By Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen)[Editors Note: This is Part 2 of a series. You can find Part 1 here.]
Kevin Durant will in all likelihood opt out of his current deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason to become an unrestricted free agent. Unless you’ve been living under a rock/and or don’t follow the NBA, this news will not come as a surprise to you.
But with nearly every team able to generate enough space to sign Durant, which of his long line of suitors should catch his eye? Let’s take a look at the case for and against all 30 teams in the NBA.
All projected max cap space is the max each team would be able to create, per the invaluable Basketball Insiders. Some teams will, in reality, have much less.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected Cap Space: $31.1 million
Pros: Gets to stay with a team that he’s already had a ton of success with while continuing to play with Russell Westbrook.
Cons: Owners that elected to trade James Harden rather than pay the luxury tax, roster may have hit its ceiling during this playoff run.
Chances of Durant signing: We’ve reached the incumbent. Even with all of the potential reasons to leave I listed above, I still think the most likely scenario in this whole circus is that Durant will look around the league, find enough question marks or negatives about his other suitors, and remain in the only NBA situation he’s ever known. He and Westbrook seem to have built a genuine bond, and the two seem confident enough to bet on themselves regardless of any larger concerns about Oklahoma City.
This roster just came within one win of a second Finals appearance.. It’s impossible to know how the Thunder’s recent draft night trade of Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and rookie Domantas Sabonis may have affected Durant’s view of the front office, and there is a chance he leaves, but the Thunder’s inspired playoff run would seem to make it more likely he stays put. At least for one more year at least.
Portland Trail Blazers
Projected Cap Space: $41.4 million
Pros: Joining with the “baby Splash Brothers” of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to give Portland a devastating scoring threat at each wing position, Terry Stotts and Neil Olshey appear to be one of the top coaching-GM tandems in the NBA, Portland seems like a fun place to live.
Cons: Team might have slightly overachieved this year and could be due for some regression, neither Lillard nor McCollum have shown anything resembling consistent commitment on defense yet, unlikely-but-possible sentiment a competitor like Durant wouldn’t want to return to the only franchise to pass on him in the draft.
Chances of Durant signing: This scenario that just became really interesting all of a sudden given Portland’s unexpected success this season. A wing attack featuring great shooters, drivers, and ball handlers like Durant, McCollum, and Lillard would instantly make Portland one of the top offenses in the NBA. Stotts would probably be the best coach Durant has ever played for and could mitigate a lot of the late-game issues he’s faced in Oklahoma City.
Portland isn’t really known as a free agent destination, but winning cures everything, and it’s not totally out of the question that just a year after a massive offseason exodus in which they lost four of their five starters from the year before that Portland could put themselves in play for Durant. A sneaky kind of dark horse, even if the team’s ability to defend would be a giant question mark.
Projected Cap Space: $29.4 million
Pros: Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors to cover up for him on defense, a stable of solid to very good wing players, a front office with a knack for drafting really well regardless of slot, Quin Snyder.
Cons: Utah has never signed a major free agent of note, the team has been unable to make the playoffs the last few years despite promising talent.
Chances of Durant signing: Nothing personal against Salt Lake City, but Durant is almost certainly not even taking a meeting with a city that simply isn’t known as a free agent destination. This would actually be a really interesting fit for Durant, but it’s just too hard to see it as a real possibility.
Projected Cap Space: $29.1 million
Pros: Tom Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the NBA, Karl-Anthony Towns looks like he’s two or three years away from being an MVP candidate, Andrew Wiggins might be the league’s next great wing player, plenty of other young talent.
Cons: Tom Thibodeau is a total unknown as an executive, Karl-Anthony Towns is still two or three years away from being an MVP candidate, Wiggins *might* be the next great wing player, the rest of their talent is mostly unproven, Minnesota is not known as a free agent destination.
Chances of Durant signing: The most promising group of young talent in the NBA, but stars like Durant have rarely shown an inclination to sign on to babysit kids. Wiggins and Towns appear more mature and on an accelerated path to greatness, but as a superstar in his prime, Durant most likely won’t want to wait around to find out.
Projected Cap Space: $33.8 million
Pros: A few really promising young players on manageable contracts going forward mixed in with a few solid veterans.
Cons: If Durant signed to the max, the Nuggets would have very little room to add around him going forward, Denver has no history of drawing major free agents.
Chances of Durant signing: That aforementioned group of young players and veterans? They combined for the ninth-worst record in the NBA last season. While some of those young pieces could work nicely as trade bait to add a more established player, Denver likely won’t even get a meeting with Durant.
Golden State Warriors
Projected Cap Space: $19.3 million
Pros: Have you seen this team play? Almost literally everything is a pro.
Cons: Would be seen as ring-chasing on an already great team, the team would have to lose a lot of its depth to generate space to sign him, California’s punitive income tax, the Warriors just eliminated him in one of the more painful playoff defeats in NBA history.
Chances of Durant signing: Yes, Golden State’s projected cap space is far less than his max, and yes, they just knocked him out of the postseason. However, the early season whispers that Durant is intrigued with joining their already historic team cannot be ignored until Durant signs somewhere. If the two sides find there is mutual interest after meeting this summer, the Warriors could attempt to move some of their long-term money in order to sign the best free agent on the market. It would be another coup for an already talent-rich team, even if it cost the team some of its vaunted depth.
Is Durant really desperate enough for titles to attempt a move that would bring him so much criticism after seeing what happened to LeBron James’ reputation after attempting to build his own superteam in free agency? Especially to join an already super team that just knocked him out of the playoffs?
Durant has the Warriors on his list of the first six teams he plans to meet with in free agency, which points towards this scenario becoming slightly more likely with Golden State’s loss in the Finals allowing Durant to justify his move as going to a team where he is the final necessary piece.
We won’t know until the summer, but because of all of the reports painting it as a real possibility, we can’t rule out the possibility of a Durant-Curry-Green superhero team-up.
Projected Cap Space: $12.5 million
Pros: The opportunity to play with some combination of Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, and Blake Griffin in Los Angeles, most of Doc Rivers’ players seem to love playing for him, the opportunity to play for the richest owner in the NBA in the league’s second largest market of sunny Southern California.
Cons: Getting bitched at by CP3 all the time doesn’t seem like fun, the Clippers’ stigma as the city’s redheaded stepchild, having to (possibly) take the biggest discount in NBA history to sign with the team outright, Doc Rivers the GM, and California’s punitive income tax.
Chances of Durant signing: They did Durant’s list, but with almost no cap room, it seems incredibly unlikely at first glance. However, there have been rumors that Doc Rivers will look to trade Blake Griffin this offseason, especially in the wake of their taking a meeting with Durant implying they are willing to move a member of their big three.
Rivers could move Griffin to another team for cheaper assets, or if Durant didn’t want to leave his former team with nothing and truly wanted to play in Los Angeles, the two teams could look to put together in a blockbuster sign-and-trade swapping the two stars.
Durant would give the Clippers the wing scorer they’ve sorely lacked while fitting better with Jordan and Paul than Griffin ever could. Griffin would return to his home state and instantly form the league’s most athletic pick-and-roll tandem with Russell Westbrook.
This has to be one of the few sign-and-trade scenarios that would cause the Thunder to seriously consider facilitating their most valuable player’s exit, and one of the most fascinating trades in NBA history. It’s probably not as unlikely as most would think, but given how complicated it is, it’s far from a lock as well.
Projected Cap Space: $66.4 million
Pros: Chance to be the next big star in Los Angeles, talented young roster, the most cap space in the league, likely a higher value on his shoe deal in such a large market for a franchise with a gigantic fan base,
and the opportunity to be taught how to be a man by Byron Scott and the opportunity to play for a promising coach like Luke Walton.
Cons: Pressure to live up to the shadow of Kobe Bryant, having to wait for young talent to develop. An uncertain coaching, front office, ownership situation heading into next year. And yes, once again, California’s punitive income tax.
Chances of Durant signing: A near certainty. (Edited for extreme homer-ism) Unlikely, unless Durant is a huge fan of Adam Levine.
Projected Cap Space: $34.8 million
Pros: A solid backcourt rotation of Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, and Devin Booker with a few other solid pieces, arguably the best training staff in the league, an aggressive front office that’s willing to take risks, and DRAGAN BENDER, the player with the coolest name in the league.
Cons: Bledsoe hasn’t proven he can stay healthy, Knight may have plateaued a bit, Devin Booker is promising but still needs time to grow, and the risks taken by that aggressive front office have seemed to “bust” more often than “boom.”
Chances of Durant signing: With the Suns coming off of a season with the fourth-worst record in the league and their big signing of Tyson Chandler looking more like an albatross than a catch, Durant signing in the Valley of the Sun seems to be a dubious proposition. The Phoenix training staff could be a legitimate benefit for a player trying to make sure his foot injury never becomes a chronic issue, but Durant is not going to sign somewhere just for the training staff.
Projected Cap Space: $34.2 million
Pros: New arena! Getting to play with a prime DeMarcus Cousins!
Cons: An owner who apparently thinks if you fire six coaches the next one is free and wants his team to try playing four-on-five, a general manager who may not understand the salary cap, and… California’s punitive income tax! (4/5 of the division is in the state, if you hadn’t noticed.)
Chances of Durant signing: Hahahahahahahahaha
Projected Cap Space: $61.2 million
Pros: One of the coolest owners in pro sports, no state income tax, fill Dirk Nowitzki’s shoes, form a team destined to lead the league in one-legged fallaway jumpers, enough cap space to sign another max-free agent.
Cons: Roster lacking long-term assets outside of a (hopefully) recovered Wesley Matthews and maybe Justin Anderson (unless Dirk really is an unkillable and unaging cyborg).
Chances of Durant signing: If Durant decides he wants to live in a state without income tax and buys into Mark Cuban and company’s recruiting pitch, this one could happen. But it hardly seems like anything resembling a likely scenario. Dirk is a wonderful basketball player and human being, but at age 37, it’s well past time to wonder how long he’ll even continue playing.
Dallas is another team that, outside of Durant deciding it’s the place where he wants to team up with another free agent (which wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense in a basketball sense given Russell Westbrook is better than anyone on the free agent market), shouldn’t hold it’s breath on a commitment from KD.
Projected Cap Space: $46.2 million
Pros: Reunite with James Harden!
Cons: Reunite with James Harden.
Chances of Durant signing: James Harden appears to have been recruiting Durant already, and with Dwight Howard opting out the ever-ambitious Daryl Morey will almost certainly get a meeting with Durant. Will the Rockets be able to reel him in? They haven’t been reported as a destination of interest, but with Harden on the roster one would think they have a small chance if Durant enjoyed playing with him.
Given that the team is located in Texas, one has to mention the lack of state income tax as well. Houston could be a sneaky dark horse for Durant’s services, especially with their ability to sign both Durant and another max free agent if they move a bit of money.
Their failure to consistently compete at a high level this year may cost them in his eyes though, so the countdown to lift-off shouldn’t start just yet.
Projected Cap Space: $43.5 million
Pros: The opportunity to take over as primary scorer on a team that has a history of elite defense but needs a kick in the pants offensively, a possible team-up with Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley while flanked by capable role players the Memphis front office has shown a knack for finding. No state income tax.
Cons: Uncertainty over Marc Gasol’s health going forward, the question of whether or not Mike Conley will re-sign (all but a certainty if Durant is on board but it has to be mentioned), Memphis does not have a history of signing elite free agents.
Chances of Durant signing: Durant has never been linked to Memphis previously, but after several memorable playoff battles with the embodiment of Grit and Grind, maybe he wants to switch sides? The team will have cap space left over to add other pieces if they time Conley’s re-signing correctly, but it’s still hard to see a scenario where Durant leaves Oklahoma City for this group.
New Orleans Pelicans
Projected Cap Space: $23.9 million
Pros: Anthony Davis!
Cons: Just about everything else.
Chances of Durant signing: If the Pelicans didn’t clear any further salary, Durant would have to take a paycut to play here. Is he that desperate to play with Anthony Davis and a bunch of flotsam for a year of his prime for a front office that has made questionable move after questionable move? As much fun as that combination would be, there is almost no way it’s happening.
San Antonio Spurs
Projected Cap Space: $22.3 million
Pros: Join the most well-run organization in the NBA and form a big three with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Cons: Would have to take significantly less than the max to sign with a team he just beat, unless the Spurs waived all of their non-guaranteed money and David West, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili all declined their player options and/or retired (Duncan has reportedly opted into his option, while Ginobili is leaning towards playing one more year).
Chances of Durant signing: The Spurs already had one of the best defensive teams of all-time this season, and a top-three offense to boot. If recent rumbling about this being a real possibility are to be believed, Durant would be joining a juggernaut (albeit one he just slayed), and sometimes life isn’t fair.
“But he stops the ball!” some people will yell, and duh. Durant is also one of the best one-on-one scorers in the history of the NBA, and while Gregg Popovich likes to keep the ball moving, he has allowed more isolations for Leonard and Aldridge in recent seasons, and Durant has also developed into a great passer when he needs to be.
He would almost certainly have to take less than the max and, similarly to the Warriors scenario, he would be seen as a bit of a mercenary. Those concerns didn’t stop Durant from putting the Spurs on his list, and that perception would only matter if the Spurs didn’t win a few titles, and with Durant in tow, that almost seems like an inevitability should he stay healthy.
So where is Durant going?
Gut feeling is he stays in Oklahoma City, although it’s far from a guarantee. The interesting thing about how close Durant and his inner circle have kept any and all information about his leanings makes his free agency totally unpredictable.
The biggest threat to steal Durant is probably the Warriors, just because of how much smoke there has been about it and the fact that if Durant leaves OKC, he’ll get killed in the media if he doesn’t win a bunch of titles. Golden State would all but guarantee him that while still being able to offer him pretty close to the max.
No matter where Durant ends up, his eventual choice will leave one team’s fan base ecstatic and 29 others with varying degrees of disappointment. This summer promises to be one of the most interesting and impactful in league history, and certainly worth closely following for any and all NBA fans, regardless of where Durant chooses to play out his prime.
And for those that miss out, we only have to wait one more year before we do this all over again with Russell Westbrook.
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