The smart money has been on Kevin Durant signing a two-year max extension with Oklahoma City that includes a one-year opt-out, due to … money. Durant would stand to make several million dollars more by doing so. However, the free agent-to-be might be looking at his shoe deal (potentially worth up to $300 million) and wondering “do I really need to worry about every last dollar from my NBA employer?”
Via the New York Daily News:
“I’m worried about basketball,” Durant told reporters in Austin, Tex., during the release of his new sneaker line on Monday. “That’s what it is for me. It’s a basketball decision. I’m looking forward to the future.”
The one player who can change the balance of power in the NBA is expected to meet with prospective teams in Los Angeles when the free-agent recruiting period beings in July, according to a source. Durant had considered holding meetings in New York, but apparently has decided to hear proposals in Los Angeles, where he owns an off-season home.
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.
The Warriors will spend the coming days preparing the best pitch possible to sway Durant, but the “basketball” part of the equation is crystal clear without fancy dinners with The Logo or a slick PowerPoint presentation.
Money is the only obstacle, because the Warriors present the best basketball fit by a considerable margin.
Yes, Durant and the Thunder came within half a quarter of knocking off the Warriors in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. But they came so close in large part because Durant presented so many challenges for Golden State on both ends. If Durant stays in Oklahoma City and they make some adjustments to the roster, there’s a chance that they can beat the Warriors. If he joins Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson in the Bay Area, the Thunder would stand no chance of beating the Warriors in a series unless they acquired LeBron James — which isn’t happening. The Thunder have barely any wiggle room if they re-sign Durant and Dion Waiters, which is almost surely their offseason plan (barring a trade).
Why not the East?
Durant has other choices, like Boston, Miami, or even going back to his hometown and joining the Wizards. But with James back in the top spot, a move to the Eastern Conference doesn’t look quite as enticing unless the reigning Finals MVP does something crazy like bolting to Los Angeles. Washington is a mess — Durant would obviously be better either staying in OKC or signing with any of the other teams mentioned in this post. Miami has Pat Riley and no state income tax, but again we’re getting into money. And with Chris Bosh’s future in doubt, the Heat’s core may not be enough.
Why the Warriors?
There is no such worry with the Warriors, as Curry is 28, both Thompson and Green are 26, and all are relatively healthy. Durant is 27, six months younger than Curry.
Isola also noted the going theory that every Warriors fan has soothed himself or herself with since Golden State fell short on Sunday: With the Warriors not winning back-to-back titles, Durant wouldn’t be looked at as a frontrunner if he came to Oakland. It would be pretty easy to convince Durant that they NEED him, especially with the Warriors’ offensive struggles at the end of Game 7.
*** (This hasn’t been said as often, but could play into his decision: With Curry looking vulnerable throughout the playoffs, Durant wouldn’t necessarily be the No. 2 — or No. 1a — guy slightly behind him anymore if they joined forces, either. This wasn’t necessarily the case during the regular season, or in the days after Curry won the MVP unanimously and looked like the all-powerful face of basketball.) ***
If the Warriors land Durant, the could then keep one — and only one — of these three: Andrew Bogut (valuable when healthy), Andre Iguodala (the team’s steadiest playoff performer) and Harrison Barnes (who declined slightly in his age-23 season, vanished in the last three games of the Finals, and would still cost a fortune to retain). This decision would be extraordinarily easy for the Warriors, as long as they could find a taker for Bogut — Iguodala is the obvious choice. Luckily for Bogut and the Warriors, the knee injury he suffered in Game 5 will not require surgery, and the remainder of his contract (one season at just over $11 million) will look like a bargain this offseason. If Golden State wants to move him, there would be some takers.
Obviously dealing Bogut would leave the Warriors without a center, so they’d probably have to match whatever offer Festus Ezeli ends up getting on the open market with the hope that Ezeli plays as well or better than he did this season before his knee surgery. There are plenty of other free agent role players for the Warriors to figure out (Mo Speights, Leandro Barbosa, Ian Clark, James Michael McAdoo, Brandon Rush). Regardless of how the Warriors might fill out the rest of their roster, Durant would have no doubt that if he came to Golden State and became KDub, his new team would likely rule the Western Conference for several seasons.