Kevin Durant’s impending free agency is the top storyline going into Oklahoma City’s offseason. The Durant sweepstakes began months, even years ago for some teams. The most likely result for Durant is a return to Oklahoma City, but many teams feel they have a shot at him.
Everywhere Durant has gone this year, he has seen the signs and heard the chants. There is no question that it’s in Durant’s head.
He has done a good job of staying quiet…so far. Free agency is getting close, now teams will start to prepare their pitches to Durant. The official date for the start of negotiations is July 1st. With about one month to make a decision, Durant will begin to show who he’s interested in.
Kendrick Perkins, former teammate and friend of Durant, has stated that there will be, “A few teams that he will be looking at…it might be time for a change.” Perkins stayed quiet about the possible teams, claiming that he has a confidentiality agreement with Durant, leaving a lot of questions.
Why Leave a Contender?
The Thunder have been to the Western Conference Finals four out of the last six years. Why leave a team with so much success? The Thunder have only broken through the wall that is a Conference Championship once, only to lose in 5 games to the Heat.
With juggernauts like the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder have no easy path to the Finals every year. On top of this, the Western Conference is going to get even better, with teams like the young and promising Minnesota Timberwolves.
There is no question that the Eastern Conference is worse than the West. This affects everything from strength of schedule to eventual playoff seeding. For example, in the 2014-15 season the Dallas Mavericks finished 50-32, landing the 7th seed in the West. However, with this same record in the Eastern Conference, the Mavericks would’ve landed the 3rd seed.
Conference difficulty is not the only reason for a possible departure. Russell Westbrook’s upcoming free agency is looming in the background of this story. If Durant feels that Westbrook could be out the door, why would he stay? Losing another superstar would be a huge setback in OKC’s quest for a title. With one year left on Westbrook’s deal, it is very possible that Durant signs a one-year deal or a deal with an opt-out option after one year.
Durant may well think that the window is closing in Oklahoma City. Their young talent is still developing and their superstars are aging. Durant and Westbrook only have a few years left in their primes, Durant may want to spend those years elsewhere.
If He Does Leave, Where’s He Going?
ESPN’s Marc Stein recently tweeted a list of some rumored destinations for Durant:
Stein left out the most obvious pursuer, the Thunder.
Looking at this list, some of the teams are obviously long shots, like the Knicks and the Lakers. The only intriguing aspect those two organizations have is a big market and a good location. Both teams, especially the Lakers, have young talent that won’t play to their potential for a few years, so I’m putting those destinations out of the picture.
Then the possibilities become more realistic with the middle-tier teams. The Celtics, Wizards, Heat, and Rockets all have a solid chance at Durant. I expect at least three of those four teams to get a formal meeting with KD.
As soon as LeBron James left then came back to Cleveland, the rumors of Durant going back to his hometown started flying. At this point, this scenario doesn’t seem all that likely, but there’s a chance. Durant’s friends have said that he’s not too keen on playing in Washington DC, making this even more unlikely.
The Rockets are an intriguing landing spot for one main reason: James Harden. After playing together in OKC, it is quite apparent that Durant and Harden are still friends, and seem to like playing together. Beyond that, Houston doesn’t seem like a great option for KD.
Now the teams get a little more interesting, with the Celtics, Heat, Warriors, and Spurs.
Boston is a very realistic destination for Durant. The Celtics are building something special. They aren’t yet on the level of a contender, but with one superstar, they’ll be right there. In a weak Eastern Conference, the only huge concern for the Celtics would be the Cavaliers. With a promising future, under a great coach, Boston should at least have a chance to get Durant through the door for a meeting.
The Heat are in a similar situation as the Celtics. A borderline contender in a weak Eastern Conference. Miami is in a good location and a fairly large market (much larger than OKC). Hassan Whiteside is a free agent, and it’s looking unlikely he resigns with Miami, Chris Bosh’s health is a question mark, and Dwyane Wade is getting up there in age. The Heat have good young talent, along with good veterans, such as Wade, Luol Deng, and Joe Johnson. The Heat are definitely a threat to sign Durant.
The Spurs are without a doubt one of the best organizations in the league, but why would Durant go to a team he just beat in the playoffs? The answer is simple: they have 2 all-stars, along with one 0f the best coaches of all-time, and a winning culture. The dynamic duo of Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant would be unstoppable.
Finally, we come to the Golden State Warriors. Imagine this starting lineup:
- Stephen Curry
- Klay Thompson
- Kevin Durant
- Draymond Green
- Festus Ezeli
For this to happen, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut would most likely have to be moved to free cap space for a max player, but that lineup would be unstoppable. Clearly this would be Durant’s best chance at winning, but would he want to join this super-team, that just beat him. Another problem here would come from the Warriors side. Would they want to blow up their dynasty that is forming? Obviously Durant is better than anybody they would have to lose, but is it worth it? Durant might also not like the lack of shots he would get. His points total would most likely drop down to around 22-25 points per game, which is about 5 less than his current average. There are a lot of question marks with this signing, but the result would most likely be successful.
Along with these frontrunners, other teams will most likely take their shot at Durant this offseason.
As much as the media loves to spread rumors, Kevin Durant himself has said nothing, so no one really knows what he’s thinking.
Durant is invested in Oklahoma City. He has spent his entire nine-year career in this organization, though only eight of them have been in Oklahoma City. He has voiced his desire to spend his entire career with one team, which is why it’s very likely he stays.
In an interview with Revolt TV, he discussed the possibility of spending his entire career in OKC:
On the contrary to my previous reasoning on why he should leave, here are some reasons to stay: Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter, Steven Adams, Dion Waiters, and the rest of the organization. There is a culture of winning that has been built in OKC. The best reason for Durant to stay is the success of the team.
The reality of this situation is that Durant would like to stay in OKC. If no reason to leave comes about in his discussions with other teammates, then why start fresh somewhere else? They are so close to taking that next step, from contender to champions.
I realize I’m raising more questions then I am answering, but with the public statements from Durant and those close to him, it is hard to find answers at this point.
As I’ve said, in all likelihood Durant will just sign short term deal:
Another bonus to this scenario for Durant is the possible money involved:
There is no guarantee that Durant re-signs with the Thunder, there are a lot of possibilities still out there at this point. Oklahoma City is clearly the frontrunner, but the Heat, Celtics, Spurs, and Warriors all have good shots at Durant.
The bottom line is that wherever Durant goes will instantly gain 10-15 wins next season, which for some teams, is the difference between middle of the pack and instant contenders.
Follow my basketball Twitter @KDsIntellect.