For months now speculation has driven the NBA headlines. Where will Anthony Davis be traded? Who will land Zion? Can the 76ers keep both Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris? Will Kyrie stay true to his word? Is Kawhi bye-bye after just one year? But the biggest piece of the puzzle, the domino that could shape the NBA landscape for the next half decade, is where will Kevin Durant be playing basketball come October 2019?
While the Golden State Warriors try to return to good health watching Toronto and Milwaukee trade blows in the east, the big decision of this summer looms menacingly in the background.
Some pundits have stated that Durant to the Knicks was all but signed, sealed, and delivered months ago. Others have said that the Clippers are squarely in play as Lebron James and Kevin Durant could have a heavy weight bout for the hearts and fandom of Los Angeles. And some others haven’t written the Warriors out of the equation just yet.
It was just 3 short years ago that Durant left the only franchise he had ever known, the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the recently defeated in the finals Golden State Warriors. Hindsight reports indicate that the final 3 in that decision came down to returning to the Thunder, setting up his own shop in Boston, or headed west to strike gold in California.
We all know how that turned out. 2 seasons, 2 championships, with another chance to add to his resume coming up in the next week as the he chases one more Larry O’Brien trophy as a Warrior.
Let review the most talked about options for Durant, and one outside the box destination that when thought about isn’t THAT outside the box.
OPTION RUN IT BACK:
With Durant entering his age 31 season, and eligible to sign a 5 year deal with Golden State, or 4 years elsewhere, conventional wisdom says to take that last big payday in the form of a 5 year deal. Except, the option that Durant has used to his advantage the last few years is signing option laden deals. Which is to say I do not see him inking a 5 year deal, at least not without the option of backing out of it. If he can go 2 more years, and opt out, he can likely then jump on one final big deal for his career.
The Warriors are already a luxury tax paying team, and they’re not dropping below that level anytime soon. They’ve got about $80 million committed to next season already, and that is before guaranteeing Shaun Livingston’s $7.7 million salary, or Alfonso McKinnie’s $1.6 million deal. And oh yeah, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, Andrew Bogut, Jonas Jerebko, Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell, and Quinn Cook are all also free agents.
Should Durant leave the Warriors would most certainly give Klay Thompson a max deal (they’ll likely give it to him regardless). I could be wrong, but I don’t see DeMarcus Cousins coming back on a short money deal again, and the Warriors are restrained from how high they can go as they don’t own full Bird rights on the mercurial center. But the Warriors would still be all right, essentially running with the team that got them through Portland in the Western Conference Finals. Which is to say that a team of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Igoudala and roll players is still a championship contender. It would likely be a last hurrah attempt as Green and Igoudala’s deals are up after next season, and its just not feasible to keep Durant/Curry/Thompson/Green/Igoudala together after that is it? You’re likely looking around $150 million just for that 5, before even filling out the roster.
Looking at that financial future, combined with already having done what he came to do, win championships. It may all add up to this being the end of the road for Durant in Golden State. Not that the Warriors wouldn’t take Durant back in a heartbeat, its a question of what would the team look like after next year? Would it be THE WARRIORS? Or would they be looking like the Baltimore Ravens post-Flacco contract? Would it just be Steph, Durant, and Klay left?
HEAD CLOSER TO HOME:
With John Wall inked to a seemingly unmovable supermax deal, there doesn’t appear to be any viable way for Durant to return to what is truly home, the Washington Wizards. He’s previously expressed reservations about a return engagement with the DMV (that’s DC/Maryland/Virginia, not the Department of Motor Vehicles), but how would he feel about that little town about 200 miles north, New York City?
A few talking heads have already stated that Durant to the New York Knicks is all but signed, and that they intend to pair him with Kyrie Irving. That’s the dream scenario for Knicks fans, and the one they’ve pointed to since the trade of Kristaps Porzingis put them in position to have 2 max salary cap slots this summer. The wet dream scenario involves them then flipping some young pieces like the #3 pick, Dennis Smith Jr. and Mitchell Robinson to New Orleans for Anthony Davis.
Many times this season I’ve said the Knicks fans are going to sleep dreaming of KD and Kyrie only to wake up to Nik Vucevic and Jeremy Lamb. Honestly, if forced to make a prognostication (and you know that will be coming out), I’d guess the reality falls somewhere in between (think DeMarcus Cousins and Kemba Walker)
In New York Durant would have the opportunity to create his own mark. Should he win a championship, it would be unquestionably his. It wouldn’t be him riding the coat tails of the already contending Warriors nucleus. His clout would be Lebron like in that he would have cart blanche to select his running mate (whom many have already asserted to be Kyrie) for that other max salary slot. And while the bench may be pretty bare with guys ready to contend for a ring (Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, and RJ Barrett are talented, but will need a bit of seasoning before they’re truly ready for prime time), with Kevin Durant playing in the Mecca of basketball, they would almost certainly become a prime target for ring chasing vets willing to take lesser money.
But… and here’s the but, well more of a butt, like a giant one, like a giant ass. James Dolan is still the owner of the Knicks. And for everyone who wants to dismiss quality ownership as a key to winning, I would ask you to look at the Lakers since Dr. Buss has passed. How about the Clippers with Donald Sterling vs the Clippers with Steve Ballmer? When your ownership is a joke, it tends to trickle down, and since Dolan has been in charge it hasn’t been a trickle, its been a damn jet stream.
Here is the other but, this one is skinnier, and freakier, and greekier. Is Durant prepared to spend the last third of his career facing off against Giannis Antetokounmpo for the chance to go to the Finals, let alone win? Let there be no doubt, a new force is emerging in the NBA, and he’s a young Buck. Certainly if he has Kyrie and maybe even Anthony Davis in tow, the Buck’s ascension would be no guarantee, but just as Lebron’s presence in the East was a concern for the last decade, so too will Giannis’.
SAY HELLO TO HOLLYWOOD:
The Clippers are in a position to open up 2 max salary cap slots as well. It would take a little tinkering. The simplest route would be to find a taker for Danilo Gallinari. That would allow them to ink 2 max salary guys without having to renounce the rights to Patrick Beverly, whom they’d almost certainly like to keep.
If they can’t jettison Gallinari, they would have to renounce quality veteran free agents like Patrick Beverly, Wilson Chandler, Garrett Temple, and JaMychel Green. Even if they lost the Italian Stallion, they’d still need to renounce all but Beverly (that’s assuming Beverly would be their priority, which feels logical).
But in that scenario the Clippers would be re-signing Beverly, retaining Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell as vets, while keeping youngster Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Landry Shamet, and Jerome Robinson.
Unlike with the Knicks, there is no expectation that Kyrie Irving would be the sidekick (although there have been rumblings about Kyrie to Los Angeles, with the Lakers fans fueling speculation of a Lebron/Kyrie reunion, but what makes more sense, Kyrie trying that again with Lebron, a situation he asked out of, or giving it a go with the younger Durant, but in LA instead of NYC?), but rather it would be 2 star forwards joining Doc Rivers in Los Angeles. Could Kawhi Leonard, and Kevin Durant be walking through that door? With Lebron aging across town, and the Warriors losing Durant would a Clippers line up of Montrezl Harrell, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Landry Shamet, and Patrick Beverly be the favorites in the West? Especially when you toss in perennial 6th man of the year candidate Lou Williams, and the would be super-soph Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?
That’s a Hollywood story that could be more fact than fiction.
OUTSIDE THE BOX, BUT NOT OUTSIDE THE REALM OF POSSIBILITY:
In what would go down as one of the greatest middle fingers ever, a real cut to the bone type hurt, could the former Oklahoma City star cross that river and join the Dallas Mavericks? It’d certainly be staying true to his Texas Longhorn roots. Another chapter in the Red River Rivalry.
He only spent a year in Austin, but Durant is certainly proud of his Longhorn heritage. And while we’ve touched on the impact ownership has on situations with James Dolan and Steve Ballmer being on opposite ends of the spectrum, the Dallas owner, Mark Cuban is in a category all to himself. A supportive, enthusiastic, involved, and modern owner, if Cuban can get himself into a room with Durant, there is little doubt that he can put the Mavericks in play.
With the retirement of Dirk Nowitzki upon us, its time to usher in the next era of Dallas Mavericks basketball. The assumption last fall was that it’d be centered around the young Slovenian, Luka Doncic. Then they went ahead and added the Latvian unicorn Kristaps Porzingis. If they could add Durant to that, he’d be the unquestioned alpha amongst that group, a group with seemingly limitless potential, and nice cost control in the impending future.
The Mavericks would need to renounce free agents to create the space, and Dwight Powell would need to opt out of his player option (which reports already have him doing), but if they did they could then sign Durant into cap space, while re-signing restricted free agent Kristaps Porzingis. The end result would be a line up of Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Durant, Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Luka Doncic, with Justin Jackson and Jalen Brunson coming off the bench.
With Cuban there would be no doubt about his willingness to extend into the luxury tax. Rick Carlisle is one of the best coaches in the league. The Mavs new Big 3 would be a force for the length of the rest of Durant’s career, and he’d be returning to his collegiate roots. So is it THAT crazy?
For a player that has shown a propensity to have rabbit ears, is New York the best place for him? Is trying to vie for the hearts and minds of Los Angeles really what he is prepared to do? Or would he be best off saddling on up and headed to the big D, and I do mean Dallas?
We’re a little over 5 weeks from finding out. In the meantime fan bases across the nation hold their collective breathes, and go to sleep with visions of Durantulas dancing in their heads. In the meantime we’ll have to settle for the pesky little thing known as the NBA Finals.
- Written by Jason Sullivan
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