October 3, 2022

Kevin Durant is somewhat unique among star players requesting trades in that the four years remaining on his contract opens the door for almost anyone to trade for him. He doesn’t have the power to fully dictate his destination like many others have because he can’t use free will as a weapon against unwanted franchises. Right now, fans of all 29 teams plus the Nets are building trade packages to bring Durant to their cities… but before you get too excited, there’s one very important rule we need to cover that will somewhat limit the pool. possible suitors.

It’s called the Designated Rookie Rule, and in this case it doesn’t apply to Durant himself, but to his current teammate Ben Simmons. The Designated Rookie Rule allows teams to sign players exiting rookie contracts for a five-year extension rather than the typical four. A team can nominate up to two recruits for such contracts, but there is a caveat: only one of them can be acquired by trade. Simmons, himself on a five-year contract signed with Philadelphia, already fills one of those slots. Therefore, if the Nets keep Simmons, they can’t acquire another in a trade for Durant.

This removes 12 notable players from the table for the time being in a Durant trade:

  • Luka Doncic, Mavericks
  • Trae Young, Falcons
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Clippers
  • De’Aaron Fox, Kings
  • Donovan MitchellJazz
  • Bam Adebayo, Heat
  • Jayson Tatum, Celtics
  • Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves
  • Devin Booker, Suns
  • Jamal Murray, Nuggets
  • Andrew Wiggins, Warriors
  • Joel Embiid, 76ers

Some of those players probably weren’t going to be in a Durant trade anyway. Others could easily have been. It’s equally important to note that two players have virtually identical contracts to the other 12, but not technically designated rookies. The first is Brandon Ingram. Although he did sign a five-year extension with the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2020 offseason, he did so as a restricted free agent with Bird Rights. This did not invoke the designated rookie rule, so Ingram can be traded to the Nets. Pascal Siakam has a slightly different maximum contract, governed by the Derrick Rose rule. This allowed him to earn over 25% of the salary cap in the first season of his contract, for which he qualified as the reigning All-NBA player at the time. However, the designated recruit rule is only invoked on five-year contracts. Siakam’s contract only lasts four years. This also makes it tradable on the Nets.

If any of this sounds familiar, well, it should. This isn’t the first time the designated rookie rule has presented an obstacle to a successful trade. In 2019, the Boston Celtics wanted to trade for Anthony Davis, but couldn’t because he and Kyrie Irving were on Designated Rookie extensions. Davis eventually went to the Lakers. Irving moved from Boston to Brooklyn, and another one of his teams is dealing with this problem.

There is a workaround here, but it’s going to make life much harder for the Nets. One option would be for them to just trade Simmons to another team. There would be plenty of contenders among teams that tried to get Philadelphia but couldn’t because they didn’t have the winning assets Philly was looking for. Minnesota comes to mind if the Nets want to go that route.

Or, if they prefer, they could redirect a player from this list to a third team for assets they can legally acquire alongside Simmons. Most of these players are so good they could get a meaningful return from a third team, and because many of them have several years left on their contracts, they could be traded almost anywhere.

Ultimately, Durant is such a valuable trade chip that teams will move heaven and earth to get him. If that means finding a third team to facilitate a deal, so be it. But for now, that’s going to make Brooklyn’s life a little harder as he tries to find a new home for the 2014 MVP.