There’s not a team in the NBA that wouldn’t love to have Kevin Durant suiting up for them next season. Durant already has an MVP award under his belt. He’s a 7-time All-Star. Standing at almost seven-feet-tall, with the shooting and ball-handling skills of a point guard, he’s proven himself to be one of the best scorers in basketball history. The one thing Kevin Durant does not have since he joined the NBA is a championship.
Spending his 9-year playing career with the Oklahoma City Thunder has had its benefits for Durant. The team even made an appearance in the 2012 Finals, only to lose to LeBron James and the Miami Heat. The Thunder have had a winning record in 7 of the 9 years since they drafted Durant in 2008 and have made the playoffs six of their last seven seasons. This year, Durant led them to the conference finals after beating a 67-win Spurs team. They would go on to lose to the best regular season team in NBA history (at least record-wise) in the Golden State Warriors, despite having a 3-1 advantage through four games. However, the Thunder looked great this season. Durant’s long-time teammate Russell Westbrook just had an MVP-caliber year — his best season yet. Australian-born Steven Adams has been a stud in a league that lacks tough big men. All of this begs the question: Why would Kevin Durant leave this situation? The answer is simple: he wants a ring and he wants it NOW. The Thunder are no closer to a championship than they were when they were still called the Seattle Supersonics. This is because of the disruptive Warriors and Spurs teams that have kept the Thunder pinned in third place in the West. And sure, those two teams are beatable; the Thunder have proved that much. However, even if they manage to get by the Spurs and Warriors, the Cleveland Cavaliers are just as good and won’t be any less intimidating next season.
Durant is looking for an upgrade. Every general manager in the league knows that Durant is the type of player that automatically turns a mediocre team into a championship contender, so everyone wants him. Therefore, it’s up to Durant to decide where he wants to play next season. It’s been announced that he has sit-downs starting Friday with the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, and OKC. He may also be meeting with the Knicks, thanks to Carmelo Anthony’s influence, and a few other teams. Below, I’ve discussed a few of his best options in his search for a ring, if he does not decide to re-sign with the Thunder.
It’s no secret that Kevin Durant is interested in playing for the Warriors, and what a starting five that would be if he were to join that squad: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green. There would still be a question mark at center, but with those four All-Stars in the lineup (3 MVP awards between them), who really gives a damn?
HOWEVER, the Warriors are coming off the best regular season in NBA history and a run at the title. Their motto is Strength In Numbers. In signing Kevin Durant, they would have to let go of all eight of their free agents AND have to trade either Andrew Bogut or Andre Iguodala as well. Plus, after giving Durant the max contract he wants and deserves, they would only have a little under $3 million dollars to spend in a free agency pool that also has the likes of Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Hassan Whiteside, and Nicolas Batum available to sign. It is hard to judge whether signing Durant, despite all that he brings to the table, would help or hurt this Warriors team that seems to be only one quality player away from a championship next season.
San Antonio Spurs
Think about all of the “Big Three” combinations we’ve seen in NBA history. Now, think about how they would match up against Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Signing Kevin Durant would be the answer for a Spurs team that is about to lose 20 years worth of success to old age. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, and Tim Duncan are likely to either retire or come off the bench next season. Their time is done, and Leonard and Aldridge have shown that a new era of Spurs basketball is on the rise. Kevin Durant would have to take a big pay cut to join that legacy, but championships would likely be instant under the guidance of Gregg Popovich. If Durant isn’t already considering joining the Spurs, he definitely should be.
In case you haven’t already heard, the Knicks picked up Derrick Rose in a trade with the Bulls last week. With Rose at point, Carmelo Anthony still capable of scoring at will, and young talent Kristaps Porzingis on the rise, the Knicks suddenly look like a solid landing spot for Kevin Durant. Rose, despite all of the injuries and set-backs since his MVP season back in 2011, is still capable of averaging around 16 points per game and good assist numbers if he can stay healthy. Melo has been the laziest All-Star the NBA has ever seen, but if Kevin Durant rolls into town, perhaps Anthony will get his act together and start playing some defense. “Three 6 Latvia,” as Knicks fans have come to call the 7-foot-3 Porzingis, looked like an unbelievable talent last year, garnering comparisons to players like Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Bosh. If Durant comes to New York, that duo would be one to look out for, both being stout defenders with offensive games that I believe would mesh well together. Durant’s arrival would turn this team into a championship favorite immediately. However, there are far too many “ifs” in this scenario. Even with Melo’s begging, I doubt the Knicks will close a deal on Durant.
The Heat are a viable option for Durant next season. He already has a good relationship with aging stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh from their days playing for Team USA. There’s also plenty of young talent on the Heat roster, including Goran Dragic. The Heat are already a strong contender, finishing third in the East even without Chris Bosh for a good part of the season. Thinking back on LeBron’s days in Miami (2 NBA titles, 4 Conference Titles), Kevin Durant should surely be thinking about a trip to South Beach to discuss a deal. However, much of their defense rests solely on the shoulders of Hassan Whiteside, who is likely leaving for a big contract this offseason. Whiteside is a shot blocking machine and one of the best centers in the league. It would be a huge blow to the Heat to lose him even with the acquisition of Durant. With Wade and Bosh’s best days behind them, it’s unlikely this team is going to do much better than Durant has done with the Thunder. This is of course thinking about Durant’s aspirations to win a title next season. Of course, after adding Durant, the Heat could add pieces over the next two or three seasons to deepen their bench and take weight off of the shoulders of Wade and Bosh, but I doubt Durant wants to do any waiting after all the ups-and-downs he’s had in OKC.
Losing Evan Turner to free agency would be nothing to the Celtics if they can add Durant to their lineup. The Celtics shocked everyone this past season after coming into the playoffs as the 5-seed, despite not even being expected to go .500 for the season. A large part of that is in thanks to Isaiah Thomas. Thomas and Durant would be a great duo to go along with the eight draft picks, including the No. 3 overall pick, Jaylen Brown, a solid defender with a lot of upside out of the University of California, Berkeley. However, I think the Thunder are a much better team than the Celtics, even despite Boston’s deep roster. In many ways, the Thunder and Celtics are similar in that they have a great PG (Westbrook and Thomas, respectively) and good defenders. Kevin Durant would be leaving one situation for an eerily similar situation in Boston. The only difference would be that the competition in the East isn’t as difficult as the competition in the West. Still, I doubt the Celtics with Durant can beat the Cavs. If Kevin Durant wants to win a ring in the next few seasons, this would not be the right move.
Los Angeles Clippers
While Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are recovering from their playoff-ending injuries, the Clippers are making moves on Kevin Durant. Griffin is still on the trading block and the Clippers hope to use him to leverage a sign and trade deal with the Thunder. The Clippers also have concerns with re-signing Jamal Crawford, with a number of teams looking to take him off the market when free agency begins. Unlike Russell Westbrook, however, Chris Paul does not require many shots. Paul makes everyone around him better by getting them wide open. As good as Durant already is, Chris Paul could make him even better. Without Blake Griffin in the lineup, Durant would be the sole superstar for the Clippers, with DeAndre Jordan and J. J. Reddick to back him up. The Clippers finished fourth in the West this season, only a few games back from the third place Thunder, and that was without Blake Griffin in the lineup for a good portion of the season. With Doc Rivers’ leadership and experience deep in the playoffs, the Clippers are a viable option for Durant next season.
Despite all of the interest he’s been getting thus far this offseason, I still think Durant’s best bet would be to sign a 1+1 deal to return to the Thunder next season. This deal is exactly what LeBron James has been signing for the last few seasons with the Cavs and Heat. The contract would allow Durant to play one more season with the Thunder and then have a player option next season where he can opt out of his contract and enter free agency at the end of the year. This would allow him to sign a major deal next year when the salary cap rises. Every player wants to win a championship, but if Durant can get more money, which he deserves, then by all means he should. Unless he signs with the Warriors or Spurs, which he’ll have to take a major pay cut for, none of these teams are any closer to a championship than the Thunder are. If he waits one more year in Oklahoma City, one of these teams could improve themselves enough by next season to stand out as a top contender, and then sign Durant to a major contract.
Be ready for major changes across the NBA when the free agent negotiation period begins on Friday, July 1st.