When Kevin Durant requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets on June 30th, it sent the league into a frenzy. Every contender and would-be-contender kicked the tires on a potential move, but nearly eight weeks later, Durant and the Nets have decided that they’ll renew their vows.
The idea of Durant leaving Brooklyn was as exciting for Houston Rockets fans as it was for those fanbases that believed he could join them. Due to the James Harden trade, the Rockets either own or have the right to swap first-round picks with the Nets from now until 2027.
The thinking in Houston was that without Kevin Durant, the Nets are a significantly worse team, and thus their outgoing picks are primed to be more valuable. That’s true, but that was never the bet the Rockets made when they traded Harden to Brooklyn. Their goal wasn’t to collect a bunch of late lottery picks; it was to get a steady stream of late first-round picks with a chance at nabbing a top-five pick in 2025 and beyond.
Why Kevin Durant leaving Brooklyn would hurt the Rockets in the long run
Every proposed trade involving Kevin Durant saw the Nets land a far inferior but far younger player, along with additional players and assets. Would that hurt the Nets’ chances of winning a championship between now and 2027? Absolutely, but it would also greatly increase their chances of being mediocre from 2024 to 2027, which is far less enticing than one would think.
The average expected career win shares based upon draft position between 1976 and 2020 follows an exponential pattern.
In terms of career value, there are ranges of picks that are of essentially equal value. The first pick is in its own tier, followed by picks two through five, then picks six through 13, then picks 14 through 18, and finally picks 19 through 30.
In reality, if the Nets finish with the best record or the 11th best record, they’re sending the Rockets a similarly valuable pick. Even if they were to slip into the back end of the lottery, the average career win shares of players selected six through 13 is 31.9. To give you some perspective, Lou Williams has the 250th most career win shares and he comes in at 65.75.
The Rockets bet on the Nets being all-in right now
The bet the Rockets made was that the Nets would be terrible in one of 2025, 2026, or 2027, and Kevin Durant actually helps that. Durant turns 34 in a month and is entering the first year of a four-year extension. He won’t be great forever, and because of that, the Nets are primed to make win-now decisions to maximize his few remaining peak years.
The more all-in the Nets are right now, the better for the Rockets. The James Harden trade was about landing at least one top-five pick. Does having the 15th pick compared to the 30th pick sound great? Yes, but we’re talking about a difference in career win shares of 12.8 compared to 21.8.
Durant making up with the Nets prevents the immediate high of dunking on Nets fans and everyone that criticized the Harden trade (hello, Bill Simmons) on Twitter. But the real dunk, the dunk that could actually change the trajectory of the franchise, is landing two top-five picks just as Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr, Tari Eason, and Alperen Sengun, along with whomever they select in the 2023 draft, enter their primes.
That would prove the Rockets right. Watching Ben Simmons, another low-tier All-Star, and a roving cast of misfit toys make the play-in for the next half-decade would be just as depressing for Nets fans as it would be for the Rockets.