Within Brian Windhorst’s free-agency deep dive for ESPN is an interesting nugget: Kevin Durant forced the Golden State Warriors to add a protected first-round pick to the sign-and-trade deal that sent him to the Brooklyn Nets for D’Angelo Russell.
That pick, according to Windhorst, will be conveyed as a first-rounder to the Nets if the Warriors register one of the NBA’s 10 best records next year, or else it will turn into a second-rounder in the middle of next decade — when Durant will be approaching his 37th birthday and presumably working on his next contract. Weird.
Here is how Windhorst explains it:
First, Durant initially balked at being traded for Russell straight up, multiple sources said. He didn't think it was a fair deal, and in this case, the Warriors had to not just satisfy the Nets, but also Durant.
Leverage was applied by the player, and Golden State had to include a first-round pick before Durant would agree to sign off. The Warriors begrudgingly gave it up and did so with a heavy condition: If the pick falls within the top 20 next year, they don't have to send it, and instead will only give Brooklyn a second-round pick ... in six years. It's one of the most unusual pick protections the NBA has seen recently.
The “didn’t think it was a fair deal” bit is hard to suss out. Did he think being traded for Russell was insulting? The Warriors were trying to salvage anything rather than lose Durant for nothing, and, by this logic, isn’t it more insulting to be traded along with a first-round pick for Russell? Or was it the opposite? Was the unfairness in trading a 30-year-old superstar with a torn Achilles for a 23-year-old rising star?
I guess I don’t really get the fairness aspect of it. Russell was leaving Brooklyn anyway. Isn’t there some honor in helping the team you are leaving — the team that helped you win two championships — if it comes at no cost to your new team? Maybe not if you hold them responsible for an Achilles injury you are rehabbing.
I think the most likely explanation is that Durant felt a first-round pick would help the Nets build a championship team. That is the smart play, unlike how Carmelo Anthony leveraged the New York Knicks into trading all their assets during the season when he could have just joined a fully stocked roster the following summer.
The protections add some complexity to this theory. All it took to satisfy Durant was to sell the Nets on either a late first-round pick in what is expected to be a weak draft or a second-rounder in 2026? Neither asset is likely to help Brooklyn build a championship contender around Durant by the end of his current contract. If this is evidence of the summer of leverage, Durant’s was not applied too strongly.
Regardless, Durant ensured his exit out of Golden State would sting just a bit more.
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