Pros and Cons of Kevin Durant's Possible 2016 Free-Agent Landing Spots
Let the Kevin Durant pre-free-agency tour continue!
Next up: a Tuesday night date with the Washington Wizards and their not-so-subtle attempt to dominate the Durant discussion.
With less than a full regular season now separating Durant from his first jaunt into unrestricted free agency, the speculation train is rolling at full tilt. Everywhere he goes that's considered even a remotely possible destination, unofficial courtship will follow.
Fans will hold signs. They will don custom jerseys. Rumors will be relayed and dissected. Articles will be written. Predictions will be made.
And yes, Durant will grow weary of it all.
"It was kind of disrespectful, in my opinion, because you've got a great team there already; that deserves your full, 100 percent support," Durant said of the fan support during his last trip to Washington, per Yahoo Sports' Michael Lee. "And I wouldn't like that if I was on that team. And I didn't like that. But it comes with it nowadays. It's a part of it."
Spoiler: Durant isn't going to like what comes next.
Much like we did ahead of the regular season, we're going to put Durant's upcoming free-agent nuptials into proper way-too-early perspective by weighing the pros and cons of every popular destination.
Included teams are brought to you courtesy of the rumor mill, both past and present, and common sense. Their entries into our debate will be briefly summarized, but this is mostly about unearthing the upside and downside of every major Durant admirer, before deciding whether it's a contender to take seriously.
Consider this a running glimpse at teams that might be mentioned in the same breath as Durant but will do so as obscenely whimsical long shots, hilariously hopeless underdogs and click-generating impossibilities.
Indeed, the Nets will have cap space. But Durant isn't signing with a team that touts Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young as its two best players—especially one that may finish this season as the NBA's worst team only to send its pick to the Boston Celtics.
Keeping Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and Kevin Love together has cost the Cavaliers any chance they might have had at even kind of meandering into the race for Durant.
Something tells me they'll get over it.
Los Angeles Clippers
Of course, by dumping any one of them, Rivers would also be diminishing his team's curb appeal.
So let's just get "#JoeJohnsonToTheClippersForTheVetsMinimum" trending instead.
New Orleans Pelicans
Syncing up with Anthony Davis is something that should command Durant's attention.
Unfortunately for the Pelicans, so too will their revolving health issues, $60 million commitment to Omer Asik and inability to properly rebuild around Davis.
San Antonio Spurs
In the event that the Spurs work more contractual voodoo with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili while bidding farewell to Boris Diaw (non-guaranteed deal) and some others, they could feasibly earn themselves a spot at Durant's table.
But we're going to assume that life isn't completely unfair, and San Antonio won't successfully call dibs on the next 10 Larry O'Brien trophies before next season.
Golden State Warriors
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News noted back in July that the Golden State Warriors would "love to be a featured part of the Durant discussion as a possible sign-and-trade destination."
Yes, those Warriors.
Sign-and-trades aren't as common as they used to be, since players no longer have financial incentives to demand one. Golden State does have a number of assets to dangle (Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson) if Durant registers interest, but breaking up a core that's primed for a dynasty run makes little sense.
If the Warriors become part of the Durant discussion, it'll be because they have indicated a willingness to dump the Shaun Livingston and Jason Thompson non-guaranteed deals while also parting ways with two or more of Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli and Andre Iguodala.
- Stephen Curry
- Super Inventive Offense: Golden State passes the ball, sets screens and capitalizes on spot-up shooting unlike any of Durant's past Thunder teams.
- Klay Thompson: A two-way wing Oklahoma City has never employed, not even during the first three seasons of James Harden's career, when he actually played consistent defense.
- Stephen Curry
- Head Coach Steve Kerr: The clipboard-wielding, culture-curing sage former Thunder coach Scott Brooks never was and current head honcho Billy Donovan has yet to be.
- Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green: Together, they replace Serge Ibaka's shot-blocking and floor spacing and then some.
- Instant Title Contention
- Stephen Curry
- Second to One: Durant will always be No. 1 in Oklahoma City, no matter how many box scores Russell Westbrook obliterates. He becomes a permanent No. 2, behind Curry, with Golden State.
- Shallow Waters: The Warriors need to dismantle a large chunk of their core to enter the Durant conversation. A six-player nucleus of, say, Barnes, Curry, Durant, Ezeli, Green and Thompson is imposing but nonetheless at the mercy of indelible health.
- Heavy Lifting: Larry O'Brien trophies are, when hoisted in volume, biceps killers.
Bolting Oklahoma City for a situation that, in the end, could hamper his stat lines will be difficult. But beyond the roster minutiae, this isn't complicated.
If the Warriors, one of the best teams ever, come calling with cap space and a foundation similar to the one they have now, Durant would be wise to listen—and perhaps even wiser to sign on the dotted line.
Much like the NBA's 29 other teams, the Houston Rockets want Durant, according to the Houston Chronicle's Brian T. Smith. The difference between them and many others: They might actually get him.
General manager Daryl Morey has never been one to shy away from superstar pursuits, and he will be especially dangerous this summer, given all the ways in which he can make room for the 2013-14 MVP.
Dwight Howard can opt to explore free agency. Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas will be restricted free agents. Ty Lawson's 2016-17 salary isn't guaranteed. The modestly priced deals of Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and K.J. McDaniels can be easily unloaded.
The means to create max space is there, and Morey is just the risk-taking, superstar-obsessed GM to exploit it.
- James Harden: Durant's former teammate and an MVP runner-up with the vision of a point guard, the scoring conscience of Westbrook and the beard of a lumberjack living in isolation.
- Stretch 4: As a team heavily dependent on three-point shooting, the Rockets would undoubtedly trot out Durant at power forward, where he is even more of a matchup nightmare, something the Thunder have only done occasionally (less than 25 percent of the time) in years past.
- Stretch 5s: Jones and Motiejunas, should they stick around, have more offensive range than Steven Adams and Enes Kanter.
- Not-a-Stretch 5: Howard cannot chuck trees, and his post-ups are what the Rugrats cast would call "yucky-yucky." But he remains devastating within pick-and-rolls and can still be the lifeblood of a good defense.
- Morey Never Settles: Good luck trying to stop Morey from ever significantly improving the roster.
- Instant Title Contention
- Second Fiddle: Will Harden abdicate his throne in Houston for Durant or expect his former running mate to play sidekick?
- Frontcourt Blues: Jones and Motiejunas don't have the cleanest bills of health and could leave in restricted free agency, Clint Capela is a question mark and Howard is increasingly fragile as he approaches 30.
- Big Two: Howard's superstar window won't be open much longer, and neither Trevor Ariza nor Lawson qualifies as the finishing touch of a Big Three.
It's not just that Durant knows Harden. It's that he knows the Rockets are addicted to contending.
"They got some guys; they missed out on a few guys, but they still have a really, really good team," Durant said of the Rockets, per Smith. "And they built it around James. Their front office and ownership, I'm sure, had him in mind whenever they made moves. They [turned] into a contender."
Where the Thunder either blush at the luxury tax or invest $70 million in Kanter, the Rockets are always in play for that next-superstar score. Their rolling flexibility is unparalleled, and while the threat of constant turnover looms large, it's more than worth the cost of admission to the free-agent meetings they consistently land.
Los Angeles Lakers
Sources told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith that Durant would look to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers this summer if he left Oklahoma City, per Larry Brown Sports' Steve DelVecchio. Though Durant later questioned Smith's credibility, the purple and gold bugaboo isn't new.
Every prominent free agent is linked to the Lakers. Being named as a primary target, or as someone who has interest in playing for them, is like a rite of passage for any player worth his salt.
This relationship between marquee talent and the Lakers has only strengthened in recent years, as the latter looks to rebuild on the back of cap space through offseason coups.
Whether Durant is presently intrigued by what the Lakers have to offer isn't particularly important. They'll be among his most frequently cited suitors until he signs his next contract.
- Bye, Kobe: Kobe Bryant indicated to Lakers head coach Byron Scott that the 2015-16 season will most likely be his last, per ESPN.com's Baxter Holmes, so Durant should get to be the unchallenged face of the franchise.
- Max Me, and Someone Else: Even after accounting for an increase in player salaries, the Lakers will have an opportunity to open two max-contract slots—one for Durant and one for another superstar.
- Budding Sidekicks: Jordan Clarkson (restricted free agent), Julius Randle and D'Angelo Russell aren't Ibaka and Westbrook, but they are legitimate prospects who stand to improve by leaps and bounds once removed from Bryant's shadow.
- Sorry, Philly: The Lakers might actually be bad enough this season to keep their first-round pick, which is owed to the Philadelphia 76ers if it falls outside the top three. Here's to Ben Simmons-Durant hype becoming a real thing.
- Sly Mamba: No one can truly, totally, wholly and completely believe Bryant will walk away after this season until he officially calls it quits. Then, and only then, will Durant know he isn't in for a power struggle.
- Oh, Swaggy P: Nick Young's shot selection makes Dion Waiters' shot selection seem conservative.
- Pacific Problems: Suiting up for the Lakers means playing in the same division as the Clippers and Warriors. So, yikes.
- Trusting the Process: Signing Durant, among others, should be enough to propel the Lakers back into the playoff picture. But irrespective of how this summer plays out, they're still rebuilding, and Durant would be taking a step back, even if it's a momentary one, by joining the cause.
Put Those Durant Lakers Jerseys Away
Durant will have nine seasons under his belt upon entering free agency. And if he actually leaves Oklahoma City, he will presumably still be ringless.
Tying what's left of his championship window to a team still trying to carve out one of its own won't represent an upgrade. The Lakers could successfully expedite their rebuild, and Durant would still lose at least one to two years of his prime.
So while the bright lights, historical mystique and money may be in Los Angeles, the necessary logic just isn't.
Remember that time Miami Heat president Pat Riley gave up trying to land another superstar?
As Zach Lowe previously noted for now-defunct Grantland, Riley will make sure the Heat are in position to make a run at Durant. It'll be tough, with Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside both up for new contracts, but Riley is the free-agent whisperer. Miami will be on the Durant sweepstakes radar until, quite simply, it isn't.
- Dragon Can Fly: Goran Dragic isn't as fast as Westbrook, but he's still a speed demon. He's also more comfortable playing without the ball and a better spot-up shooter overall.
- Way of Wade: It took Wade all of two seconds to willingly cede status to James in 2010. Six summers later, at the age of 34, with the end of his career in sight, he'll have no trouble doing the same for Durant.
- Like a Bosh: Chris Bosh won't match Ibaka's shot-blocking volume, but he's more comfortable with the ball in his hands, both as a passer and shooter.
- Hassan's Bright Side: If the Heat are able to keep Whiteside, it would mark the first time Durant gets to team up with someone who is pretty much the post-Tummy Tuck version of the Hulk.
- Obligatory "Because, East": The Eastern Conference is still looking for a legitimate challenger to Cleveland's Eastern Conference throne. Miami would become the prohibitive second favorite.
- Pat's Rings: Riley might let Durant hold on to one of his 11 championship rings (two as just Heat president) until he gets one of his own.
- Limited Opportunity: Rest and relaxation programs won't make Wade any younger. Bosh will be 32 when 2016-17 tips off. Dragic will be 30. All three could conceivably be on the decline next season, considerably shortening Miami's title window.
- Collateral Damage: Short of Wade playing for the veteran's minimum, there is no plausible scenario in which Miami can afford him, Bosh, Luol Deng, Dragic, Durant, Josh McRoberts and Whiteside.
- Aging Architect: Riley will turn 71 in March. How many more seasons—how many more nearly seamless roster reconfigurations—does he have left in his tank?
Talk to Me in July
The Heat are going to get face time with Durant. That's a formality. Riley is the reason free-agent pipe dreams still exist at all these days. The dude secured a meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge this past summer, per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst, just so he could ask the All-Star, now a member of the San Antonio Spurs, to wait around until 2016.
That's relevancy even cap space won't buy.
But this isn't 2010. Riley won't be selling Durant on the possibility of playing beside two other superstars in their prime. He is, to some extent, at the mercy of the Heat's age and the inordinate number of maybes surrounding this year's title push.
What they do this season will go a long way in determining how much appeal, if any, they carry over the summer.
Oklahoma City Thunder
"There's no place like home" is what the Thunder hope Durant, a Washington D.C./Maryland native, doesn't say to conclude his foray into free agency.
Oklahoma City might as well be home, though. Durant has spent eight years representing the city and all nine of his NBA seasons with the organization that drafted him.
Regardless of how many suitors come calling this summer, the Thunder are familiar, mostly in a good way, and bound to be at or near the top of Durant's list of preferred landing spots.
- Biggest Three: Durant, Ibaka and Westbrook are, when healthy, one of the league's two most terrifying Big Threes. Very few teams will offer the chance to play beside two stars, let alone a pair of proven superheroes who are still years away from turning 30.
- Ready to Pay: After years of evading the luxury tax—an aversion that cost the team Harden—the Thunder are shelling out $97 million in base salaries for 2015-16. The luxury tax is no longer foreign territory; they are ready to spend.
- More Money: Oklahoma City, unlike every other team, can offer Durant a five-year deal.
- Unlikely Chemistry: Let's be honest: As two ball-dominant, career defensive liabilities, Kanter and Waiters aren't the ideal complements to Durant, Ibaka and Westbrook. But the Thunder are starting to make it work. Those five, on average, are outscoring opponents by 53.8 points per 100 possessions when on the floor together. Oklahoma City might have itself a Fantabulous Five after all.
- Continued Title Contention: No, the Thunder haven't won a title. But they have the league's fourth-best record since 2012-13, after losing Harden—which, when you think about, is pretty darn ridiculous considering they didn't even make the playoffs last season.
- What-If Factor: What if Westbrook didn't suffer a torn meniscus during the first round of the playoffs in 2013? What if Ibaka wasn't forced to deal with a calf injury in 2014? What if Durant didn't need three foot surgeries in less than six months last season? Would the Thunder have already won a championship? That you can say "probably" without sounding overly presumptuous is definitely a pro.
- This Is It: Once the Thunder throw a max contract Durant's way, they won't have any cap space to markedly upgrade the roster. They can re-sign Waiters in restricted free agency, but that's about it. Durant will have to like—nay, love—what he sees.
- Tricky Times Ahead: If the Thunder change at all in the near future, it will be because one or both of Ibaka and Westbrook leave. They'll be free agents in 2017, at which point either can seek the greener pastures Durant didn't, or the Thunder will need to double down on a group that has only flirted with getting over the championship hump.
More than anything, the Thunder have Durant's loyalty. Not once has he legitimately wavered on his faith in Oklahoma City and his desire to stay put. His public stances suggest just the opposite.
As he wrote for the Players' Tribune:
This is my squad. These are the guys I'm grinding with. Some of them are new to the team this year, and guys like Serge, Russ and Nick [Collison] have been with me through it all. I'd do anything for these guys. I'm not going to make any predictions about the season, but from what I see already, I like our chances.
And the Thunder should like their chances of keeping Durant—if for no other reason than because he seems to be looking for any sign not to leave.
New York Knicks
Immediately after Stephen A. Smith discussed Durant's purported interest in the Lakers, he moved on to the New York Knicks, telling viewers of First Take that a potential Carmelo Anthony-Durant-Bryant trio is on the table.
Now, as you safely exit your flying car that is powered by overcooked tater tots, keep in mind that Smith himself even classified this scenario as a long shot. But the Knicks are one Jose Calderon salary dump from enjoying max cap space next summer and, by extension, becoming one of Durant's most talked about admirers.
- Evolving Melo: Anthony has developed into a lethal spot-up shooter. Even as he struggles to find his groove post-knee surgery, he's still draining 40 percent of his catch-and-shoot treys. Toss in his climbing assist rate and you have a skill set fit for Durant's partner in crime.
- Porzingawd: Kristaps Porzingis is what happens when DeAndre Jordan's explosion merges with Dirk Nowitzki's offensive repertoire. This is to say, Porzingis belongs in the NBA.
- More Money, Less Problems: In part because Anthony re-signed for (slightly) less money before the salary cap exploded, the Knicks will have the means to carve out another max slot in 2017 even if they sign Durant.
- Guards Galore: Langston Galloway and Jerian Grant still have much to prove, but neither needs the ball in his hands on offense. With Anthony now in the same boat, Durant could possibly have more offensive freedom in New York than in Oklahoma City.
- Legacy Implications: If Durant goes to New York and helps end their 40-plus-year championship drought at the expense of James' Cavaliers, his legacy will receive a boost it can't get anywhere else.
- Offensive Inconsistency: The Knicks are no longer married to the triangle, but their offense is still outdated. They don't run nearly enough pick-and-rolls, and their mid-range-reliant shot selection looks like it was plucked straight from the 1990s.
- Superstars Wanted: Anthony's and Porzingis' primes will never intersect. By the time next season rolls around, Anthony's superstar days may actually be over, leaving Durant as New York's one and only.
- Depth-Chart Shuffling: The Knicks are already set up front with Anthony, Porzingis, Robin Lopez, Kyle O'Quinn and Derrick Williams. Signing Durant would force Porzingis to play mostly center and severely compound the power forward situation. Both Anthony and Durant should see ample time at the 4, and playing with each other, along with Porzingis, will pigeonhole one to small forward.
- Work in Progress: Although the Knicks' rebuild is in far better shape than the Lakers', they're still rebuilding. You could argue they would be contenders with Durant, but that's predicated on Anthony's remaining healthy and effective and Porzingis' progressing at warp speed.
Maybe, Potentially, Quite Possibly Legitimate, but Probably Not
Unless Durant truly believes in Anthony's post-prime twilight (eh) and is entirely seduced by Porzingis' Dirkordan Jowitzki ceiling (thumbs up), it's difficult to see him spurning Oklahoma City for New York.
Sure, the Knicks pose an intriguing fit as a team that could toe the line of a finished product with Durant in tow. But they're ostensibly set at the two positions Durant plays, and there are more championship-ready squads in the running.
Circle back to the Big Apple if Durant decides to pull a LeBron and re-sign with the Thunder on a short-term deal that allows him to explore free agency in 2017.
Do not rule out the Toronto Raptors in Durant's free agency—unless, of course, you think Durant is a liar.
Back in 2013, Durant admitted he wanted to play for the Raptors while growing up. And if that's not a definitive commitment, what is?
On a more serious note: General manager Masai Ujiri has perfectly positioned the Raptors to make a play on Durant. He locked up Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas on wallet-friendly deals, and DeMarre Carroll's team-leading salary won't look as steep when judged against the erupting cap.
Not that Toronto's pursuit will be free of collateral damage. It'll need to renounce the rights to All-Star DeMar DeRozan (player option) and look to move one or more of its lower-end cap hits (Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira, Patrick Patterson, Delon Wright, etc.).
At the same time, we can't rule out that the always active Ujiri could dump the newly extended Terrence Ross or Valanciunas, changing the Raptors' entire financial outlook.
The point is, Ujiri will do his due diligence when it comes to Durant.
- Kyle Lowry: The exact kind of point guard Durant should play alongside. Lowry doesn't need the ball in his hands but is absolutely deadly on the move when he's in charge of the action.
- DeMarre Carroll: Never has Durant played next to a swingman with Carroll's versatility. He drains triples, keeps the ball moving and defends every possession as if its his last. He's like the supercharged version of Thabo Sefolosha.
- Bruno Caboclo: Try telling me a "Brazilian Kevin Durant Meets American Kevin Durant" reality show wouldn't make for good prime-time television. Go ahead. I won't listen.
- Masai Ujiri: We have to go here. If one or both of Ross and Valanciunas make some sort of a leap in the coming years, the Raptors will have one of the deepest, most financially sound teams in all of basketball.
- Obligatory "Because, East": The Eastern Conference is still looking for a legitimate challenger to Cleveland's Eastern Conference throne. Toronto would become the prohibitive second favorite.
- Vacillating Star Power: Superstars still matter, and even if we're prepared to give Lowry the megastud nod (we should), the Raptors don't have anyone, DeRozan included, worthy of rounding out a genuine Big Three.
- Lots of Wings: The Raptors are more likely to run out small-ball combinations these days, and the potential of a Durant-Carroll pairing at the 3 and 4 slots has tons of upside. But they just extended Ross, probably won't just give up on DeRozan and invested a first-rounder in Caboclo. Creating a logjam on the perimeter won't do them much good.
- Too Much Preparation: It's always best when the roster tweaking can be kept to a minimum ahead of free agency. But even chasing Durant will cost the Raptors two key contributors, and that's before factoring in the raises Anthony Bennett, Bismack Biyombo, James Johnson and/or Luis Scola could demand.
It's Time to Move On
This isn't two years ago. The Raptors don't need a player like Durant to put them on the map. They've done that by retaining Lowry, poaching Carroll and fielding a consistently potent offensive team that's good enough to make a splash in the still feeble East.
Maybe Ujiri sees an opening and pounces. But the price of merely getting in the room with Durant is too costly.
Toronto has essentially removed itself from the Durant bonanza, and that's OK.
At long last, the Wizards—the most obviously invested of Durant's suitors outside Oklahoma City.
From the Washington Nationals' curly "W" tattoo on his abdomen, to the Redskins socks he slipped on after leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a a 124-103 rout of the Phoenix Suns Sunday night, Kevin Durant has never been able to hide the heart-tugging connection with his hometown.
Durant has always been able to separate his rooting interests from his personal, professional interests but that challenge became more difficult once the countdown to his free agency drew closer and the team he used to ride the green line Metro to watch as kid started angling to move to the front of a long line for his services in the summer of 2016.
Washington didn't sign Bradley Beal, its second-best player—at least until Otto Porter breaks out—to an extension. It didn't pursue any cap-clogging upgrades to improve upon last season's second-round exit. It didn't do anything—this past summer or the one before—to compromise its inevitable pursuit of Durant.
Certainties seldom exist in free agency, but one thing is already clear and has been for some time: When the clock strikes midnight (Eastern Time) on July 1, the Wizards will be ready to put the full-court press on the local kid turned megastar.
- Coming Home: Durant was born in Washington and attended high school in Maryland. For someone so clearly proud of his roots, it's safe to say he wouldn't mind trying to bring his hometown franchise its second-ever championship.
- John Wall: He's like the inverse of Westbrook: a pass-first point guard who can score like whoa.
- Bradley Beal: Who wouldn't enjoy flinging passes out of double-teams to a 20-something shooting guard who converts nearly 50 percent of his standalone three-balls?
- New-Look Offense: Head coach Randy Wittman has the Wizards fully committed to small ball. Imagine a starting lineup featuring Durant at the 3 or 4 next to Beal, Marcin Gortat, Porter and Wall. [Swoons.]
- Marcin Gortat: A pick-and-roll overlord who, in all likelihood, tells the best pregame knock-knock jokes? Yes, please.
- Obligatory "Because, East": The Eastern Conference is still looking for a legitimate challenger to Cleveland's Eastern Conference throne. Washington would become the prohibitive second favorite.
- Gambling on Upside: There's clearly a ton of talent on the Wizards, but Wall is still the only patented superstar. Washington is waiting for an entire season's worth of superstar Bradley Beal, and the jury is still out on Porter.
- Lateral Move(?): You can make the case that, with the exception of shooting guard (Beal), the Wizards are inferior to the Thunder at every position.
- Bumps and Bruises: Injury bugs just seem to find Beal. He missed more than 21 percent of all possible regular-season contests leading into 2015-16 and is already battling through a shoulder injury, per CSNMidAtlantic.com's J. Michael.
Take Them Seriously
The "coming home" argument holds weight for the Wizards, and they're good enough now to keep themselves at the foreground of the Durant debate.
In many ways, though, we're still waiting on them. They've made that jump into the postseason realm but have yet to take that leap into the championship territory.
Whether the Wizards actually emerge as one of the favorites for Durant is a matter of their showing they're not wholly dependent on a player they don't have to get them there.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @danfavale.