Destinations for Durant

Kevin Durant is arguably the NBA’s premier scorer and most likely one of its five best players. Now entering free agency, he will have to determine where he’s going to take his talents after this summer. One thing for sure: with the salary cap being projected to $94 million for next season, Durant’s got a lot money to gain.

Will the talented 6’9 scorer stay with Oklahoma City or go somewhere else? Before we go into the possible destinations, let’s take a look at the cap space for each team over the next few years. The figures come from subtracting the remaining cap space for next season (seen here) from the projected $94 million.

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Unlikely, but possible
7. New York Knicks ($38,865,202 for 2017)
6. San Antonio Spurs ($14,305,789 for 2017)

Given the Knicks reputation as the real life equivalent of an NBA 2K franchise, it’s hard to believe Durant would join them. After all, this is a team that has Langston Galloway as the franchise’s best guard after Derrick Rose.

Even with’s New York’s cap space, a Durant/Carmelo Anthony combination in the team’s front court would be the kind of ball-dominating conflict and locker room nightmare that people assumed Russell Westbrook and Durant were at their worst. The only difference is that this time, the skepticism is warranted and there’s little chance that Durant would want anything less than the $24-28 million per year Anthony is getting from the Knicks over the next three years. That’s not going into how asinine it is to abandon Westbrook for Rose, if you were Durant.

Meanwhile, it’s doubtful that the Spurs will be able to pull in Durant – at least in this year’s free agency. They would have to bank on a sign-and-trade kind of deal with the Thunder (and possibly another team), where they get rid of role players like Tony Parker, Danny Green and Boris Diaw, if not offload last year’s pickup LaMarcus Aldridge. That’s not exactly a good way to show a player like Durant how to treat some of your franchise’s integral players.

Even if San Antonio does this, why would it give away so many assets for someone who might not bring the same combined balance those individuals bring the Spurs? Consider San Antonio’s incredible regular season and there’s reason to doubt its front office blowing up an already amazing roster just to bring in another superstar.

Longshot
5. Golden State Warriors($19,767,356)

To start with the pros, let’s put it this way: the “death” lineup of Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson/Andre Iguodala/Harrison Barnes/Draymond Green outscored its opponents 143 to 98 per 100 possessions throughout the regular season,per 82games.com. Now think about that lineup, but replace Barnes with Durant. You don’t need numbers to show you that’s easily the best lineup in NBA history. It’s hard to turn a 73-9 team better, but somehow a Durant addition would do so.

However, when it comes to a Durant-signing being feasible, the odds are still pretty low. After next season’s end, the Warriors will have to deal with the free agencies of Curry, Iguodala and Andrew Bogut. On his own, Curry is worth the same kind of money as Durant – tying money to Durant will show the former league MVP that the Warriors are willing to give money away in free agency before signing Curry, barring an immediate renegotiation of Curry’s contract.

Therefore, if Golden State wants to look long-term without crippling the franchise or alienating its best player, the team will have to convince Durant to take a one-year Darrelle Revis-esque mercenary role with less money and more long-term questions. That’s not necessarily worth one possible championship run for both Golden State and Durant. Nevertheless, the potential is terrifying and still possible.

The Dark Horses
4. Los Angeles Clippers($15,655,492)
3. Boston Celtics($66,314,780)
2. Miami Heat($45,991,325)

Los Angeles with Durant provides a less terrifying, but still exciting possibility. Chris Paul/JJ Redick/Kevin Durant/Blake Griffin/DeAndre Jordan fixes last year’s issue at the small forward position and, with better health from Griffin, ensures a well-balanced starting lineup with the necessary ball movement, rebounding, shooting, interior scoring, free throw drawing, defense and shot creation necessary to become a contender.

How do the Clippers convince Durant that this is worth giving up millions of dollars for, as well as a bench? In this scenario, his salary would still be below Chris Paul’s $22 million. Los Angeles will have to structure the contract so that the majority of the money could come in the back end of the contract. Will Los Angeles be willing to take that level of risk for a player who is two years removed from a devastating foot injury? It’s hard to tell.

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Durant dribbling in front of tens of thousands of fans. Photo per bulletsforever.com

Alternatively, what Boston lacks in talent, it has in money. Danny Ainge didn’t trade the No. 3 draft pick like many Celtics fans wanted, but perhaps he was waiting for give a sign-and-trade type offer for Oklahoma City in free agency later. On their own, expiring contracts for Evan Turner, Perry Jones and David Lee give Boston at least $20 million for next season. That’s not even taking into account that next year’s projected payroll for the Celtics, as stated above. Not bad for a team that finished 48-34 last season.

If Durant were to join the Celtics, Boston would instantly become the Eastern Conference’s hope for stopping the Cavaliers from another easy ride to the NBA Finals. A starting lineup of him, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley gives Durant the necessary shooters on the outside to thrive as the primary scorer and slasher for the Celtics, while Thomas can still succeed without Durant on the court as a lesser version of Westbrook that can shoot from three. Players like Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerekbo, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson/Jared Sullinger (if they return) also give Boston needed depth along with their young guard Marcus Smart, who could also develop into a solid role player role as well.

The Celtics also give Durant flexibility for his future. Boston wouldn’t have as much lineup potential like the Clippers or Warriors, but it wouldn’t need to. By dedicating themselves to Durant over a window of three to five years while still having a plethora of future draft picks, the Celtics can guarantee a portion of their money to Durant’s financial stability, while maintaining their cheap-cost philosophy for role players to complement Durant. Who knows? Maybe Boston turns Bradley, Jerekbo and a future pick into a budding up-and-comer like Jimmy Butler.

In Miami, Dwyane Wade’s $20 million will almost certainly be reduced, given his 34 year-old status and dwindling athleticism on the court at both ends. If the Heat can restructure his contract to even something like $15 million, it will still leave Pat Riley $5 million to work with – and that’s not going into the additional $10 million that Miami gets from Luol Deng’s departure.

Although Durant mainly thrives in transition, his shooting and shot creation still holds tremendous value in Erik Spoelstra’s pace-and-space offense. Even if the Heat let Hassan Whiteside walk this offseason, a lineup with Durant, healthy Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic would have shooting from everywhere on the court while maintaining size. Wade would be the cherry on top.

This is more than worth giving up Whiteside for, though the Heat would have to find more big men in the marketplace to combat bigger teams in the NBA. Then again, wasn’t this kind of criticism there when LeBron James joined Miami as well? Maybe we could see some excellent small-ball potential with Durant/Bosh as a front court over the next few years.

The Favorites
1. Oklahoma City Thunder($33,790,739)

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Durant high-fiving his fellow teammate Russell Westbrook, per USA Today.

It sounds trite, but why exactly would Durant want to leave Oklahoma City in the first place? The Thunder were a Klay Thompson-ascension into basketball immortality from reaching the NBA Finals. They weren’t exactly a pushover.

With Oklahoma City, Durant gets a franchise that clearly cares about his opinion and holds his opinion above every other player on the roster except maybe Westbrook. The Thunder could give him $30 million next year alone and practically only lose Serge Ibaka and Randy Foye. For a team that just got Ersan Ilyasova and Victor Oladipo in return for Ibaka, Oklahoma City seems pretty ready to win now, while having a good amount of potential for long-term success.

There might be tempting alternatives elsewhere, but when it comes to the amount of money a team can throw at Durant, its chances of winning an NBA title and long-term sustainability, the Thunder are pretty much set in how balanced they are. Why risk giving all of that up for going somewhere else with different question marks?

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