Tomase: Why blowing it up to get Durant is the wrong path for Brad Stevens originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The news dropped as suddenly as a tornado, with the potential to leave a similar trail of devastation: Kevin Durant wants out of Brooklyn.
Durant immediately becomes the prize of the NBA offseason, his future sure to produce a frenzy of speculation linking him to half the contenders in the league.
The Celtics are already on the short list, for obvious reasons. They're capable of winning a title, which should appeal to Durant's ring collection. And they're blessed with a young All-Star in Jaylen Brown to serve as the legitimate centerpiece of any deal.
To all of that I say, no thank you.
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Durant's an incredible talent and if healthy, he makes the Celtics the favorites to raise Banner 18. Imagine the recently concluded Finals with Durant drilling silky 15-footers in the halfcourt instead of the Celtics playing a cross between Marco Polo and bumper cars on offense. Draymond Green's podcast would be on hiatus.
Fantasizing about Durant in Boston makes perfect sense. Good luck finding the length and quickness to defend both Durant and Jayson Tatum, the first-team All-NBA selection who could inherit the former's mantle as the league's best pure scorer. You can't double both of them.
Except don't be seduced, because the Celtics should sit this one out for a host of reasons.
First of all, Durant turns 34 in September, and he hasn't exactly been a model of reliability the last three years. He missed the 2020 Bubble season while recovering from a torn Achilles. He returned and promptly missed 23 games with a hamstring strain. He spent two months last year on the shelf with an MCL sprain.
Players get more injury-prone as they age, not less, and Durant boasts 1984 Corolla amounts of mileage. He debuted for the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007, when his teammates included 1994 UConn All-American Donyell Marshall. At some point, he'll slow down. He certainly looked weary the last time we saw him, when Steve Nash played him into the ground for 44 minutes a night and the Celtics harassed him into his worst playoff shooting in more than a decade during a first-round sweep.
If there's a magic number for players of Durant's skill level, it's 34. That's how old Michael Jordan was when he won his last title. It's when Kobe Bryant blew out his Achilles, Paul Pierce made his final All-Star team, and Dwyane Wade won his last playoff series. (To be fair, it's also when Durant's former teammate, Steph Curry, lit up the Celtics en route to Finals MVP just a couple of weeks ago.)
Unless you're named LeBron James, now is generally when the ravages of time permanently claim the upper hand. The Celtics could risk everything they've built on Durant being the exception, but it's unnecessary.
Maybe you forgot, but they just finished two wins shy of a title. They did that by establishing an identity built around suffocating defense and positional versatility. Brown fits that mold. Tatum certainly does. So does Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, and Grant Williams. Importing Durant would require changes.
"So what?" you say. OK, but the Celtics spent years ignoring incessant calls to break up the Jays, and now that they're on the cusp with one of the youngest cores in the league, they're going to throw it all away in the pursuit of another white whale? They tried this with Kyrie Irving and they're lucky they escaped with their lives.
Durant is an incredible player. There's no question he's better than Brown. But he's not more reliable and I can't believe I'm saying this after all the time we've spent dissecting their relationship, but the Jays can play together and Brown wants to be here. We have no idea if Durant fits and no idea if he'd stay invested.
His recent track record isn't great. He left Golden State after butting heads with Green and failing to integrate with the homegrown core. He joined the Nets amid much fanfare, won just one playoff series in three years, and now wants out.
And let's not turn a blind eye to the incredible dysfunction that marked Durant's Brooklyn tenure. Any team featuring Irving and (briefly) James Harden probably isn't destined to serve as a bedrock of stability, but where was Durant's leadership when everything fell apart? Now he's ready to cut and run. Trusting that he won't do the same a year from now is a leap of faith, especially since he never seemed particularly enamored with Boston's treatment of his good friend Irving.
Finally, there's the significant matter of the return. The Nets won't give Durant away, especially within the division. The idea that Brown, Daniel Theis, and pick swaps will land him is a fantasy. Robert Williams would almost certainly have to be a part of any deal. That's the only way to compete with a package out of Miami centered around Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro and All-Star big man Bam Adebayo.
The Suns could offer defensive stopper Mikal Bridges and former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton. The Grizzlies can dangle Jaren Jackson Jr., the league's No. 1 shot blocker, as well as rugged guard Desmond Bane (though Jackson will miss 4-6 months after undergoing foot surgery).
The Celtics are already thin on first-round picks after dealing one to San Antonio for Derrick White. That's important, because 3/8 of their playoff rotation -- Robert Williams, Grant Williams, and Payton Pritchard -- arrived between picks 22 and 27. Surrounding your max stars with young, cheap talent is the surest way to remain competitive for more than a year.
And that's why I ultimately come down on the side of no. Durant might put you over the top in 2023, but he could just as easily show his age and you could just as easily get there without him. Four years ago, this would've been a no-brainer. But today? Too much unnecessary risk. The Celtics are done searching.
Why start over when you're only just getting started?