A couple summers back, Toronto Raptors Global Ambassador and courtside regular (though he strays) Drake asked fans at one of his summer concerts to show Oklahoma City Thunder forward the kind of love he would receive should he bring his talents to Toronto. The crowd went ape, the NBA handed “October’s Very Own” a fine for $25,000 for “tampering” and we all kind of collectively thought, “It’s a nice gesture to try to lure him here, but it’s not happening.”
But now it’s not as far-fetched to think that the former MVP and soon-to-be free agent could decide to come north of the border to pursue his championship dreams.
While there are going to be numerous suitors for the tremendously skilled forward, who has multiple options as a free agent, both in terms of where to go and whether to just revisit it next year when the NBA salary cap goes way up thanks to the latest television deal, Toronto can put together a compelling pitch for KD and they absolutely should.
(Note: at the bare minimum, they have to kick the tires on the possibility of Durant coming to Toronto; if he/his people say it’s not happening, you can move on, but you have to approach.)
So why would Toronto make sense for Durant? Let’s run through the reasons.
Easier Path in the Eastern Conference
Durant has been to the NBA Finals once, running into various juggernauts and some back luck in the Western Conference over the bunch of years when the Thunder have been at their peak. For all the grief people give LeBron for not winning more rings, he’s playing in his sixth consecutive Finals series and has two titles, so, you know, perspective.
Getting there is going to keep being a real challenge in the Western Conference, but in the East right now, the only team you have to really worry about are the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Raptors just pushed them to six games with Jonas Valanciunas missing most of the series and playing at far less than 100% once he returned.
If you’re focused on winning and winning now – not going somewhere to build for two or three years before contending – what makes more sense: staying in the West and having to battle Golden State, San Antonio, the Clippers and maybe Houston or heading East where LeBron & Co. are the only thing standing between you and the Finals?
Advantage: Eastern Conference
Great Group Already in Place
As mentioned above, Durant likely doesn’t want to go somewhere that he’s going to have to wait a couple years for a team to come together around him – he wants to contend and he wants to contend right now – and the Raptors can offer that.
Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas as excellent secondary and tertiary options. DeMarre Carroll is a terrific wing, when healthy. Patrick Patterson, Cory Joseph, Norman Powell and Terrence Ross are valuable bench pieces. The kids still have room to grow and they have two first-round picks in the upcoming draft, including the ninth-overall selection.
This group (plus DeMar DeRozan) made it to the Eastern Conference Finals and if you don’t think replacing DeRozan with Durant (don’t think they can have both) would make it likely that they’d return, you’re nuts. Toronto’s biggest hole this season was at power forward, Durant’s natural position, and he would more that fill the void left by DeRozan in this hypothetical situation.
Kevin Durant Loves Toronto
This is the wild card variable in all this and one that other places aren’t holding.
Durant grew up loving the Raptors and Vince Carter, dreaming of playing at the Air Canada Centre. He visits the city every year for a few days when the season is done because he thinks it’s an amazing city.
Can San Antonio say that? Oakland? Los Angeles? Nope.
Lots of people assume Durant will sign a one-year deal to stay in Oklahoma City, giving the Thunder one more shot at breaking through in the Western Conference after just being up 3-1 on the Warriors last week and timing his free agency to coincide with that of teammate Russell Westbrook.
That would also put him in a position to maximize his contract dollars, as a max contract next year would be larger than it would be this year.
But why not just put a two-year deal with an opt-out after the first year in the deal, thereby giving Durant the chance to sign a more lucrative, long-term deal when the new television deal kicks in?
Put a contender around him (already in place) with an easier road to the Finals in front of him (check!) and see what happens.
That’s the pitch. If he doesn’t take it, he doesn’t take it, but that’s what Masai Uriji and the Raptors should table to Durant and his people and honestly, it’s as good a pitch as he’s going to get from anyone, save for maybe the Golden State Warriors.