Report: Kevin Durant Declines Warriors' $31.5M Contract Option, Hits Free Agency

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 26, 2019

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - MAY 08:   Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors reacts during their game against the Houston Rockets in Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 08, 2019 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The Kevin Durant sweepstakes are underway. The 10-time NBA All-Star intends to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Golden State Warriors, according to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski.

Durant's plans beyond that remain unclear, with Wojnarowski reporting he is "evaluating free agency options" and that the "process has stayed private."

Wojnarowski added Durant is considering returning to the Warriors with the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers also in the mix.

The 30-year-old was his usual self in the regular season, averaging 26.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists. The postseason is where everything went wrong.

The two-time NBA Finals MVP suffered a right calf strain in Golden State's second-round series win over the Houston Rockets and missed a little over a month before returning for Game 5 of the NBA Finals. He played 12 minutes before going down and grabbing his right ankle area.

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Durant confirmed he ruptured his Achilles.

Last summer, Durant signed a two-year, $61.5 million extension with the Warriors that let him to opt out this offseason and hit free agency.

At the time, the intention of the move was clear. Durant allowed himself to either sign another lucrative short-term deal or commit to a long-term max contract. In both scenarios, becoming a free agent was clearly the smart play before his injury.

Because he's going to miss so much of the 2019-20 season, some wondered whether Durant would opt in since the net effect is ultimately the same. He'd still get paid and could've then reevaluated free agency when he's healthy.

But teams will assuredly line up to offer Durant a max contract—even with the injury—and that's a tough opportunity to turn down.

The question now becomes where Durant ultimately lands.

The New York Knicks will surely be near the top of the list. 

Ian Begley reported for ESPN.com in April: "It's easier to find street parking in Manhattan than it is to find an NBA executive, player or coach who doesn't think Durant is going to sign with the Knicks in July."

Stephen A. Smith also said on the May 13 edition of First Take that Knicks owner James Dolan was prepared to do whatever was necessary to land Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Going to the Knicks would largely be a legacy play for Durant. Fair or unfair, his two NBA titles with the Warriors don't hold as much weight from a narrative perspective as winning a championship with the Knicks, who last won an NBA title in 1973, would.

LeBron James was a two-time champion with the Miami Heat, but guiding the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first-ever title elevated him from a legacy standpoint.

If the Knicks aren't Durant's ultimate destination, he'll almost certainly be motivated by a similar goal if he's turning down what would potentially be a third ring in Golden State.

Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher reported Irving is hopeful of convincing Durant to sign with the Brooklyn Nets.

James had an opportunity to alter the NBA landscape last summer when he left the Cavaliers for a second time. By signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, James essentially maintained the status quo. 

The effect on the league might be the same if Durant chooses the Knicks or Nets, especially with the difficulty of predicting what kind of player he'll be post-Achilles injury.

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