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Kevin Durant, His Suitors, and the Decision That Could Change the NBA

The offseaon's top free agent has picked six teams as finalists for his services. Each has a case, and whichever one he chooses will get a lot scarier overnight.
Photo by Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Right now, Kevin Durant's free agency is as momentous as it is mysterious. Nobody knows where the four-time scoring champion will be next season—not even KD, if we are to believe him. According to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, six teams will meet with Durant and his representatives: the Boston Celtics, the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Los Angeles Clippers. For now, they are unofficially the six luckiest teams in the NBA. Five teams are currently on the outside looking in—the Los Angeles Lakers, the Washington Wizards, the Denver Nuggets, the Houston Rockets, and the New York Knicks—but it's a fluid process. So, again: who knows.


Here's a look at why Durant might choose each of those first six, what he'd look like on those rosters, and what impact his decision will have. Whether he signs a four- or five-year max contract or a two-year deal with a player option, Durant is about to alter the future of the entire league. Here are some ways it might work out.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Why would Kevin Durant sign here?

The early favorite by a fairly wide margin, this is the only organization Durant has known as a NBA player, and there's no denying all the success he has had there both individually and as the pivotal part of a remarkable whole. The Thunder have made one trip to the NBA Finals and three other trips to the Western Conference Finals; they were five wins away from winning it all this season. Based on the level they reached during the playoffs, it's easy to wonder what could have been if not for Klay Thompson's incendiary jump shot.

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Oklahoma City provides a clear path to the title next season. It has Russell Westbrook, another top-five player, already on board, and Durant is already familiar with the (excellent) personnel around him. Additionally, his accountant really hopes he stays put.

Long story short: Durant can sign a two-year max and make $26.6 million this year, and then opt out and re-enter free agency in 2017 to sign—assuming the salary cap reaches $110 million—a five-year max starting at approximately $38.5 million that'll pay out over $250 million. It's a deal only the Thunder can provide because Durant would lose his Bird Rights by signing elsewhere. (The most another team can give is about $60 million lower over one year fewer; said team also needs to fit him into their cap space.)


"Save the usual seat for me on the charter, I just have to go to some meetings first." Photo by Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

On draft night, the Thunder traded Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, and Ersan Ilyasova. It's unclear how this would affect Durant's role—a guess is that it would involve more time as a stretch four—but, reportedly, it has not soured his standing. Ibaka made life easier for his teammates by spacing the floor, rebounding, and protecting the rim. But the Thunder can get over the loss pretty quickly if Steven Adams continues to improve and Oladipo morphs into a Jamal Crawford/Tony Allen lovechild at the two. Furthermore, if the Thunder waive Ilyasova and Anthony Morrow, and then don't offer Dion Waiters his qualifying offer, they'll have nearly $10 million in cap space to spend on another wing.

Is that enough to lure someone like Jared Dudley, Wesley Johnson, Solomon Hill, Matt Barnes, or O.J. Mayo? Maybe, but one of those guys probably isn't worth the loss of Ilyasova, Morrow, and Waiters. Even if the Thunder stand pat after their draft-night blockbuster, they're still awfully good.

What's the ripple effect?

Nothing much, really. Teams that didn't land Durant either roll over their cap space to next summer or splurge on the remaining talent in this year's pool.

And for OKC, it's all blue skies: they're still an elite title contender despite a Western Conference that's as treacherous as it's ever been. Assuming Durant signs a two-year deal that'll allow him to re-enter free agency next summer alongside Westbrook, the Thunder will still be playing with the pressure of a team trying to win it all. But they'd be doing that anyway.


Odds they sign Durant: 5/1

"So…see you in a few weeks?" Photo by Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State Warriors

Why would Kevin Durant sign here?

Duh. Durant plus Steph Curry plus Klay Thompson plus Draymond Green? That's Roland Emmerich directing Independence Day 3 to a Best Picture win with Robert Downey Jr., Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jennifer Lawrence along for the ride. Sometimes nuance and chemistry must bow to irrepressible star power.

If Durant is truly seduced by Golden State's unparalleled access to both Silicon Valley and Too $hort, the Warriors would have four (four!) of the NBA's ten best players, all in their prime at the same time, all sharing a collective need for absolution and an unprecedented hunger for revenge. Each of those dominant players was just on a team that blew a 3-1 lead; all felt the championship slip through their fingertips. That's a selling point Steve Kerr, Bob Myers, and Jerry West will make in their pitch meeting. These are already genius-grade players; give them extra motivation and they're supercharged World War Z zombies.

Nothing is guaranteed, but if Durant truly wants to play in the NBA Finals next season, the Dubs are his surest bet. It still wouldn't be easy, because assimilating one of the world's three best players onto a team that's already historically great would likely result in some friction. But Durant has co-existed with Westbrook and his avant-garde decision-making for years, and still performed superbly.


Harsh sacrifices would be felt across the board if Durant were to join Golden State, especially for Klay Thompson, who would have to maintain his top-notch defense while nearly all his two-point shots go to Durant. There won't be as much breathing room for any of these stars as they had last season. Sacrifice is not fun, and nothing like this has really happened before. But also the best offensive team in NBA history would have Kevin Durant on it suddenly, so…

What's the ripple effect?

The Warriors don't have enough cap space to afford a max contract, which means that in order to sign Durant, at least two of their three most important role players—Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, and Harrison Barnes—would have to go. I'd keep Iguodala, dump Bogut's expiring contract, and let another team pay Barnes max money. But that isn't much fun, either.

It won't be easy to replace the versatility, leadership, and on-court contributions they provided, but Durant's star power makes them a better team, and he's more than capable of playing power forward in small lineups that feature Green at center. Continuity is hugely important for a team that plays the way Golden State does. The Warriors already attack more like a singular organism than a team composed of individual moving parts; toss Durant into that whole, and we are eventually dealing with a world-devouring monster.

The departed would be missed, but even more significant than Barnes and Bogut latching onto different teams is the Warriors' ceiling with Durant in their place: none exists.


Odds they sign Durant: 10/1

This would definitely be easier if Danny Green wasn't trying to block it. Solution: join Danny Green. Photo by Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio Spurs

Why would Kevin Durant sign here?

The trio of Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Durant would bring more two-way dominance than Golden State's Big Three, or Cleveland's trio of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. Just in terms of the collective talent involved, it would be one of the best front lines ever assembled, a versatile group that can attack from every spot on the floor and play more than one position.

By signing Durant, San Antonio would inject a July 4th fireworks display directly into its bloodstream. Their offense was plenty efficient during the regular season, but a lack of speed and athleticism bogged it down in the playoffs. Adding the NBA's 2014 MVP to the mix would, you know, fix that.

Leonard, Aldridge, and Durant would all see their usage rates drop, but in the interest of getting all involved the best shots of their career. How do you stop a team that has three players who can get whatever they want, whenever they want it? Each can space the floor out to the three-point line. They can all rebound, pass, and carry bench units that may be weakened in the event Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili retire.

What's the ripple effect?

Well, for one thing, the Spurs would be really good.

They would also need to clear cap space to make this possible, and that means important contributors like Danny Green, Patty Mills, and Boris Diaw would likely be out the door. But if Duncan and Ginobili stuck around for one more year, it's hard to look at this team's poise and potential on both ends and not come to the conclusion that it can be the most complete team the NBA has ever seen.


Green's incredible contract will make another team very happy—the Philadelphia 76ers would take him in a heartbeat, although they're not alone—and the entire Thunder organization would step back and take a long look in the mirror after watching their franchise player flee to a team they just beat in the playoffs. Next year's Western Conference Finals would burn a hole in the ozone layer.

Odds they sign Durant: 15/1

Presumably changing teams would involve Durant apologizing to Marcus Smart for this. Photo by David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics

Why would Kevin Durant sign here?

This is the least talented team on Durant's list, but one in which he would most obviously be the missing puzzle piece that could lead the team to a championship sooner rather than later. Outside of still needing a few more shooters and a rim-protecting big—pieces that can be acquired with relative ease before training camp starts—the Celtics already have everything in place, along with the flexibility and enough assets to add much more.

Durant would also fit seamlessly into this team, in a way that lets everyone else assume their natural responsibilities. All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who dropped 42 points of napalm in a playoff game against the second-best defense in the NBA a couple months ago, suddenly becomes the second option. Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart won't be asked to play above their head handling the ball, and can focus on knocking down open shots, attacking the basket, rebounding, and locking down opposing guards. Jae Crowder will fall back into a more comfortable role as a 3-and-D enforcer, and Durant won't ever have to guard the opposing team's best player, leaving him to save some energy for the offensive end. Imagine, for a moment, how wide Durant's driving lanes will be as the stretch four in a Thomas–Bradley–Crowder–Kelly Olynyk lineup.


But is this enough to win it all? Danny Ainge would be smart to bring up the 2011 Dallas Mavericks during Boston's pitch. That's the most recent example of an unstoppable offensive superstar winning a championship on a team that relied on coaching, intelligence, and continuity, as opposed to other All-Stars. That Mavs team had way more experience than these Celtics, but Brad Stevens has established a winning culture in Boston, and cultivated a supporting cast that is already comfortable in their roles. The Celtics move the ball and don't turn it over; they're ruthless and smart, and they overachieve in every way.

Add Durant and suddenly Ainge is much less worried about surrendering too much in a trade. The Eastern Conference is wide open, and Boston would match up well with the Cleveland Cavaliers, becoming one of precious few NBA teams with a comparable offensive weapon on their side. The Celtics are also the only team on his list that can already afford two max contracts, which means if Durant wanted to handpick a teammate to join him, he can. It's not all that valuable, given how shallow this year's free-agent pool appears to be, but the Celtics will have even more room next summer, when a very long list of superstars—Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Curry, Chris Paul, Gordon Hayward, and Paul Millsap—become available. Scoop up any one of those guys and the Celtics may very well rattle off three or four straight trips to the Finals. All of which is to say that Boston has managed this whole thing very well.


Still, it would take a huge leap of faith for Durant to sign here when the Thunder, the Warriors, and the Spurs all present an easier path to winning right away. That said, the Celtics can sell him on two very important advantages: stomping through the East, and being the best player he can possibly be. He gets all the touches, all the shots, all the glory, all the pressure. Isn't that what great players want?

What's the ripple effect?

Most immediately, the Celtics would become one of the five best teams in the NBA. They're still flexible enough to sign or trade for another star, and only the Cavaliers, the Warriors, and the Spurs would have better odds to win the 2017 championship.

Unlike the Miami Heat, his only other Eastern Conference suitor, Durant fits into Boston's timeline perfectly. They have players under contract who are young and improving. They also have cap space to reload in the summers of 2017 and 2018.

In short, if Durant signs with the Celtics, they're nearly guaranteed to at least make one trip to the Finals at some point over the next four years, and the balance of power in the NBA will tilt East for the first time in 8,000 years.

Odds they sign Durant: 25/1

To be fair, the Heat also treated Birdman pretty roughly at the end. Photo by Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Heat

Why would Kevin Durant sign here?

The short answer: Miami is a fun city with an ideal climate? Besides that, it's not entirely clear why Durant would sign with the Heat if immediately winning a championship is his top priority. Chris Bosh's health issue has placed Miami in flux, which is a profoundly sad thing for everyone. Dwyane Wade's cap hold is $30 million, and at least $22.2 million must be saved to fit Hassan Whiteside under the cap. Unless Wade is willing to take a major pay cut, the Heat can't fit Bosh, Wade, Whiteside, Goran Dragic, and Durant on the same team, even if they trade Josh McRoberts and Justise Winslow.


Whiteside is likely the odd man out, although Miami would be more than happy to replace him with a 27-year-old who averaged 28.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game last season. A core comprising Wade, Durant, Goran Dragic, Winslow, and Josh Richardson isn't perfect, but also good luck scoring on them consistently for 48 minutes. The concern would be working out the internal balance of power: Durant is the unquestioned No. 1, but there's the matter of working out Wade and Dragic's drop in touches, and the potential damper on Winslow's development. Miami would also have a difficult time surrounding their three best players with much more than a stable of ring-chasing veterans on minimum contracts, given their cap situation.

It's a gamble. Wade turns 35 in January and is coming off a season in which he played more than 2,600 minutes. Bosh is a question mark, and outside of Winslow, the Heat have zero trade assets or room for internal growth. But if Durant thinks he can win titles with this franchise, then he should by all means bring his talents to South Beach.

What's the ripple effect?

The Heat wouldn't be as good as last year's Thunder, although only the Cleveland Cavaliers would sit in their way for a trip to the Finals. After next season, GM Pat Riley can go to work. The 2017 free-agency class is loaded with superstar talent. But without knowing the details of Wade's next contract or how Bosh's situation plays out, Miami's cap space is a mystery; assuming Durant opts out and re-enters free agency, that's a problem.


Odds they sign Durant: 30/1

It's so much easier when you can just, like, high-five him. Photo by Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Clippers

Why would Kevin Durant sign here?

This is tricky, and not just because the Clippers don't have enough cap space to sign Durant to a max contract. They can get there by unloading one of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, or DeAndre Jordan. But once they do that, how much would Durant want to sign on?

Assuming the odd man out is Griffin, a sign-and-trade with the Thunder is possible, if also not the best route. The Clippers would do better to plug Griffin into another team's cap space and acquire valuable assets in return—the Celtics are on Line 1 with one of the Brooklyn picks and Doc Rivers' former star pupil in Avery Bradley.

But just talking about this is awkward. By meeting with Durant, Rivers is effectively announcing to the world that he's willing to sacrifice one of his three best players. He isn't wrong if the alternative is adding Durant, but it's a huge risk, and could further disrupt an organization that's already splintering. If they don't land Durant, Los Angeles almost has to place Paul and/or Griffin on the market just to see what it can get. (Sam Presti sure would.) Both are free agents next summer, and it's hard to see them re-upping for another run, especially if Durant stays in Oklahoma City and the Clippers once again find themselves the fourth best team in their own conference.

What's the ripple effect?

If Durant goes to the Clippers, they become better on both ends, assuming Griffin is the odd man out. Their three best players suddenly fit in crunch time (how nice!), and Durant as a stretch four beside Paul, Jordan, and J.J. Redick becomes the apocalypse. But if Griffin joins Westbrook, Oladipo, and Adams in Oklahoma City, that team might actually be better than Los Angeles with Durant. All this is so hard to imagine, but it sure would be dramatic.

Odds they sign Durant: 40/1

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