The Raptors are still in on Durant. That doesn't mean Ujiri will rush into a trade

NBA insider Brian Windhorst joined Sportsnet 590 The FAN to discuss why Masai Ujiri holds the cards in any trade for Kevin Durant, and why he should hold on to rookie of the year Scottie Barnes, and not be negotiating from a position of desperation.

It feels like it could happen at any moment, right? Like the basketball world is one Tweet away from being altered forever, and that Tweet could come in the next hour, or the next minute, or the next second, turning the act of putting the phone down into a concession.

If you do, you might miss it.

The "it," of course, is where Kevin Durant will play next, an unknown with so much gravity that every other NBA off-season question is pulled out of view.

But while it's understandable to keep refreshing, just in case the next time is the time that the news breaks, there's reason to believe the process will unfold at a slower cadence — especially when it comes to the Toronto Raptors' involvement in the saga.

"My sense is that the Nets are not getting bowled over with incredible, breathtaking offers," Brian Windhorst, the ESPN analyst, said during an appearance on Sportsnet 590 THE FAN's Morning Show. "My sense is that the Nets aren't in love with anything they're being offered really so far. When you don't like something — in this type of negotiation — you just wait on it. And the Raptors can read that as anybody, you don't need special insight to read that. If the Nets aren't happy with what they're being offered, and the Raptors know that they are probably holding the best hand, then why would you throw the whole hand in there?"

The specifics of what may be in that hand have varied, depending on which leaks you put your faith in. Often, it's centred on some combination of OG Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr. and more draft picks than can be counted on one hand.

Beyond that? The player the Nets are widely cited as coveting most is also the player the Raptors are the least likely to part with.

Scottie Barnes, Toronto's prized young star who Durant himself marvelled at last season. So far, the broad consensus seems to be that Barnes is not available, that the Nets can and will — and should, even — ask for him in a trade but that doesn't mean he is in play. The Raptors, as Sportsnet's Michael Grange wrote last week, remain fixed on keeping him out of any package they are offering.

"What we have here is a good old fashioned negotiation," Windhorst said. "I think the Raptors are in the game — without question. I don't think that they're leading, per se. I think that they're in the game and Masai is doing his job and we'll see how it develops."

Inseparable from how the Durant situation develops is how another coveted player's summer plays out. Deandre Ayton, who short time in Phoenix on his rookie deal saw him help the team reach the NBA Finals, is moving on.

By itself, a young, talented big man with playoff reps under his belt becoming available is noteworthy. Other off-seasons, it may even be the summer's most-followed NBA storyline. And while this is unquestionably the Summer Of Durant, Ayton is no mere sideplot in the free agent narrative.

Even more than Durant, Ayton has the ability to choose his own future. He can sign an offer-sheet with any team that is willing to pay him. He could, in theory, make it clear he wants to sign with one of the other teams Phoenix is bidding with for Durant — say, the Raptors, whose need for a big man is not a well-kept secret. He could even just refuse to sign an offer-sheet with the Nets, if he wanted to, essentially putting an end to any hope the Suns had of landing Durant by removing himself from the trade package.

"People like Ayton, but it doesn't appear the Nets are super enamoured with him," Windhorst said, noting that he suspected it was possible Ayton signs elsewhere to force the Suns' hand. " If he signs an offer-sheet somewhere — and there's still teams out there that have space that are interested in him and could sign him — he is no longer able to be part of this trade. If the Suns lose him as an asset, it becomes very difficult.

"It's not just that the Nets aren't really interested in him, it's that they lose the option of doing three- or four-team trades. I think it's pretty clear that the Nets aren't enthusiastic about the offer the Suns can put together. And it's now incumbent on the Suns to find a way — and I'm sure they're trying — to entice, to get a better offer."

Many have clamoured on social media for Masai Ujiri, the architect of the Raptors' championship-winning team, to step into the uninspired void of the Nets' current offers, to make his all-in move in pursuit of a championship the way he did when Kawhi Leonard was the disgruntled star available for the right price.

The parallels are enticing. A Finals MVP, whose addition to whatever Raptors core remained after a trade would vault them into the upper tier of Eastern Conference contenders, at least. And perhaps more. Perhaps, the way adding Leonard changed the summer of 2019, adding Durant could change the summer of 2023. Perhaps, the banner in the rafters at Scotiabank Arena would have some company.

But Ujiri has always moved decisively, not carelessly. Often, urgency comes from a place of fear, of being desperate to move because what if standing still proves to have been the wrong thing to do. In the Leonard negotiations, and in all his Raptors moves, Ujiri has not navigated decisions that way.

The choices are weighed. The future is surveyed. The divergent paths are measured against each other until only one looks right.

"If you're a Raptors fan, you may just say: 'Give the players, give the picks, get it done.' Masai's got a beautiful diamond-encrusted ring, handling the negotiations the way he did the last time around," Windhorst said. "He's also got incredible capital. If they don't make a Durant trade, he still has a pretty impressive looking future because of the talent that Scottie Barnes is. I don't think Masai should be negotiating from a position of desperation."

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