The NFL and PGA Tour are in Arizona for the Super Bowl and WM Phoenix Open, but new Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia might have just upstaged both of them by trading for one of the NBA’s biggest superstars in Kevin Durant ahead of Thursday’s 3 p.m. league trade deadline.
Ishbia, whose record $4 billion purchase of the Suns closed Tuesday, didn’t waste time making a splash; he brokered a blockbuster deal that ships Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder and four unprotected first-round picks to the Brooklyn Nets in return for Durant and T.J. Warren.
It is a huge financial commitment for Ishbia, who is worth $6 billion, according to Bloomberg. The trade adds more than $30 million to the Suns’ luxury tax bill, which—at $68 million—is now the fourth biggest in the NBA behind the Golden State Warriors ($170 million), Los Angeles Clippers ($145 million) and Milwaukee Bucks ($70 million), according to Spotrac.
Aside from the Clippers, those clubs all generate more revenue than the Suns—150% more in the case of the Warriors. And the Clippers—controlled by the NBA’s richest owner, Steve Ballmer (net worth: $95 billion)—are building a new arena, Intuit Dome, that will push their revenue into the NBA’s top five.
The Suns’ total player costs, including salaries, luxury tax and benefits, should top $250 million this season and, barring a trip to the NBA Finals, will trigger a steep operating loss. Just four players—Durant, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul—are on the books next season for a combined $147 million, although only half of Paul’s $30.8 million is guaranteed. The Suns’ revenue was $300 million during the 2021-22 season and ranked 18th in the league, according to Sportico’s NBA team valuations.
“My belief system is about how do we focus on winning?” Ishbia said at his introductory press conference on Wednesday. “Can we improve our chances of winning a championship? Can we do things to make sure of that, but I’m not just a short-term thinker. I’m also a long-term thinker.”
The Suns are currently fifth in the Western Conference standings, sitting just four games above .500. The trade increased their title odds to +425, just behind the Boston Celtics (+350) among the favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
The move marks a huge reversal for the Nets and owner Joe Tsai, who traded away a pair of All-NBA players this week—along with the Durant move, Brooklyn sent Kyrie Irving to Dallas. The Nets lost more money than any NBA team during the 2021-22 season and were trending that way again this season with a $100+ million luxury tax bill. With Durant and Irving off the payroll, the tax for the Nets will now be liable for less than $40 million.
Durant, 34, has three more years left on the four-year, $194 million contract he signed with the Nets in 2021. He ranks as the third highest-paid player in the league this season, including more than $40 million off the court. Only LeBron James and Stephen Curry earn more.
The four-time scoring champ has endorsements deals with Nike, NBA 2K, Coinbase, Dapper Labs, Call of Duty, Weedmaps and FanDuel. His media company, which is based in New York, has expanded with Boardroom.TV and projects on Showtime and Apple TV+. His venture capital arm with business partner Rich Kleiman, 35V, has more than 75 investments, including sports-oriented ones such as Athletes Unlimited, Gotham FC, League One Volleyball, Philadelphia Union, Premier Lacrosse League and Major League Pickleball.
Durant has made more than $700 million, including endorsements, since he was drafted in 2007.
(This story has been updated to accurately reflect the Suns' and Bucks' luxury tax bills.)