Searching for the next KD

By Devin Zanskas


While it was underwhelming, the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving era for the Nets had moments of brilliance, most notably pushing the eventual 2021 champions, the Bucks, to the brink of elimination. Although health is always a factor when teams prepare for a title run, the Nets were especially unlucky, like when Kyrie went down in Game 4, and when James Harden played injured in Games 5,6, and 7. That core’s lack of availability led to their time together being cut short, with Harden being traded to the 76ers, and then Kyrie being sent to the Mavericks. The KD move was the last shoe to drop.

Three days after the Kyrie trade, the Nets acquired Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and four unprotected first-round picks from the Phoenix Suns for KD and TJ Warren, according to ESPN. Losing KD after he played in less than three seasons will always be tough to swallow, but besides the draft capital, Bridges was producing enough to look like a reasonable centerpiece for a trade like this. From the start of 2023 through his final game for the Suns, Bridges averaged 20.2 points, which is more than he ever scored for a season, but then he averaged 26.1 points in his first 27 games for the Nets. Over a larger sample this year, Bridges didn’t have the same output as last spring, as he posted just shy of 20 points per game with his lowest field goal percentage since his rookie season. Even if this showed that Bridges can’t be a number one option on a championship team, his two-way impact gives him a chance to be a second option, or at least one of the best number three guys. Some other excellent defenders in the Nets’ starting lineup are Nic Claxton, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Dennis Schröder. Last year, Claxton finished ninth in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, and Finney-Smith had seven second team all-defensive team votes for the 2022 season. Although Schröder just arrived at the trade deadline, and is only 6’1” per Basketball Reference, he earned a first team all-defensive team vote, and two second team votes in 2021. Somehow, the Nets only finished 20th in defensive rating despite having the four aforementioned contributors on the defensive end of the court, and other positive defenders coming off the bench. Meanwhile, the Nets couldn’t compensate with their offense, but they had one bright spot on that side of the floor in Cam Thomas, who scored 22.5 points per game.



At the deadline, there was noise about the Nets maybe targeting Jalen Green from the Houston Rockets, who own two unprotected first rounders and two unprotected first-round pick swaps from the Nets. Recovering at least one of their future first-round picks allows the Nets to hold more control over their organization’s destiny, since as of right now, they won’t have their own first rounder until 2028. Until then, tanking isn’t a real option for them if they think that they’ll be even lower in the standings than they were this season, as they missed the play-in tournament with the 11th seed. Besides the draft picks that are intriguing for the Nets, Green might have more of a star trajectory than anyone on the Nets’ current roster. Thomas averaged more points this year than Green, but Green played next to Alperen Sengun, who had a breakout season with career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. Other than being a top draft pick and being given the keys to the offense right away, Green is also more of a nuclear athlete than Thomas, so it might be easier for fans to see Green as a building block. Another star with a longer track record of success that the Nets could pursue is the Hawks’ point guard, Trae Young, according to Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus.

Per, if a team is sending out at least $19.6 million, which would be the case if the Nets trade Bridges to get a star, then the other party can ship off 125% of that outgoing salary, plus $100,000. The same applies the other way around though, for example, if the Nets were to receive Trae in a deal, they would have to send out at least $34,345,552, because Trae’s making $43,031,940 next year. With the contracts for Bridges and Schröder, the Nets have enough money to acquire Trae, or if they can exchange Bridges for Dejounte Murray instead, they wouldn’t have to include Schröder. The issue with targeting the Hawks is that they’re in a similar situation compared to the Nets, in which another team owns their first rounders, so they may be better off working with the Rockets. Regardless, the Nets are in a position where their best player, Bridges, has one of the best contracts in the league, but that’s only guaranteed through the 2026 season. If the Nets don’t believe that Bridges has the promise that he showed at the end of 2023, and he can’t lift them into the postseason, then they should consider trading him before he’s on an expiring deal. A couple of players around the level of Bridges are Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, who both got traded before the deadline, but the Raptors could’ve gotten more for them if they were moved last year. 



In the Siakam trade, the Raptors received three first-round picks, two of which are for this year, a draft that’s considered to be relatively weak, and otherwise just role players. Contrary to Siakam, Anunoby brought back two promising young players in RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley, but only one second-round pick was added to the deal for the Raptors. Perhaps the Nets could learn from the Raptors indecision, and be prepared to act at the deadline if the 2025 season starts to look more like this year. In the Raptors’ defense, they had core players remaining from when they won a ring, and then they drafted an elite prospect in Scottie Barnes. However, the Nets are already a season removed from having any of their Big 3, so it should be easier to sell the idea of moving on from their talent if they have less of a history of winning. The only player remaining from when the Nets took the Bucks to seven games is Claxton, and he’s an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The Nets have $36.5 million in luxury tax space, even if they guarantee Jalen Wilson’s salary for next season, and if Cam Johnson earns his unlikely bonuses. Furthermore, because Claxton has been with the Nets for three or more years, they have full bird rights for him, which means that they could offer him a maximum contract, if his market was that robust. Retaining Claxton is vital because he’ll help raise the Nets’ defensive floor for the next several years, but after they hopefully re-sign him, they’ll have to focus on finding an offensive engine.