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Nets trade Kevin Durant to Suns in blockbuster deal, completing teardown

Kevin Durant, a 13-time all-star forward, is headed to the Phoenix Suns after the Brooklyn Nets agreed to a blockbuster trade Thursday. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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LOS ANGELES — Seven months after Kevin Durant asked the Brooklyn Nets for a trade, the 2014 NBA MVP got his wish, thereby ending a four-year run that will be remembered as one of the most disappointing superstar team-ups in NBA history while opening a glittery new chapter that should rekindle his championship aspirations.

The Brooklyn Nets made a blockbuster trade that will send Durant and forward T.J. Warren to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for forwards Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Jae Crowder, plus four unprotected first-round picks and a 2028 first-round pick swap, a person with knowledge of the agreement confirmed Thursday. ESPN first reported the terms of the agreement, which will see Phoenix send its 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029 first-round picks to Brooklyn.

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Durant’s exit completes a teardown of Brooklyn’s vaunted “Big Three” of Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. The Nets, undone by locker room culture concerns, New York City’s vaccine mandate and personality conflicts, previously traded Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers last February and traded Irving to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.

“I’m just praying for his happiness and his well-being,” Irving said after the Mavericks’ 110-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. “We had a lot of conversations through the year about what our futures were going to look like. There was still a level of uncertainty. We just cared about seeing each other be places that we could thrive. ... This business changes so quickly. He’s getting a little bit older. I’m getting a little bit older. I just love the competition now that we can be in the same conference, and I welcome all of that. … I’m just glad he got out of there.”

If Durant had remained in Brooklyn following Irving’s departure, he would have lacked a legitimate co-star for the first time since his rookie season with the Seattle SuperSonics. Instead, he will head to the Suns, who retain all-star guards Devin Booker and Chris Paul, as well as standout center Deandre Ayton, after the deal. Durant has teamed with Paul and Booker to win gold medals with Team USA, and he shares ties to Maryland’s Prince George’s County with Suns Coach Monty Williams.

Phoenix, which advanced to the 2021 NBA Finals and entered the season as one of the favorites in the Western Conference, dropped in the standings during Booker’s recent absence with a groin injury. Booker’s return and Durant’s arrival should lift the Suns back into the West’s top tier of contenders. Warren’s inclusion in the deal should give Phoenix a scoring-minded wing to help fill out its new-look perimeter corps.

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Durant, 34, has performed like an MVP candidate this season when healthy, averaging 29.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists before suffering a knee sprain that has sidelined him since January. After expressing his frustration with Brooklyn’s lack of competitiveness last summer, he will join two like-minded souls in Booker and Paul, who are both seeking the first titles of their respective careers.

This move is about both the present and future for the Suns, given that Durant is under contract through the 2025-26 season. Paul, 36, has shown signs of age-related decline this year, but the 26-year-old Booker is a rising star who is locked in with the Suns through the 2027-28 season. Phoenix was on Durant’s short list of preferred destinations when he made his trade request last summer.

The Suns, who are now owned by United Wholesale Mortgage CEO Mat Ishbia after the ouster of disgraced owner Robert Sarver, acquired Durant without sacrificing an all-star talent.

“Today is a transformative day for this organization,” Ishbia said in a statement. "Not only is Kevin one of the greatest and most accomplished players in the history of the sport, but his character also embodies the world class commitment to excellence we are instilling across every facet of this organization.”

Bridges, 26, is the best piece in Brooklyn’s return package. A quality three-and-D forward who has expanded his offensive game this season, Bridges is an Ironman who has yet to miss a game because of injury during his five-year career. Johnson, a 26-year-old floor-spacing forward, is a 2019 lottery pick who has shot 39.6 percent on three-pointers during his four-year career. Crowder, 32, is a defensive-minded forward with extensive postseason experience.

The Nets on Thursday agreed to send Crowder, who hasn’t played this season due to a contract holdout dispute with the Suns, to the Milwaukee Bucks for five second-round picks, according to The Athletic.

While this trade helps Brooklyn replenish its draft assets, which were depleted by its 2021 trade with the Houston Rockets to acquire Harden, the franchise is now left without a centerpiece talent. After trying and failing to assemble a superteam, the Nets appear to be crafting a new identity with a roster full of high-energy and unselfish players, including Bridges, Johnson and Dorian Finney-Smith, who was acquired from the Mavericks in the Irving trade.

“After thorough evaluation of the best path forward, we believe making this trade now positions the franchise for long-term success,” Nets General Manager Sean Marks said in a statement. “Mikal and Cam are elite, ascending, versatile wings, plus the draft capital provides us additional avenues to continue to acquire talent. We remain steadfast in our commitment to building the team Brooklyn deserves.”

Since Durant and Irving teamed up in 2019, the Nets won one playoff series and never reached the Eastern Conference finals. Together with Harden, the duo flirted with a championship run in 2021 before injuries to Irving and Harden contributed to a second-round loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

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