Ready. Set. Go!!!!! The Kevin Durant Sweepstakes are underway. Unofficially, the race for the superstar’s services has been going on for months, as teams’ front offices positioned themselves to be able to make a play for the former league MVP. It promises to be an exciting ride for Durant, as he prepares to be wined and dined by as many as a dozen organizations this Summer. But when the sun rises on the 16-17 season, where will Durant be calling home? His options are anything but limited.
Los Angeles or New York
If winning an NBA Championship is the ultimate goal, a few teams likely need to be axed right off the bat: Los Angeles and New York. While people will argue that by playing in those “cash cow” markets, Durant opens himself up to tremendous financial gain that he could not get elsewhere. I would argue that’s not true – not in today’s world where the globe has shrunk and Durant and his people can market him just as lucratively from the Great Plains or the Midwest as they could from either coast. So if money is not tipping the scales in favor of LA or NY, I’m not really sure what the draw would be for KD. None of the three teams is winning any time soon and only the Clippers are in a position to really contend in their respective division – and even that assumption comes isn’t free from skepticism. The only caveat I toss out there is that current teammate, Russell Westbrook, played at UCLA and has long been rumored to want to to play back in SoCal with the hometown Lakers. IF – and that’s as big an IF as there can be — the two Thunder stars decide they want to continue their run together in Hollywood, then maybe Durant goes there. But that means KD goes there a year before Westbrook on the notion that Westbrook will join him in 2017 – a lot can happen in a year. That’s a ton of faith to put in a person. Or more likely would be that Durant re-signs with OKC and opts out after a year – then he and Russ venture out west together.
Would KD dare take his talents to South Beach? Could you imagine? Aside from the fact that LeBron already patented that move, it is an awfully enticing possibility for a young man, who is interested in winning (Pat Riley’s there), interested in teaming with another superstar (D-Wade’s there), and interested in all the things that a place like Miami brings you (beaches, nightlife). I feel like this possible landing spot for KD will gain more traction over the Summer. Miami was a win away from reaching the Conference Finals and has some young talented pieces in place. And with Wade’s veteran leadership and Riley putting the personnel together, one would have to think a Durant addition would put this team in the championship conversation. But for all the reasons I think it could and should happen, there is one reason why I’m certain it won’t: it’s be done already. While Durant is shopping his skills like LeBron did (and all free agents for that matter), I don’t think he wants to mimic James in quite the same way.
We all know Durant is from the DC area. Going home always carries with it a certain amount of weight that can’t be countered by other places. Add playing alongside one of the best young point guards in the NBA, John Wall, to that equation and you have a pretty strong case for the Wizards landing Durant. A KD-Wall duo matching up with the other twosomes in the Eastern Conference would seem to slant favorably on the Wizards’ side in most cases. But a mega-contract for Durant in D.C. likely means the team is unable to really sure up other areas of need. While the big 2 would be a force, the team would not be on par with the more complete teams in the conference, such as Cleveland, Miami, Toronto, and maybe even Boston. Speaking of the Celtics….
The key to Boston’s future success is what superstar players can they attract. And the key to attracting superstars to Beantown? Head Coach Brad Stevens. Players see what he has done in Boston and respect the turnaround he has coached. Is it enough for players to want to go there? Boston has a nasty reputation for not signing and attracting the big-name black free agents. All their black stars for over a decade have either been traded for or drafted. If what ever has kept these players from signing there in past still exists, Celtics’ fans should feel a little uneasy about the biggest free agent name on the market this summer throwing caution to the wind and choosing to come to Boston. But Danny Ainge can pull it off, Brad Stevens is likely to make the most of the opportunity to coach one of the game’s best.
Could the rich get richer? Yes, but it wouldn’t come without a cost. While Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green aren’t going anywhere, the team would have to restructure or part ways with some of their key role players during this franchise’s 2-year championship run. As for how Durant would fit in, I don’t think anyone would question his ability to be selfless and play with other teammates who will demand their share of the shots. In addition, at 27 years old, Durant has been quoted as saying money is not the most important factor – putting himself in a position to win a title is. If he’s going to stay in the Western Conference, Durant must be very selective – and the Warriors are the class of the West.
This season ended in quite abrupt fashion for Gregg Popovich’s squad in the Conference Semis against Oklahoma City. With age finally having caught up with the Big 3, San Antonio had already started transitioning for the future – they began last off-season when they inked free agent big man LaMarcus Aldridge and gave Kawhi Leonard a max contract. The question is how does San Antonio afford a third max deal? It would be more affordable if Tim Duncan decides to retire (but not entirely impossible if he returns to pick up his $5.6 million player option). Bringing in Durant would all but certainly mean role players like Danny Green and Boris Diaw would have to be traded or bought out of their contracts. But if losing those guys means one of the league’s top 5 players joins your roster to team with an already championship-caliber core and a Hall of Fame head coach, then it’s a no-brainer.
Before blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, some may have figured OKC was a longshot to keep their star forward. However, the Thunder can offer KD more money than any other team can offer. If Durant signs a max deal this summer to stay in OKC, he will make $150 million in the 5-year deal. Pretty decent, huh? Well, kind of….
This is where things get a little tricky. With the NBA salary cap skyrocketing after this offseason, the same deal Durant may ink this summer would be worth in excess of $200 million in the summer of 2017. And Oklahoma City would be able to offer that kind of deal while any other suitor could only reach upwards of $150 million.
The smartest, most financially-savvy move would be for the All-Star forward to re-up with the Thunder this year for a one-year max deal of $26 million, then re-sign again with the Thunder next summer (5 years/$200 million). That takes KD to what amounts to 6 years, $226 million all with OKC. The most lucrative alternative still includes a one-year deal with the Thunder for the same $26 million, followed by a 4-year, $150 million deal with another team.
You never know what these guys will do and we never quite know what they value most. But it’s certain that if KD wants to make an impact in this league with a top five contract of all-time, then there’s no reason to leave OKC. However, if Durant prefers to make an impact by winning championships, he will have many options at his disposal. Starting now.