Extending Kevin Durant Is Not the Most Important Move the Brooklyn Nets Made to Solidify Their Championship Future
Kevin Durant is arguably the best player in the entire NBA, yet signing him to an extension is not the most important move the Brooklyn Nets made this offseason.
Durant is unquestionably the vital piece to Brooklyn’s championship puzzle. He showed as much with a string of absurd playoff performances this past season. However, in terms of ensuring sustained success, his contract is but one small piece of a far bigger picture as the Nets hope to build the next NBA dynasty.
The Nets hit the jackpot in the 2021 NBA Draft
Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving give the Nets three of the most dangerous scorers in basketball, but they found another bucket-getter in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Brooklyn was fortunate to select LSU guard Cameron Thomas with the 27th overall pick, given the three-level scoring ability he displayed with the Tigers. Thomas averaged 23.0 points during his freshman season in Baton Rouge. His shooting percentages (just over $40 from the field and 32% from deep) leave something to be desired, but it’s hard to ignore his ability to create off the bounce and get downhill in transition.
The shooting percentages also only mean so much when considering Thomas’ slashing ability. He averaged 7.6 free throws this past season, a pretty remarkable number for a college player and especially a freshman guard. Given Thomas’ aptitude for getting to the line and creating off the dribble, he will only be more dangerous as he fine-tunes the stroke.
It might not seem the Nets need more scoring with Durant, Harden, and Irving leading the charge. However, Thomas infuses playmaking in the bench unit and is also a crucially important option should any of Brooklyn’s stars once again be hampered by injury.
Brooklyn lessened financial constrictions by trading DeAndre Jordan while also getting a talented youngster in return
Kevin Durant was but the first domino. The Nets are also desperately trying to sign The Beard and Uncle Drew to extensions. To do so, they needed to carve out more future cap space and avoid luxury tax penalties. Trading DeAndre Jordan accomplished that goal.
Brooklyn sent Jordan to the Detroit Pistons, saving $47 million in salary and luxury tax. The Nets still have the second-highest luxury tax, per Spotrac, but were able to spread Jordan’s money out in the form of new acquisitions Jahlil Okafor and Sekou Doumbouya (from the Pistons) as well as free-agent signings LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap.
Speaking of Doumbouya, it’s important to remember he was the No. 15 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The 20-year-old didn’t see much action in Detroit, but might be able to unlock his talent in Brooklyn. He did average 10.7 points and 4.8 rebounds over his final nine games. There is some upside, even if it’s a small sample size.
Doumbouya can be an athletic wing who defends and rebounds. He’s also developed a keen sense of awareness off the ball, which could benefit him as the perimeter jumper and handle become more refined.
Although Doumbouya might be forced to spend a good chunk of the 2021-22 season in the G Lague due to Brooklyn’s crowded frontcourt, he is the kind of upside guy who can eventually complement Durant and the rest of the team’s stars and even possibly develop into a star in his own right.
Will Durant’s co-stars sign on?
Durant committed to Brooklyn by signing his extension. Now, the question is whether Harden and Irving will do the same. The Nets seem to be in a better position to sign all three than they were before.
Trading Jordan alleviates a lot of financial burdens. Brooklyn can also feel confident tying so much money to its three stars because the organization was able to obtain some young players –notably Thomas and Doumbouya — who eventually figure to play sizable roles, thereby negating the need to constantly use free agency or the trade market to fill out the roster. Alas, all that remains is getting Harden and Irving to sign on the dotted line.
The Durant extension was the baseline for Brooklyn’s offseason. But the supplemental moves give them depth and complementary pieces for the future and make the task of signing the remaining members of the “Big 3” seem less punitive from a luxury tax standpoint.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference and CBB Reference.