Kevin Durant made the Golden State Warriors an unbeatable force of nature, but next year he could be the one to bring the dynasty crashing back to Earth.
Let the drama and speculation begin! After a post-game shouting match a little while ago between Durant and Draymond Green made waves throughout the NBA world, people have begun to guess where Durant will sign this offseason. While I find discussing hypothetical topics like this fun and generally harmless, there are some people who feel it’s a waste of time. To them I will say, you have seen this video right? Durant leaving the Warriors is a very real possibility, and the fallout from his second free agent decision could prove catastrophic for the Warriors dynasty.
Durant does have a player option to remain with the Warriors next season, but I think most people will agree there is little to no chance he exercises that option. Even if he wants to remain with the Warriors, he’ll be looking for a contract that allows him to make as much money as possible. Sure, there is that chance he sticks it out with the Warriors and they keep rolling over the rest of the NBA, but I don’t want to talk about the continuation of the Warriors dynasty. I want to talk about its end.
There are three top-tier players in the NBA: LeBron James, Durant, and Stephen Curry. You can rank those three in whatever order you’d like, but they are the best and any decision one of them makes sends an earthquake through the league. That’s why Durant is such a big deal. He’ll easily be a top twenty player of all-time and might even contend for being a member of the top ten by the end of his career. And this offseason, at the age of 30, Durant will be hitting the market for the second time in his career.
The most likely landing spots for Durant, besides the Warriors, are the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers. At least that’s what Stephen A. Smith believes. I think he posed all legitimate options. I’d throw the San Antonio Spurs into the rink as well just because they’re the Spurs and they always pull something off. The idea of Durant returning to the Oklahoma City Thunder also crossed my mind but they’re already wildly over the cap for this season and I don’t see a reunion between Durant and Russell Westbrook in the near future. Some people believe the Washington Wizards, the team that plays in Durant’s hometown, would be an option. But the team is so poorly constructed that I just don’t see it. I’m also not really entertaining the idea of Durant going to the Houston Rockets because of James Harden, another former Thunder teammate who likes to be “the man” on his own team.
Now let’s break down what Durant could accomplish at any one of these proposed locations, starting with New York. The Knicks will be a rebuilding team, even if Durant signs there. If Kristaps Porzingis returns and is fully healthy, that could be an interesting duo but the third best player on the team will be Tim Hardaway Jr. As it is the team will have to submit a qualifying offer for Porzingis and Enes Kanter is slated to become a free agent. The roster is messy and with a horrible, over-bearing owner like James Dolan, the team will be permanently handicapped. If I was Durant, I’d avoid New York.
Durant on the 76ers would be interesting, especially pairing him up with Joel Embiid. But The 76ers have already made it pretty clear they want to sign Jimmy Butler to a long-term deal. Butler holds a player option for next season. Technically, it wouldn’t be impossible for the team to sign Durant and keep Butler, the bench would just be paper thin though. Assuming Butler takes the player option or signs a new deal, the 76ers have seven players under contract for the 2019-20 season. That leaves them the cap room to get Durant and be the strongest team in the Eastern Conference, but I don’t think the 76ers have the coaching to manage such a potentially thin bench. Either way, if Durant did go to Philadelphia I’d automatically hand them the East. It wouldn’t be a clean sweep to the finals, the team would need to learn to play together and their three-point shooting would be suffering, but talent wise their roster would be head and shoulder above everyone else.
I could see a series between this hypothetical 76ers squad and the Warriors going seven games. It’s hard to count out the three-point shooting of the Warriors. The series would really come down to two things. One, how Curry and Durant would play and try to match each other’s output. And two, Embiid’s contributions. I think even Green would struggle on Embiid, and I think it’s more likely Green would guard Ben Simmons or Butler anyways. That leaves Embiid the man with the best hypothetical matchup against whatever plug-and-play center the Warriors have. I think the 76ers would have an advantage thanks to their starters in this situation, but the Warriors by far would have a better bench.
Durant to Boston seems unlikely. For starters, Kyrie Irving only went to Boston with the desire to be “the man”. If Durant showed up it would be the same dynamic Irving had to deal with when he played with James back in Cleveland. The Celtics also have a lot of young talent and some big contracts. Signing Durant could stunt the development of players like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, and others. Also, the team just doesn’t have the cap space right now. If the team was going to sign Durant, that would involve offloading Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, or Irving. But that brings in a whole lot of other variables I don’t want to get into right now.
If the Celtics were somehow able to add Durant, even if it came at the cost of Hayward or Horford, they would be the most talented team in the East. However, I don’t know how the team’s chemistry would work. As I said Irving wants to be the best player on his own team and players like Brown and Tatum are vying for their own shots. While I think head coach Brad Stevens is more equipped to handle a complicated locker room than Brett Brown on the 76ers, I don’t know if he could balance out that hypothetical team. If the team was able to gel, just like with the 76ers, they’d be the best team in the East and would challenge the Warriors in the Finals. Unlike the 76ers though, the Celtics would have a better bench and greater depth. That team would have a better chance of beating the Warriors than a Durant led 76ers.
The Spurs have some good players and All-Stars including DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, but they aren’t threatening to make a deep playoff run with their current roster. The Spurs have a lot of players under contract for next season, but they’ll have plenty of opportunities to trade away some of their role players. I’m not sure that the Spurs could make enough room for Durant. Even if they did sign him, I wouldn’t immediately put the Spurs ahead of the Warriors in the West. Actually I still think the Warriors would be the best team in the West. I don’t know why, but the Durant-DeRozan and Durant-Gregg Popovich dynamic just doesn’t work out in my mind.
By far the most interesting possible offseason destination for Durant is the Lakers. The mere idea of Durant and James playing on the same team is fantastic. I know the possibility of having Curry, DeMarcus Cousins, Durant, Green, and Klay Thompson on the court at the same time for the Warriors this year is something most of us never thought we’d ever see in an NBA team a few years ago, but Durant and James would be on a different level. At that point we’re talking about the two most all-around dominant players in the NBA today. That pairing would be like Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant because it would be a pairing of two potential top ten players of all-time. James is already in the top ten and Durant keeps moving up the all-time rankings every year. I’m not saying the five all-star group in Golden State isn’t special, but I don’t see a duo that could possibly more powerful in the NBA today than Durant and James.
I’m not necessarily saying that the current Lakers roster, even with Durant and James, would be a shoe-in to beat the Warriors either. It’s true that the Warriors would only be able to guard one of the two stars at a time, but the supporting cast in L.A. right now is “meh”. I like the young players (Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball) but I don’t think they do anything for a team looking to win immediately. That being said, the Lakers are going to have a ton of cap space opening up this summer. For Durant to sign there I think at least one other All-Star would have to agree to join forces with him and James. That All-Star could be Cousins or maybe Kemba Walker. Sadly, I don’t see a player like Butler or Kawhi Leonard deciding to join a team with Durant and James, and there’s no way Irving would do it.
While I think the Lakers are an interesting possibility, they will need a third All-Star to join the team if they want to be the favorites to win the title. As for the probability of this happening, well it’s hard to say. The Lakers are going to make runs at a couple of big-name free agents this summer. It would be a joke if they didn’t land at least one. I guess it’s all up to Durant really. Does he want to prove he can beat his current team, the Warriors? Is he satisfied with the titles he has? Is there a particular city he wants to live in? How much of an impact does the drama in the Golden State locker room play into the decision?
Then of course there’s the chance that Durant will just re-sign with the Warriors and ruin all of the offseason fun. If he did re-sign, or simply opt-in with his player option, it would likely be for the short-term future and he’d be a free agent again in a year or two. Obviously Durant took a lot of heat for signing with the Warriors the first time around and this year there’s been a lot of drama surrounding the team. What I think it will come down to is whether or not Durant will be satisfied with the championships he’s won by this summer. If he is and wants to go take on a new challenge that doesn’t basically guarantee a championship every year, then he’s probably going to sign with one of the teams I’ve mentioned. If the Warriors lose this year or Durant feels like he needs to win more championships in the immediate future, then it would beneficial for him to stay with the Warriors.
Durant’s free agency decision this summer should hold that same weight as James’ did last year. It’s going to be that kind of league realigning move that shakes the entire basketball world. People are going to speculate about where Durant will sign for the next few months so be ready to constantly see articles and discussion about it going on in the media. Will it be over the top? Absolutely. That’s just the point we’re at. It is warranted though, Durant has the ability to take a bad team to a contending spot immediately. After all, he is one of the all-time greats.
Right now Durant is known as the man who couldn’t beat Golden State, so he joined them and made then invincible. I’m hoping to see how he’ll dethrone them in the next couple of years if he decides to leave.