The Kevin Durant sweepstakes is officially underway.
According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder have secured the first recruiting meetings with the most coveted free agent in this year's class:
The Warriors and Spurs, sources say, are both already planning to load a plane full of key organizational figures -- including Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for Golden State, and Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan for San Antonio -- to fly to an undisclosed location once free-agency season starts to try to lure Durant away from the only franchise he has ever played for.
The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers are also talking with Durant's representatives "to solidify invitations." He added, Durant is expected to make a decision by July 9.
According to Wojnarowski, "meetings are expected to take place in New York, but teams are still awaiting word on a location."
The Warriors and Spurs have long been rumored to be potential destinations for Durant if he chooses to depart Oklahoma City, so it shouldn't come as a major surprise that the respected Western Conference clubs were able to work their way into the mix with July 1 looming.
As far as the defending Western Conference champions are concerned, the Warriors, by all accounts, figure to be active when it comes to pitching the former MVP.
According to the San Jose Mercury News' Tim Kawakami, "The Warriors first and foremost still want to clear the decks for a run at unrestricted free agent [Kevin] Durant.
Furthermore, the New York Daily News' Frank Isola cited a source Tuesday who said Durant plans to hear out recruiting pitches in Los Angeles—with Golden State occupying a prime position.
"The same source maintains that if Durant doesn’t re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he would prefer to join the Warriors—a team that has reached two straight NBA Finals and could rule the Western Conference for the next five years if Durant goes to the Bay Area," Isola added.
When it comes to the Spurs, Stein relayed word as recently as May that they were intent on trying to lure the four-time scoring champion to Texas.
Citing sources, Stein reported the Spurs "are just as intrigued as Golden State by the thought of making a run at Durant come July 1."
But if Durant is intent on maximizing his value on the open market, the smart money is on the seven-time All-Star re-signing in Oklahoma City on a two-year deal that includes a player option for the 2017-18 season.
According to Wojnarowski, "The Thunder remain the front-runners to re-sign Durant, likely on a one-plus-one-year deal."
Not only would signing such a deal allow Durant to explore his options again when Russell Westbrook becomes a free agent, as Stein noted, but he also would be able to capitalize on a rising salary cap that's expected to spike to $94 million this summer and north of $100 million in 2017, per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst.
If financial considerations prove to be secondary, though, Durant could evidently be swayed by the allure of chasing championships.
According to Stein, the Warriors "increasingly believe their chances of convincing Durant to leave the Thunder after a successful 10-season run were enhanced significantly by the fact that Golden State lost the NBA Finals to Cleveland in seven games despite taking a 3-1 series lead."
And as Wojnarowski reported, "Durant’s public and private criteria for the free-agent selection process have pertained to a singular focus: the chance to win titles immediately."