The Celtics and Heat have the pieces to trade for Kevin Durant. But should they?

The best of the best in the Eastern Conference was decided by a shot.

If Jimmy Butler had held the ball two inches back in his right hand to lift it a little higher if he had just taken a little more time to collect himself if not the slightest breeze through the Miamis bottom bowl Arena would have blown At that particular moment, Butlers 3 might go in at the end of Game 7 and it would be the Heat instead of the Boston Celtics going into the NBA Finals.

It should be said that the Celtics went 2-1 up against the Golden State Warriors in the Finals before things fell apart. The point is that Boston’s team came pretty close to winning a championship. So you can say that the heat wasn’t that far away either.

So, should either of the top two teams in the East consider dramatically changing what they’ve built to take on Kevin Durant?

Ever since news broke of Durant’s request that the Brooklyn Nets trade him, the sentiment in stories from across the NBA like this one is that essentially 29 teams are interested. “Kevin Durant is crazy,” said a Warriors source the athlete‘s Marcus Thompson discussing why Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green wouldn’t object to a reunion with their enigmatic former co-star. The same report states that Warriors decision-makers are unlikely to act for Durant, although they could do so without tearing apart their core of the future Hall of Famers.

The same cannot be said for the Celtics and Heat.

Boston have already improved since the Finals without parting with a single player who has been a major influence in the last two rounds of the playoffs. Dejected by the dual combination of poor bench play and the lack of a ball handler who could dribble into the lane without turning the ball over in the finals, the Celtics brought in Malcolm Brogdon from the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Daniel Theis, Aaron Nesmith and Nik Stauskas , two other players and a first round selection. Then Boston agreed to a free-agent deal with Danilo Gallinari and gave the franchise two legitimate scoring chances off the bench after reaching Game 6 of the Finals, with only Derrick White consistently filling that role.

To get Durant off the Nets, Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens would likely have to bring Jaylen Brown in as a centerpiece. Brown turns 26 at the start of next season, was an All-Star two seasons ago and could have been last season had he not been injured last season. The Celtics ranked him third in 2016 and reached the Eastern Conference Finals in his first two seasons, both with Stevens as head coach. Brown has developed into a two-way force, averaging over 20 points, and is one of the key components of the fierce, shifting defense that the Celtics used to pound their way to the top last winter. He has contested four conference finals and now has a taste of the finals.

When he’s healthy, Durant is widely regarded as one of the best — maybe even the best — players in the entire league. Which, with all due respect to Brown, means Durant is the better player. Just last summer he took Team USA on his back and led them to a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. (Celtics star Jayson Tatum, it should be noted, was on that team). But Durant is nearing his 34th birthday, has played just 90 games out of 226 over the past three seasons, and the Celtics aren’t on his list of favorite targets — or at least behind the frontrunners. Durant has also shown that he enjoys moving.

Acquiring Durant comes with some risk, but it also requires Stevens to part ways with a player in Brown he raised in the NBA, one who has helped the Celtics get this far and one , which is all-star caliber while just entering its prime.

The Heat must be looking at Kevin Durant longingly. (Andy Marlin / USA Today)

The Heat are in a different location, and not just because they’re reportedly one of Durant’s favorite travel destinations.

The legend of “heat culture” endures under President Pat Riley. If anything, it’s grown since Miami’s big three, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, parted ways in 2014. The Heat remained competitive and never went into tank mode, while players practiced hours a day while having to buy into a defense -First, philosophy where toughness matters. When Miami finally acquired its first star in its prime since LeBron in Butler, the history of Heat culture stalled because Butler’s kind of a tough ass. He will fight in training if he has to and he loves to defend himself.

“We’re not for everyone,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has said time and time again, to the point where he’s tired of saying it.

What this mantra masks is the franchise’s insatiable need for stardom. The idea of ​​Durant or even Kyrie Irving joining the Heat no doubt interests Miami’s Brain Trust. Take her to South Beach and find out the rest later.

Take PJ Tucker, who’s no star but a versatile, tough, defense-first bulldog the Heat fell in love with during his only season there. Spoelstra gushed over him throughout the playoffs, marveling at Tucker’s stubbornness in not even allowing his coach to discuss Tucker’s health with team coaches (he had a bad knee). Tucker, Spoelstra said, is the epitome of what the entire franchise has stood for for decades.

“He’s a Miami Heat guy,” Spoelstra said on the night the Celtics eliminated Miami from the playoffs.

However, when it came time to keep Tucker this summer, the heat didn’t go the extra mile. They reportedly offered him a free agent contract worth more than $8 million a year for three seasons, but it would not match the 76ers’ three-year contract of $33 million. This would have triggered the hard cap, limiting Heat’s ability to make a large trade now or on the February deadline. Culture at this price was not worth it.

Due to a separate league rule, the Heat cannot trade Bam Adebayo for Durant while Ben Simmons is on Brooklyn’s list. Both players are paid for a Designated Rookie Max overtime and you cannot have more than one on the team.

So if the Nets aren’t trading with Simmons, the Heat’s way of getting Durant could mean a Butler-centric trade pack. Relations between the franchise and Butler improved dramatically starting in March, when an ugly blast on the bench between Butler and Spoelstra involved fight challenges and Spoelstra slammed his clipboard shut as Butler walked back onto the court. Those relationships improved because Butler carried Miami to the brink of the finals. He scored 47 points in Game 6 in Boston and was brilliant again in Game 7, coming so close to winning that game with his final shot.

The Heat has treated its stars well over the years, from Wade and Shaquille O’Neal to Alonzo Mourning to LeBron and Bosh. They will reward you for your loyalty. They also showed this season that they would relax some of the “heat culture” rules to accommodate players like Butler or Kyle Lowry or even Tucker, as I documented when covering them in their playoffs.

If getting Durant means moving Butler, star by star, will the Heat be willing to make that move, not to mention the ancillaries Miami would need to include?

This is also the tricky part of empowering NBA players. Durant is forcing his way out of Brooklyn with a whopping four years and $198 million remaining on the contract, and he has preferred options for his next target. Miami is one, and so is Phoenix. But with a contract this massive, and the NBA rules for trading such contracts, most potential suitors would have to give up so much to acquire it. It begs the question of how attractive these teams will be to Durant without some of the players that made these teams good from the start.

If they trade him, the Nets will be the worst team Durant has ever left. When he left Oklahoma City as a free agent, the Thunder had just lost a 3-1 lead against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. By the time he moved to Brooklyn from Golden State, he had won two of three playoffs with the Warriors and might have gone three to three if he hadn’t torn his Achilles tendon in Game 5 in 2019. The Nets barely made the playoffs that year and were swept out of the first round.

The top two teams in East last season have the assets to compete at Durant. What both teams would look like after such a trade, and how much closer they would be to winning a final, is the discussion they have behind closed doors about “the frigging Kevin Durant.”

(Top photo by Jayson Tatum and Kevin Durant: Paul Rutherford/USA Today)

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