For Celtics, Kevin Durant trade would be the cold pursuit of a championship

The Celtics have some tough decisions to make.

Kevin Durant
Pursuing Kevin Durant would be part of the cold business of trying to win a championship. AP Photo/John Minchillo

You can see why the Celtics would want to trade for Kevin Durant.

Durant is a superstar with four years left on his contract, one of the 10-15 greatest players of all time with the potential to rise. Jayson Tatum respects him, and Durant is enough of a veteran that he doesn’t really threaten Tatum’s status in Boston. Simple enough. We can leave that one there.

You can see why the Celtics would consider trading Jaylen Brown for Durant. It’s important to note that the Celtics’ camp is not ready to say that it offered Brown at this stage, but the fact that they reportedly engaged with the Nets in any capacity suggests they are at least willing to think about it. Calling the Nets if Brown is off the table would be a waste of time for everyone involved.


Brown has two years left on his contract — two years in which he will almost certainly continue to play second banana to Tatum. Brown seems relatively content in Boston, but losing him in free agency would be an unmitigated disaster.

You can see why we are couching all of this speculation in hypotheticals. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Celtics are no closer to acquiring Durant than any of their rivals, while noting that Brown would be “at the very top” of the trade marketplace if available. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported the Celtics made Brown available (while holding back on Marcus Smart). There is a disconnect somewhere, and it does appear the Celtics are being used as leverage at some level. Still — as we mentioned before — the Celtics probably wouldn’t contact the Nets if Brown was completely off the table.

You can see why the Celtics would offer Derrick White but balk at Smart, but you can see why the Nets would want to apply pressure there. The Celtics are willing to offer maybe the most superfluous of their combo guards — Brogdon can do most of what White offers defensively while scoring more. Smart was the Defensive Player of the Year. White is very talented but would probably lose minutes next season.


The Nets, meanwhile, know the Celtics would be mostly fine on paper without Smart, but that he is the team’s “heart and soul.” If they pressure the Celtics on Smart but strike out, they could still acquire an extra pick and perhaps a rotation player — maybe Grant Williams, the guy who just defended Durant incredibly well in the first round — in a potential deal. Letting that avenue go unexplored while targeting Brown would be professional incompetence on the part of Sean Marks.

You can see the vision for the future for the Celtics, if you squint a bit. Trading for Durant transforms them from contenders to favorites in the East — and maybe even favorites in the NBA. If Durant perceptively ages in the next 2-3 years, the Celtics can still try to work out a way to bring in star help for Tatum, and they can show Tatum authoritatively that they will do whatever is necessary to try to bring in championship talent that can play alongside him.

You can see the long-term downsides for the Celtics, too. If Durant declines quickly or gets injured again, they are in deep trouble. Brad Stevens’s predecessor — Danny Ainge — was roundly criticized for trading fan favorite Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving. Stevens is in a position to build Boston into a home-grown contender, and he has done a fantastic job so far. The four-player core that just made the Finals last month of Tatum, Brown, Smart and Robert Williams were all drafted by the Celtics. Grant Williams was too. Al Horford will probably be associated with the Celtics primarily when he retires, at this point in his career.


Still, if the core value of the Celtics is the cold-hearted pursuit of championships — a very reasonable goal in the business of professional sports — then Stevens’ operating principles will look very similar to Ainge. It’s his job to build a team. It’s ownership’s job to dictate what kind of team they want to see.

What we’re trying to say is that while Wojnarowski is clear that no deal is imminent, you can see a Celtics roadmap to a Kevin Durant trade. Whether they choose that route remains to be seen.


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