Amidst reports that the Spurs are interested in picking up Kevin Durant, the Thunder are about to play the most important game three of their existence. Durant did a good job of killing any questions about his possible Free Agency destinations all season, but with every loss to the Spurs it’s getting tougher to avoid the possibility of KD playing for a different city in a couple of months.
The smart move for Durant financially would be to wait stay with the Thunder for one more year, and then test his options in the free agency when the cap explodes and he could stand to make up to $40 million more than if he signed a max somewhere next year. There is obviously no shortage of teams that would be willing to shake up their rosters in order to afford the most lethal shooter in basketball. Durant’s height and skills allow him to get a shot up anytime he wants, and his ability to play almost every position in a small ball lineup makes him a once in a lifetime kind of free agent.
So what are the likely destinations for the slim reaper? I don’t buy that Durant will want to go back to his hometown. The Wizards are not a championship contender with Kevin Durant, not as long as LeBron is still playing at high level. As much as I would love to see Durant play with the Celtics young and hungry core, I’m not sure if he wants to be THE GUY in the clubhouse night-after-night.
A sign-and-trade with the Clippers for Blake Griffin makes some amount of sense, but are the Thunder interested in taking on Blake Griffin? How would a team with Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin work? The Thunder are going to be such a bad shooting team if Durant leaves, they struggle to find guys who can hit shots with Kevin on the team. Of course having to figure out how to install an All NBA caliber player into your lineup is a million times better than losing KD without any compensation. If the Thunder get any sense that Durant is leaving for sure, they will do anything in their power to try to figure out a sign and trade. Remember, Russell Westbrook will be hitting free agency in 2017, and rumors of him flying the coup have been swirling for what seems like years at this point.
The two clear favorites in the Durant sweepstakes are the Warriors and Spurs. Both teams have shown interest in adding him to their rosters, and while it would take some work to make the cap numbers work, both have capable front offices that could pull it off. The question both teams have to ask is how much are they willing to lose off of their championship caliber rosters to get Durant’s services.
For the Warriors it would mean losing the likes of Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli. Ezeli showed in game two of the Warriors/Trail Blazers series just how dominant he can be when surrounded by good shooters and capable passers. Harrison Barnes is a guy who wants a max contract but has not shown that he can be a go-to guy over the course of an entire game. That has a lot to do with the team he plays on, but even when Thompson and Curry are not on the floor Barnes has not shown the ability to be the best player on the court. His three point shooting and basketball IQ are extremely valuable assets to a team like the Warriors, but if losing Barnes means getting Durant I think Golden State says goodbye to Harrison.
We saw this last off season that the Spurs are more than willing to get rid of core players if it means picking up a star. The math is a little trickier if they want to pick up Durant next year, assuming the cap shots up to around $90 million. I could see them moving Danny Green and/or Patty Mills to free up some more cap room, as much as those two guys give to San Antonio, their skill sets are replaceable. What’s not replaceable is having a team that features the best all around player in the game (Leonard) the best all around big man in the game (Aldridge) and possibly the best all around scorer in the game.
The idea of Kevin Durant playing with this current Spurs roster is bone chilling. My gut is telling me that Durant wants to play for franchise that is set up for success from the top down. I think he is fed up with playing for a team that can’t surround himself and Russell Westbrook with enough talent to get to the Finals. When the Thunder decided to trade James Harden to the Rockets for a couple of draft picks and Kevin Martin, it felt like they were being cheap. When Harden became an MVP caliber player in the ensuing years it felt like OKC’s front office was just incompetent. This summer when they got rid of Scott Brooks and brought in Billy Donovan I started to think it was the end of the Durant era in Oklahoma City.
There’s no doubt that Durant and Westbrook will fight like hell to get back to the NBA Finals this year, but barring a complete meltdown from the Spurs and Steph Curry missing the Western Conference Finals with his bad knee, I’m guessing we have reached the twilight of Durant’s days in OKC. Even if he does stick around for one more year it would be a financial decision, not a personal one. Unless a lot of flukey events transpire in the next couple of weeks, the Westbrook/Durant era will go down as one of the biggest what-ifs in the history of the NBA.