, Durant and Harden have squashed any beef from the latter forcing his way out of Brooklyn in the middle of last season.

I believe Durant would like to come to Philadelphia. I don’t believe he’s about to issue an ultimatum to the Nets that would put the Sixers in front of the charge.

I’ve witnessed the front office clean up a pair of big messes since Daryl Morey arrived. So, I wouldn’t put anything past the Sixers. But, it’s extremely hard to believe that the Nets, after losing Harden to the Sixers this past February, would be particularly inclined to send Durant to Philly — whether they like the package or not. 

For the reasons laid out, I wouldn’t advise ordering your Durant/Sixers jerseys — at least not yet. 


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