NBA free agency: a period where different franchises try to woo free agent players to their respective teams by any means necessary. It is usually a chaotic and hectic process. But when one of the top three players in the league happens to be on the market, it becomes cataclysmic. Enter Kevin Durant – OKC’s freak of nature, long-range sniper, ice-cold assassin, scoring machine, and, as of July 1st, unrestricted free agent. It’s not every summer that a player who has averaged 26 points per game while shooting 48% from the field on his career hits the open market, and it’s not every summer that the salary cap balloons to ludicrous proportions to the tune of a $24 million increase. In insolation, either one of these things would have been enough to create a free agent frenzy the likes of which has never been seen before. But in combination, they will create a KD gold rush the likes of which will never be seen again. Every team in the Association that wants him can now make room for him. And what team would not want Kevin Durant? Several organizations have already emerged as likely suitors for KD, but there can only be one fortunate enough to sign him. But which will it be? In an attempt to help demystify this summer’s great enigma, here is a list ranked in order from the least to most likely destination for Durant (in my humble estimation).
9. Washington Wizards Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images
How far the Wizards have fallen. In the 2014 season, they were viewed as the lead contenders to sign Kevin Durant, a D.C. native, as his free agency loomed. Now, they are almost entirely out of the picture. A year ago it seemed the perfect match: KD would go home to play with the young All-Star point guard John Wall and the promising young shooting guard Bradley Beal. But any relationship between Durant and the Wizards soon soured, as D.C. fans desperately begged Durant to come to Washington and even cheered him when the Thunder visited the Wizards. Durant has since stated that he found the fans behavior to be off-putting and “disrespectful,” and Wall has cited it as one of the reasons the Wizards have fallen so far out of the KD sweepstakes. Even the Wizards organization itself has appeared to admit defeat and move on to other free agents. If it weren’t for the degree of consideration Durant might have given a D.C. return at some point in the past (and the fact that I feel somewhat bad for them), the Wiz would have been left off this list entirely.
8. Los Angeles LakersFOX Sports
According to a piece published by Bleacher Report, Jim Buss, part-owner and executive vice-president of basketball operations for the Lakers, has told some people in his inner circle that he has big plans for his team, claiming that he will sign Kevin Durant this summer and his teammate Russell Westbrook next offseason. Although Durant has not scheduled a meeting with the Lakers, Buss is reportedly confident that they can tempt him away from OKC to the bright lights of Los Angeles. Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that this is the same Jim Buss that managed to mishandle last year’s marquee free agent LaMarcus Aldridge’s recruitment so badly that his first meeting with the organization was deemed a total disaster. This is also the same Jim Buss that managed to lose his other big free agent target Greg Monroe to the Milwaukee Bucks. This is also the same Jim Buss that thought it would be a good idea to hire Mike D’Antoni as the head coach of his Lakers instead of Phil Jackson. And this is the same Jim Buss has next to no shot at signing Kevin Durant to his Los Angeles Lakers.
7. New York KnicksElsa/Getty Images
Aside from calling Knicks’ rookie Porzingis a “unicorn,” Durant has expressed very little interest in the Knicks and next to no desire to play in New York. Nonetheless, the city that never sleeps has been hard at work trying to recruit KD. Carmelo Anthony has reportedly been meeting and speaking with Durant before the free agency period officially began, and even Jay Z reportedly made a pitch to KD to meet with the Knicks organization. However, KD reportedly declined Jay Z’s pitch and has scheduled no meeting with the Knicks, even though he already meeting with five other teams in New York City. Sooner or later the Knicks may take a hint, but if they remain persistent, their efforts could be rewarded with at least some talk over a cup of coffee.
6. Miami HeatSportsBlog
Now we get to the six teams fortunate enough to get in the room with KD for a recruitment meeting. OKC’s meeting with Durant reportedly went so well that he’s “90%” sure he’ll remain with a Thunder, with some in his inner circle claiming that it will take an “unbelievable” pitch from another team to lure him away. However, a 10% chance at one of the league’s best is more than enough for these six hopefuls, and each one of them will bring in their biggest guns to craft that unbelievable pitch. And the Heat are no exception. When it comes to free agency, Pat Riley has proven himself to be a wizard. He manipulates cap space like a sculptor molding clay and knows how to persuade players with offers they can’t refuse; the fact that he was able to even get a meeting with Durant should speak volumes of his ability to run a first class organization like the Miami Heat. The Heat have not been shy in their pursuit of Durant, as even their center Hassan Whiteside claimed he would be willing to take less money in order to get KD on the roster just after signing a large long-term contract. In signing with the Heat, Durant would move into the slightly weaker Eastern Conference, where he would be able to consistently lead a fairly talented Miami squad to at least the Conference Finals. And of course, doing all of this while calling South Beach home certainly wouldn’t hurt either. There’s just one big problem: the Dwayne Wade situation. Some claim that Wade’s reported interest in other teams is simply just a means for him to gain leverage on the Heat organization to finally give him the paycheck he is owed. After all, through 13 years in Miami, Wade has never been the highest payed player on the Heat roster. However, others claim that organizations like the Bucks and Knicks, both of whom have scheduled meetings with Wade, actually have a legitimate shot at signing him. Whatever the case may be, Wade is a key part of the Miami Heat franchise and the possibility of his absence next year, along with the uncertainty of Chris Bosh’s ability to play, could be a strong deterrent to Durant. The Heat have the last scheduled meeting with Durant on July 2nd, and with his final decision expected to be announced no more than a day later, his visit may be borne more out of respect for Pat Riley than a legitimate interest in signing.
5. Boston CelticsBrian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
While the Celtics may have appeared to be at best a fringe contender for Durant earlier in the year, they have now crafted themselves into a very appealing destination for the NBA’s most wanted man, and their desire to acquire KD’s services has been no small secret as of late. Point guard Isiah Thomas has been relentless in his recruiting efforts, even sending out a recruitment tweet right after the Thunder fell in the Western Conference Finals. And in their July 1st meeting with KD in the Hamptons, the Celtics recruitment entourage formed by Danny Ainge was even joined by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The Celtics also managed to sign Al Horford, a player that OKC was rumored to be pursuing in order to pair with Durant if he returned, and still have loads of assets (courtesy of Billy King and the Brooklyn Nets) that they could flip to other teams in exchange for valuable pieces. Heck, Durant is even being offered unlimited free crab legs, a favorite food of his, in exchange for signing with Boston. However, Durant’s apparent primary motivation in his search for a new deal appears to be winning championships, and soon. Given a couple years, Boston will become a very good team, maybe even a great one. But compared to the other franchises in the KD sweepstakes, they don’t seem to be the best option if Durant truly wants to win now.
4. Los Angeles ClippersMaster Herald
For their July 1st meeting with KD in New York, the Clippers brought in DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Lawrence Frank, Doc Rivers, and even owner Steve Ballmer. Although Chris Paul was unable to be present, he spoke with Durant on the phone before the meeting took place. Paul’s contribution to the recruitment may prove crucial, as speculation that KD cannot win with a scoring guard like Westbrook could make CP3, the epitome of the point guard, a very attractive potential teammate. The meeting is said to have gone exceptionally well, with ESPN’s Chris Broussard reporting that Durant was “blown away” by the Clippers’ presentation. Out of all of the meetings KD has attended so far, the description of his meeting with the Clippers stands out as the most positive. However, the Clippers’ recent playoff woes and the fact that they would still not be the clear favorites in a tough Western Conference even with Durant will certainly give KD cause to pause. Additionally, the Clippers’ glaring lack a viable bench, which would be made especially weak if Jamal Crawford leaves in free agency, makes them the weakest of the Western Conference teams pursuing Durant. Reports have already surfaced that Durant has already informed the Clippers he will not join them, and of the four suitors from the West, the Clippers seem the least likely to acquire Durant’s services next season.
3. San Antonio SpursSports Illustrated
Think of a first class organization should look like. Go on, I’ll give you a minute. Done? Now, let’s talk about that organization. That organization probably has a savvy GM who can expertly evaluate talent in free agency and the draft alike. That organization probably has a seasoned head coach with an unmatched intuition for the game and the ability to forge strong bonds with his players while still commanding their utmost respect. That organization probably has players who can play at an elite level consistently without the volatile egos that lead implosions on the court and in the locker room. That organization is the San Antonio Spurs. Their GM R.C Buford, a two time winner of the NBA’s Executive of the Year Award, was able to flip George Hill to the Pacers in exchange for a draft pick which he then used on Kawhi Leonard and managed to land last summer’s most coveted free agent LaMarcus Aldridge. Their coach Gregg Popovich, three time winner of the Coach of the Year Award and five time NBA Champion, has been the subject of praise both from players across the league, including Kevin Durant himself. Their roster, highlighted by three veterans and future Hall-of-Famers Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan along with younger stars like Leonard and Aldridge, is known for playing an unselfish brand of basketball where ball movement and the extra pass reign supreme over any potentially destructive superstar ego. For all of these reasons, it’s easy to see why Durant, who played his college ball at Texas, might give the Spurs strong consideration. But in the end, all of these factors are more or less negated by the outcome of the Spurs meeting with Durant’s Thunder in last season’s Western Conference Semi-Finals. In this series, the Thunder managed to upset the Spurs in six games (with the help of some head scratching calls by the officials), and in the process severely damage San Antonio’s appeal to KD. Despite all of the Spurs’ merit, its just very hard to see Durant leave the Thunder for a team they already managed to vanquish in the postseason.
2. Golden State WarriorsRapzilla
Of all of the teams trying to steal away Kevin Durant this offseason, the Warriors arguably have the most to offer. They already have deep roster highlighted by three All-Star players in Curry, Thompson, and Green that also happen to be coached by last season’s Coach of the Year Steve Kerr. This group has already conquered the formidable Western Conference in two straight season, with their last Finals berth coming at the expense of Durant’s Thunder. Their success is largely attributable to the style of basketball they play which some claim has revolutionized the modern NBA. The Warriors regularly deployed a “death lineup” based around speed and spacing which would feature Green, who stands at 6 ‘ 7″, at the center position. Adding the Slim Reaper to their roster, who stands at 6 ‘9″ with a 7 ‘ 5″ and can knock down 3-pointers with ease, would turn the Warriors “death lineup” into something worthy of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The concept of this super death lineup was part of the pitch to Durant in his meeting with the Warriors on July 1st. For this meeting, the Warriors brought in Green, Iguodala, Thompson, Curry, Kerr, GM Bob Meyers, and owner Joe Lacob. While Iguodala might seem to be a strange addition to this star-studded recruitment entourage, both he and Curry have deep ties with Durant after playing alongside him on Team USA back in 2010. As for the other Warriors players, several reports have indicated that they have attempted to recruit KD throughout the entirety of last season. Durant’s meeting with the Warriors lasted around three hours and, according to USA Today’s Sean Amick, it went “very well.” However, this should not be overblown into an absolute certainty that Durant will sign with the Warriors. According to Chris Broussard, KD was “non-committal” during his time with the Warriors and the Warriors themselves were unable to decipher where he intended to sign. While the Warriors may be an extremely tempting option for Durant, nothing clearly indicates that Golden State made the “unbelievable” pitch necessary to lure KD out of OKC.
1. Oklahoma City ThunderJae C. Hong/AP
Many teams will try this summer, but the home team will likely carry the day. In what may be the most exciting disappointment in recent memory, Kevin Durant will most likely return to his Oklahoma City Thunder. Durant met with the Thunder organization on June 30th, and their five hour meeting is reported to have essentially convinced KD to resign. While we don’t know exactly what was said in the meeting, it’s easy to see why a return to Oklahoma City would be so appealing to Durant. Just over a month ago, led by Durant and his superstar partner Westbrook, the Thunder were just one win away from representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals after taking a commanding 3-1 series lead over the 73-9 Warriors. If not for a 4th quarter meltdown in Game 6, Kevin Durant would have made his second Finals appearance and could have possibly won his first ring. And all of that was just with last season’s Thunder squad. On June 23rd, Sam Presti and the OKC organization managed to win the NBA Draft with only one pick with the help of an absolute robbery of a trade. In a stunning Draft night move, the Thunder flipped Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and rookie big man Domantas Sabonis. KD himself even labeled the trade a “good move,” which bodes well for the Thunder’s odds to retain the NBA’s most coveted free agent. Ibaka was reportedly unhappy with his diminished role with the team and planned to leave in free agency when his contract expired in 2017, so trading him for future assets was a good move. But the assets the Thunder got in exchange make this an undeniably great move. While Oladipo is still more of a mercurial talent at this stage, he is only 24, possesses incredible athleticism, plays solid perimeter defense, and has improved his outside shot in every year he has played, increasing his 3-point percentage from 32.7% in 2013 to 34.8% in 2016. Oladipo’s presence also means the Thunder don’t have to overpay for Dion Waiters, meaning they could still create enough cap space to pursue other free agents now or in the summers to come. They also acquired Sabonis, who can already rebound and play in the post very well and could develop into a decent replacement for Ibaka. It’s also important not to forget that this Thunder team still has Enes Kanter, who finished 10th in Player Efficiency Rating last season, Steven Adams, who had a breakout postseason that saw him nearly average a double-double, and of course superstar point guard sensation Russell Westbrook, who last year was just 2 rebounds per game shy of averaging a triple-double for the season. Without Durant, this team would be destined for a deep playoff run in the Western Conference. And with him, this team will be unstoppable.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference