Once again, it appears Kevin Durant will not be playing basketball for the Celtics.
Linking Durant to Boston began even before the superstar began his NBA career. The draft lottery had other ideas. The Celtics put on the full-court press when he reached free agency in 2016. Durant instead chased a ring with the Golden State Warriors. And now, despite having the best collection of assets to land a seemingly disgruntled Durant from the Brooklyn Nets, any thoughts of a blockbuster are gone after the Nets announced Durant is staying Tuesday.
That could ultimately be a blessing for the Celtics, who went through Durant and the Nets on the way to the NBA Finals last season. Boston should be even better in 2022-23 thanks to some shrewd moves from Brad Stevens.
But as it pertains to the long-term viability and success of the Celtics, the franchise’s next big move is now quite clear: Sign Jaylen Brown to a contract extension.
We don’t know just how much fence-mending must be done for the 2016 No. 3 pick, who was the reported centerpiece in any Boston offer for Durant. According to at least one report, Brown was in the Celtics’ initial offer and almost certainly would have been in any swap that landed Durant in Boston.
That pipe dream is over, and the Celtics’ consolation is returning a very good roster with unfinished business. Assuming Brown’s ego isn’t too bruised, Boston should make an extension for Brown a priority.
Assuming the Nets were serious about entertaining offers for Durant (an admittedly big “if”), it was at least understandable why Boston might feel comfortable parting with a franchise pillar like Brown. He has just two years left on his contract, while Durant has four. While trading Brown would have hurt, the Celtics could have taken solace in the fact that he might have left in free agency.
That’s still possible, but with the Durant dalliance done, the Celtics can make their commitment to Brown clear with some financial stability. Boston can’t technically sign Brown until the fall, and the franchise is also limited to what it can offer him. The Celtics can “only” offer him a 120% raise in the first season of a potential three-year extension. It limits Brown’s earning power in the short run, but the Celtics would have to hope the swingman takes that guaranteed payday and stays in a place he’s familiar. It could buy them some time before another monster extension that keeps him with the Celtics for a long time.
Perhaps the Celtics already have an inclination Brown is open to that sort of scenario. Otherwise, if they perceived him as a flight risk, you’d have to think Boston would have tried harder to pry Durant out of Brooklyn with hopes of maximizing the championship window for a team led by KD and Jayson Tatum.
Or maybe the Nets really never wanted to trade Durant, at least not without the greatest return in sports history. Leaking Brown’s inclusion in a Celtics offer would be a nice little tweak at a division rival, too.
How that all plays out remains to be seen, and the only sure thing is Durant won’t be a Celtic. Now that we know as much for sure, Boston’s priority should be ensuring this current championship-level core can stay intact as long as possible.