Kevin Durant’s Free Agency Decision Could Shift the Balance of Power in the NBA
By Tyrone Eddins Jr.
Each year, July 1st marks the annual beginning of one of the busiest times of the NBA offseason. Directly on the heels of the NBA draft, the 1st of July kicks off the mad scramble to divvy up the league’s free agent pool. Over the next few days NBA teams will spend huge amounts of money as many players will leave one team for another while some choose to stay put with each of those players repeating the same catchphrase over and over again like an ancient and sacred chant: “SHOW…ME…THE…MONEY!”
This year’s NBA free agency sweepstakes features a center-stage main attraction that stands far apart from the rest; a big domino that will influence how all of the others fall. Suitors have come out of the woodwork to vie for his services for the upcoming season. Some have no chance, but a select few teams have a very real opportunity to steal him from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Reminiscent of LeBron James’ famous (or infamous) “The Decision” back in July 2010, the action this weekend could yield a decision that sends shockwaves throughout the entire league for the foreseeable future.
His name is Kevin Durant. Some know him as “KD”. EVERYONE knows him as one of the best pure scorers to ever play the game and an easy pick as one of the top three players in the NBA today. He is a freakish athlete with the size and wingspan of a big man; a combo forward with the phenomenal ball-handling and the lethal shooting range of a guard. He is the prototypical high-powered offensive weapon of today’s small-ball NBA.
Standing as king of the hill in this year’s free agency war, Kevin Durant has played his entire career with the Oklahoma City Thunder (previously known as the Seattle Supersonics). However, many in the sports world are wondering if now is the time when one of the game’s biggest names decides that it’s time for a change. After nine seasons of playing in the NBA’s “wild, wild” western conference with only one finals appearance and zero rings, KD may be thinking that it’s time to put himself in a better position to finally win an NBA title.
This weekend Kevin Durant has meetings scheduled with the Thunder, the Warriors, the Clippers, the Spurs, the Heat, and the Celtics. Each team presents a variety of factors that could influence KD’s decision.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have the lure of familiarity working in their favor. However, what appears to be their biggest asset could also prove to be their worst enemy. Without a doubt, the former MVP has enjoyed plenty of success in OKC. Off the court, the Oklahoma City community has embraced KD as one of their own. He has flourished in a small market with endorsement deals and outstanding community service and he has also brought notoriety and marketability to a city that was once known more for its tornadoes than its professional sports.
On the hardwood, The Thunder have won plenty of regular season games and have enjoyed moderate playoff success. But even with all of the team and individual accolades, the glaring hole in KD’s resume remains the lack of an NBA title. There’s no substitution for winning on the biggest stage. KD could feel that a reboot is needed to finally reach the pinnacle of basketball. The Thunder’s recent trade of Serge Ibaka to the Magic in exchange for former No. 2 pick and friend Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, and Ersan Ulyasova seems to demonstrate OKC’s commitment to improving the team around KD…but…will it be enough to keep him?
The Golden State Warriors offer Kevin Durant the best “win right now” scenario. After winning the title a season ago and coming up one game short this of winning it again this season, the Warriors are well-positioned to make yet another run to the title in the upcoming season. Durant joining this uber-talented team would all but guarantee him a spot in next year’s finals. If winning a title means more than a few extra million and “being the man”, then maybe the Bay Area is the ideal destination for KD.
The Spurs are offering KD almost as an enticing package as the Warriors. They are also not too far removed from their last championship and although their longtime core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker are nearing the end of their Hall of Fame run; they currently have superstars Lamarcus Aldridge and Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard looking to join KD for another championship run.
The LA Clippers offer a less-polished but similar set-up to both the Warriors and the Spurs. They don’t have any rings or any real playoff success, but maybe, just maybe KD is that missing piece? Imagine a line-up of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, JJ Reddick, and Kevin Durant. Hit or miss, sure…but a whole new and potentially championship twist on Lob City.
On a different side of the spectrum are the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. Between the two teams, Dwyane Wade offers the only real championship experience, but both teams offer talented rosters that KD could lead to the NBA Finals if he could get over the Eastern Conference Mountain called LeBron James and his Cavs.
Conventional wisdom says that the Thunder have the leg up to retain Kevin Durant for at least another season, especially considering their recent, surprising playoff run that took them within one game of making the NBA Finals. However, that same playoff run could also be used to apply reasoning that Kevin Durant should finally move on from the team that drafted him. Could OKC’s meltdown after being up 3-1 against the Warriors be the catalyst that finally has KD saying “Enough with coming up short!”?
Another factor to consider is Russell Westbrook’s upcoming free agency at the end of next season. It’s been rumored that the Long Beach native and UCLA alum is itching for the bigger market, bigger paycheck, and hometown familiarity that the LA Lakers could give him. Could Russell Westbrook’s impending free agency next season push KD to try and get ahead of the curve and seek out a new beginning versus being left high and dry if Westbrook himself decides to move on next season? As crazy as it sounds, some would argue that Russell is the Alpha Dog in OKC. Perhaps KD is looking to step out of his shadow?
With the NBA’s new TV deal kicking in, the league’s salary cap will jump from $90 million this year to $108 million in 2017-18 with a luxury tax threshold of $127 million. Given this, an argument can be made for KD to sign a brief extension with OKC and then decide where to sign long-term next season.
No one knows for sure what Kevin Durant will do and we can all spin conspiracy theories until our own heads are spinning. At the end of the day, the only thing left to it is the waiting game…but that’s part of what makes all of this so much fun, right?
His name is Kevin Durant and his choice in July 2016 could very well determine which team hoists the Larry O’Brien trophy in June 2017.