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Where Will Donovan Mitchell Land? It Depends on Kevin Durant. – The Ringer

The Jazz are open to trading their All-Star leader, but they need the Nets to trade theirs first. There’s a trio of East teams expected to make competitive runs at Mitchell.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Kevin Durant situation is holding up the NBA offseason right now. Deandre Ayton remains unsigned and the Suns desperately want KD. The Pacers and Spurs still have cap space, and could be future homes for Ayton—or others. The Lakers still have Russell Westbrook and their future firsts, and they want Kyrie Irving. What do all these teams have in common? All of them need a Durant resolution before their matters can be sorted out. And now, Donovan Mitchell is back in the news after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday that the Jazz are now willing to listen to trade offers for their All-Star guard.

Around July 1, when Rudy Gobert was dealt to Minnesota, executives around the league were mentioning three teams with interest in Mitchell: the Heat, Knicks, and Nets. In the weeks since, speculation about Mitchell’s future and where he could be headed next has only increased.

Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune reported Tuesday that the Heat have made offers for Mitchell, but none have met Utah’s demands for at least one great young player and a war chest of draft picks. The Heat remain in pursuit of Durant, but Mitchell is considered a fallback option if the Heat are unable to land him.

Getting Durant to Miami would be complicated, though. The Nets would likely want Bam Adebayo. But they already have Ben Simmons, and NBA rules prevent a team from trading for more than one player who has signed a designated rookie max extension. That’s the deal Simmons inked with Philadelphia and Adebayo did with Miami, so at least a third team would likely be required in a KD-to-Miami scenario, with that team taking Simmons. That assumes Miami would even give up Adebayo, a 24-year-old Defensive Player of the Year candidate, for the 33-year-old Durant. It’s possible a deal just isn’t there, and the Heat could instead turn their attention to Mitchell.

It’s a similar situation for the Nets in their pursuit of Mitchell since he signed the same type of rookie max with Utah. If the Nets were to acquire Mitchell, Simmons would have to be sent back to the Jazz or another team. But Brooklyn’s interest is also intriguing because to make a strong offer for Mitchell, the Nets would likely have to include part of the haul they receive for Durant or Irving.

Woj has reported for some time now the Nets want “one of the biggest trade returns in league history” for Durant. Maybe a mega-trade is in the works that satisfies them. There’s no reason for the Nets to bottom out since they don’t own most of their future first-round picks. In Mitchell, the Nets could block the Knicks from acquiring a star while also giving themselves a young foundational piece to build around. Mitchell will be only 26 next season and has three guaranteed years left on his contract.

Utah could also use Brooklyn’s interest to drive up the price in the bidding war for Mitchell. The Knicks have been the team most commonly tied to the Jazz guard, and with 11 first-round picks from 2023 through 2029, they’re armed with enough assets to make a competitive offer. Since many of their incoming firsts are come with protections, they are devalued compared to unprotected firsts. But if the Knicks want to, they can probably put the strongest offer on the table with some combination of picks and young players.

It’s unclear what players New York would need to send to Utah in a move for Mitchell, but Evan Fournier would be a realistic salary filler to make the deal match financially (though the Knicks would still need to send more money back). I can’t imagine the Knicks would give up RJ Barrett, but some combination of Obi Toppin, Cam Reddish, Immanuel Quickley, and Quentin Grimes would probably be headed Utah’s way depending on the amount of draft picks.

After the Knicks signed another 6-foot-1 guard in Jalen Brunson this offseason, it could be argued that they should pass on Mitchell. Having one small guard on the floor is enough of an issue for teams in the playoffs, never mind two. Brunson and Mitchell were just dropping 30 points on each other a few months ago. Who would they stop on defense if they shared the court? Then again, there may not be a better opportunity for New York to bring in a superstar talent. A trade could be made down the line to address the awkward backcourt fit. And when’s the last time a star actually wanted to play in New York? The temptation for Knicks brass could be too strong.

The Knicks should keep Barrett but otherwise go all in on Mitchell and figure out the rest later. But it will be pricey. A deal isn’t a certainty here, though the Jazz are now undoubtedly open just as they were with Gobert, who was dealt for five firsts plus a pick swap, bringing the Jazz to 12 total future firsts. The asking price for Mitchell is so enormous that trading him could bring the Jazz to the tops of the league in first-round picks, surpassing the Thunder (17) and Pelicans (13).

But is there a point when a team can have too many picks? Having a bunch of picks doesn’t always guarantee future success. It gives you options but after getting a picks-based deal for Gobert, maybe prioritizing the player coming back over picks would be the right path for a Mitchell trade.

Simmons and some collection of picks could have a lot of appeal. Utah is clearly rebuilding, and a low-pressure situation could be a great way for Simmons to get back on track. Plus, he likely isn’t great enough to prevent them from having high odds of landing Victor Wembanyama, a 7-foot-3 French center who’s the headliner in the 2023 NBA draft. It’s worth noting that Wembanyama is represented by Bouna Ndiaye, who is also Gobert’s agent.

Other organizations armed with a lot of draft picks or contenders looking to bolster their postseason odds could also gamble on Simmons. Take a team like the Hawks, for example. They have a valuable player they’ve been trying to move in John Collins, and with two point guards in Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, Simmons could be a perfect conductive piece with his playmaking, size, and defense.

Simmons hasn’t played in a while, and his future will be in doubt until he proves himself on the court again. But he’s an All-NBA-caliber player and he’ll be just 26 next season. The Nets should be perfectly happy keeping him and seeing what they could build. But he’s certainly not an untouchable player. If the Nets decide they want Mitchell and want to move Simmons, he still holds value despite his rocky year.

The Nets should drag all of this out as long as they can with the hope that Durant will give in and decide to return. None of these ideas or players steer Brooklyn to a better championship path than its current roster, with Durant, Irving, and Simmons, does. Plus, the Nets bolstered their depth by adding two wings in Royce O’Neale and T.J. Warren, while re-signing Patty Mills, Kessler Edwards, and Nic Claxton. On paper, the Nets have a high-powered offense with a ton of versatility on defense. If Simmons buys into his role, and if Durant and Irving stay healthy, this team can contend.

Durant could always consider returning to Brooklyn with Irving and Simmons, at least to give the franchise one more chance. If Brooklyn fails, he could push his way out during the middle of season, when he would have a better idea of his preferred homes.

Teams across the league are meeting in Las Vegas but there are so many potential moving pieces that this saga could drag deep into the summer. With so many big names involved, and so many teams with a strong desire to finalize a trade, something major is bound to happen. Eventually.

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