What will be the perfect landing spot for Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, the summer’s most coveted free agent? Everyone will have cap space, everyone will be interested. He will have his choice, from rebuilding the Lakers to (maybe) joining the 73-win Warriors or the 65-win Spurs. He could go home to D.C. or be Danny Ainge’s latest Boston prize. Or how about this? How about a team with a star point guard, with competent young role players, and a respected coach. One with a loyal fanbase, one with seven straight winning seasons, complete with a trip to the NBA Finals. Does that sound appealing?
That team, of course, is the Oklahoma City Thunder.
BO-RING. I know, I know. This isn’t what anyone wants to hear. We want KD spearheading a super team in Golden State (could they win 80 games?), or becoming Tim Duncan’s successor in San Antonio—just imagine a frontcourt of Durant, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Those are what basketball dreams are made of. Reality, generally, is a bit more prosaic.
First off, there is the little matter of money. USA Today’s Sam Amick lays it all out in detail here, but the gist of it is that, if Durant remains in OKC via a two-year deal this summer and opts out next summer, he stands to make roughly $100 million more over the next five years than he would if he signed elsewhere. This is quite a bit of money, even for the generationally rich.
Then there is the matter of basketball. Yes, the Warriors would become some sort of even-more-super Saiyan demolition squad with Durant slotted into their frontcourt. And yes, both Durant and Steph Curry seem to have the necessary personalities to share the ball. But does anyone really want to see either of them shoot less? (And, silly as this question may sound, do the Warriors even need Durant? They’re 140-24 over the past two seasons, with Curry’s big payday coming up next summer. Flexibility may prove more important than adding another superstar.)
The Spurs? This probably makes the most sense, if Durant was to relocate. He went to college in Texas, and seems to be the sort of star player who could handle playing for Gregg Popovich. They’d have to do some creative bookkeeping to have a max slot for Durant, perhaps even jettisoning Boris Diaw and his espresso machine. Again though, like the Warriors, San Antonio’s success has been based on a balance of stars and role players. Going top-heavy may not be the way, even if they’d certainly rather play with him than against him.
As for all the other would-be suitors—Boston and Houston and Washington and whoever else can clear out the cap space—they would represent lateral moves. Yes, a signing with an Eastern team like Boston would theoretically make for an easier path to the NBA Finals. But is just getting to the Finals enough? After all, Durant has already done that. (Washington? As Rakim once said, “it ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you at.”)
Durant and Oklahoma City’s basketball story is intertwined. It would be an awful shame if he left before he found out how it ended.
And where he’s at, the Thunder are still very, very good and only getting better. They’re also young. Dion Waiters is 24, Enes Kanter is 23, Steven Adams is 22, Cameron Payne is 21. Durant and Russell Westbrook are both 27. They’re not among the 10 youngest teams in the NBA, but that’s because little-used old timers Nick Collison (35) and Nazr Mohammed (38) skew the numbers. GM Sam Presti may have only received one vote for Executive of the Year, but he deserves credit for keeping things going. Over the past six seasons, only the Heat and the Spurs have had better regular-season winning percentages, this despite injuries to both Durant and Westbrook.
So why not stay? As many similarities as there are, Durant is not Kevin Garnett and the Thunder are not the Timberwolves. In Minnesota, Garnett’s seven straight first-round exits culminated in one trip to the Western Conference Finals, followed by three straight lottery seasons. No matter what transpires in the series against the Spurs, the logical answer seems to be this: Gear up to go at it again for the only franchise he’s ever known, in a city that has universally embraced him.
(This is probably the time to bring up LeBron in Cleveland, and, nah. LeBron wasn’t a businessman, he was a business, man, and his moves seemed to be thought out two, three, four steps ahead. He probably had some of his I’m Coming Home article written in his head before he even left. Self-aggrandizing The Decision special aside, he accomplished exactly what he wanted to accomplish. Plus, Durant doesn’t seem like the type to form a superfriends-type allegiance with anyone.)
Durant’s story itself is unique in the modern NBA, in that he is the Thunder’s original superstar, a founding father. There likely would have been basketball in Oklahoma City even had the Sonics stayed in Seattle—the Hornets certainly seemed at home there—but as it is, Durant and Oklahoma City’s basketball story is intertwined. It would be an awful shame if he left before he found out how it ended.