Rapid Reaction: Kevin Durant Signs With Brooklyn Nets
The biggest free agent of the 2019 class already made his decision: Kevin Durant has agreed to a four-year, $164M deal with the Brooklyn Nets. Beginning as early as the start of the 2018-19 season, rumblings about Durant leaving Golden State made their way around the Association. Now those rumors have come to fruition with arguably the greatest player in the world taking his talents away from the Bay Area to come East. Let’s take a look at the implications of Durant’s move from an NBA and fantasy basketball perspective.
Durant suffered a calf strain against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals, which caused him to miss all of the Western Conference Finals and Games 1-4 of the NBA Finals. Down 3-1 to the Raptors, Golden State decided to bring Durant back for Game 5. He suffered a torn Achilles early in the game, and he will presumably miss all of the 2019-20 regular season. Now in Brooklyn, new teammate Kyrie Irving will have a significant role on offense that should give him a major fantasy boost. Irving’s dynasty value goes down slightly because of Durant’s eventual return, but the former should be a top-20 option for the upcoming season.
DeAndre Jordan’s fantasy stock also rises for the coming season, as he and Irving will be the focal points on offense. Jordan averaged a double-double once again last season and averaged 11.7 points and 13.7 rebounds per game cumulatively over the last seven seasons.
The Nets utilized a pick and roll on 20.6 percent of plays last season, good for the seventh-best mark in the NBA. The 0.89 points per possession achieved were good for 10th-best. The Celtics, on the other hand, ran pick and rolls just 14.6 percent of the time, the NBA’s sixth-lowest mark. Irving posted 0.99 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball handler last season, and with the increase in usage for these types of plays, he should succeed with Jordan.
Despite D’Angelo Russell’s All-Star season in 2018, Brooklyn will be more competitive with Irving and Jordan (should both remain healthy) and make another playoff run next season. The career numbers for both players aren’t too far off for Irving (22.2 points, 5.7 assists, 1.3 steals) and Russell (16.5 points, 5.1 assists, 1.2 steals), but Irving is a more explosive playmaker with a championship already under his belt. Brooklyn’s rebounding numbers are sure to go up thanks to Jordan’s strong ability to crash the glass. He has twice led the league in rebounds in his career and averaged 11.4 boards per game last seasons.
As for the rest of the team, Brooklyn did not yield too many fantasy-relevant contributors last season. Joe Harris was useful primarily for his three-point shooting. Ed Davis was serviceable on occasion for his rebounding abilities, and Jarrett Allen could be a great source of double-doubles at times. The value of all of those players will obviously take a hit, but you weren’t counting on them for consistent production in 2019-20.
Durant’s fantasy value is trending up in Brooklyn compared to Golden State. The Warriors had too many mouths to feed, and KD will take on a heavier offensive load with the Nets. Expect an increase in production when he returns.
Durant was supposed to be the New York Knicks’ prize acquisition in free agency. After wallowing in mediocrity for nearly two decades, they finally had a chance to land a franchise-altering player and transcendent talent. Durant was reportedly ready to sign with them, but the Knicks did not offer him a max contract because of his Achilles injury. Excuse me? This was finally the big break in the Big Apple, but management whiffed and offered the best player in the world less than what he’s worth. It’s unfathomable, but it’s what we’ve come to expect from this team.
Because Durant didn’t sign with the Knicks, New York had to spend its money elsewhere. The big signing was Julius Randle (three-year, $63M), who averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 34.4 percent from three and 73.1 percent from the charity stripe for the Pelicans last season. The points and shooting percentages are all career highs for the five-year vet. In addition to Randle, the Knicks also signed Taj Gibson, Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington, Bobby Portis, and Elfrid Payton. Had Durant signed, most if not all of these players would be playing elsewhere. The same is true of Jordan, who was always tied to his good friend Durant. Both were expected to sign with the same team, so Jordan would have remained with the Knicks.
Young Knicks players such as Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, and recent number-three pick R.J. Barrett will all be more valuable in dynasty formats as a result of Durant joining the Nets. Randle receives the biggest season-long boost, simply because he may not have been signed had Durant ended up with the Knicks. Randle could be the offensive centerpiece this season or at least share those duties with Barrett while the former Blue Devil gets up to speed. The former is a top-35 fantasy option this season.
It’s no secret that part of Durant’s reasoning for leaving the Golden State dynasty was his feeling that he didn’t belong, thanks in part to the media, fans, and peers. Many saw Durant as a “bandwagoner” after joining the Golden State juggernaut that had won an NBA-record 73 games the season prior and played in two consecutive Finals. Durant reportedly felt underappreciated by Warriors fans. He helped deliver back-to-back titles for Golden State in 2017 and 2018, winning Finals MVP both times and beating LeBron James‘ Cleveland Cavaliers in eight of nine games collectively.
Despite the overwhelming success, Durant was often viewed separately from the rest of the team as a rented mercenary or gun for hire. The core (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) was the cake, and Durant was simply the icing — delicious, but not necessary. Whispers of “the Warriors don’t need KD” became louder and louder as last year’s regular season wore on, and Green reportedly said the words aloud last November. Those whispers finally came to a head in the Finals, when Golden State lost in six games to the Raptors without Durant. The loss helped to dispel any notion that the Warriors were better without him, but the damage had already been done.
Now, Durant gets a fresh start to join a fledgling Nets team that has never even sniffed a championship since moving to Brooklyn. Should he raise a championship banner in the Barclays Center, he’ll firmly cement his legacy as one of the top five to ever play the game. Durant will get to be the focal point of his new team without any whispers or questions. He had to share the spotlight with Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City and defer praise and adulation of Warriors fans to Curry, but it’s the Durant show in Brooklyn now. As his friend Kendrick Perkins noted, “Finally, he got his own team.”
Obviously, Durant signing with the Nets will cause reverberations around the league. As mentioned above, the Knicks’ entire offseason plans focused around landing him. With Durant and his max deal out of the picture, they had to change course. The Lakers should have an increased chance to sign Kawhi Leonard because of Durant. With Durant going to the East, Leonard may not like his path to the Finals anymore. If he signs with the Raptors, he’ll have to face Durant and the Nets to have a chance at another title. Should he team up with James and Anthony Davis, a trip to the Finals seems a near-lock for years to come. Russell’s sign-and-trade to the Warriors never happens if Durant doesn’t go to Brooklyn. That addition will mean a few more wins for Golden State in 2019-20, but the long-term outlook isn’t nearly as bright without KD in the picture. Russell gives the Warriors a chance to compete, but the dynasty is likely over.
Milwaukee overpaid for Khris Middleton and brought back Brook Lopez and George Hill to keep last year’s Eastern Conference Finals team mainly intact (minus Malcolm Brogdon). The Bucks’ window to win a title is this year, especially if Leonard goes to a Western Conference team. The Nets are not guaranteed a title run in 2020-21 when Durant returns, but they should be favorites in the East, which could cause an arms race among Eastern Conference teams in the coming years.