Free agency is a major part of the landscape of the NBA. Teams can either go from being true contenders to tanking in a matter of a move or two. We saw this happen in 2010 when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and the Cleveland Cavaliers went from the top team in the eastern conference to being one of the worst teams in the NBA one season later. There were a lot of other moves that went under the radar that goes unmentioned but the point stays the same. Unlike a trade where you may get back compensation, losing a top 3 player in the NBA for nothing can be devastating.
This off-season is a major one for superstar Kevin Durant. This summer KD can become an unrestricted free agent and go to whichever team that he may choose. There was a point in time in 2016 that the idea of Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City was laughable. The Golden State Warriors proved to be the last ones laughing. The reason Durant left OKC to join the Warriors was their style of play, coaching, and the ability to play alongside one of the better supporting casts that we have ever seen. When Durant won the title in 2017 and the Finals MVP, he mentioned that he did not get the gratification that he imagined by reaching the NBA's mountain top.
A lot of that had to be due to the shortcut that he took by joining a team that was already a championship contender. The goal is always to win as many championships as you can but Kevin Durant's talent has become diminished in Golden State. The analytics tell a similar story and the Warriors are who they are because of Steph Curry and not Kevin Durant. While the likelihood that KD would leave Golden State is slim, we still have to consider the possibility. Next, we'll review 8 teams that Kevin Durant would leave Golden State for and 8 teams with no chance.
16 Would Leave For: The San Antonio Spurs
If Kevin Durant wants to join a team with a rich history of winning championships, the Spurs have had more success in the last 20 years than any other franchise. There also is the Gregg Popovich factor. Steve Kerr is one of the best coaches in the entire NBA. San Antonio is dealing with the possibility that Kawhi Leonard is unhappy with the Spurs and if KD joined them then the team would instantly be a championship favourite. Defensively, Kawhi is widely regarded as the best perimeter defender in the entire NBA and Durant could learn a few pointers to help his own game on that end of the floor.
When asked about Popovich and what he means to the Spurs system, Durant had high praise.
"Having a really good coach is probably the most important thing in this league. You can have all the great players you want but you have to have someone to orchestrate it. That's what they have, a great coach that can put them in positions to utilize all their individual strengths and make them come together as a team. He's the guy who's been here for the longest, having someone like that to orchestrate what you do obviously helps." KD was also asked about what the first thing that comes to mind when you think of San Antonio, "Gregg Popovich, man. No matter how many moving parts they have on their team, he stays consistent with what he does." This situation would be intriguing for all fans of the NBA.
15 No Chance: The Oklahoma City Thunder
I don't think anyone should be surprised to see this team here. The Oklahoma City Thunder were up 3-1 in the western conference finals and had the Warriors on the ropes until Klay Thompson happened. That was the only time in the last 4 years that the Warriors looked outmatched. As we all know, the Thunder were defeated in 7 games and Kevin Durant did the unthinkable. The Thunder are a supremely talented team and many of the reasons that forced Durant to go elsewhere, reared their ugly head this postseason. The coaching leaves a lot to be desired and having Russell Westbrook as the primary decision maker can be troublesome.
Even if Durant won't publicly acknowledge that he grew upset with the play of Russell Westbrook, his body language often did. There were times when Kevin Durant would stand in the corner with his hands in the air, just to watch Westbrook take a contested 3-point shot. If you are Kevin Durant, you don't leave Oklahoma City just to return a few seasons later. Billy Donovan is still head coach, and he still has to figure out a way to get the best out of his team where the three best players need the ball. OKC would instantly be a title favourite with Durant, but this is just not happening.
14 Would Leave For: The Los Angeles Lakers
Kevin Durant would entertain the possibility to join the Los Angeles Lakers. First, they play in Los Angeles, the home of all things celebrity and entertainment. There would be no better place to grow his brand other than New York, which we'll get to later. There's also the opportunity to be close to Kobe Bryant and Durant and many other NBA stars have a fondness for Kobe. When asked about Kobe Durant said, “I had dinner with him his last year, in OKC, he came and we had dinner together. The stuff we was talking about, just next level as far as what he wanted to do when he was done playing, his vision as a businessman, how he wanted to leave his mark as a basketball ambassador, it was just so much we talked about and made me appreciate his intelligent mind.” Durant was asked about what he learned from Bryant.
“Always learn and grow. Always be a sponge and be curious, whether it’s about the game, off the court, on the court. Just be curious and always grow, always want to grow as a man, as a person, as a player. It’s pretty easy to see that when you’re meeting Kobe.” On the current roster the Lakers have talent that KD respects, mainly one Kyle Kuzma. After defeating the Los Angeles Lakers, Kevin Durant was asked postgame about his thoughts on the promising rookie. "Kuzma should have been a lottery pick," Durant said in the postgame ESPN interview. "Kuz is a problem. I like him." If we know the Los Angeles Lakers like we think we know them, this all they need to hear to begin a "bring KD to Los Angeles campaign."
13 No Chance: The Toronto Raptors
Kevin Durant has made it known and had no gripes about doing so when he admitted that he was not a leader. This is not something that you expect from a player as talented as Durant. There are multiple leadership styles, some may be vocally and others may be by action. Durant could have easily said that he wasn't a vocal leader, but he went on to say that he had no desire to lead at all. Some people are wired that way, just not the ones that get to the level of a Kevin Durant.
Toronto claimed the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference this season for the first time in franchise history.
This off-season the team scrapped their entire playbook to figure out a way to get better and finally get past the Cleveland Cavaliers. After all that, the task of dethroning LeBron in the Eastern Conference appears to still be a tall task. The issues with Toronto are deeper than roster depth or pace of play. Toronto has two all-stars on their roster but lack true leadership and do not have a "go-to guy." This would not be ideal for Kevin Durant and the pressure to beat a LeBron James led team before the NBA finals would not be worth the headache. Again, not a chance this happens.
12 Would Leave For: The New Orleans Pelicans
Back in 2014, Kevin Durant was still in Oklahoma City playing for the Thunder. After a tremendous regular season, he was awarded the league's highest honour, the MVP award. What many people remember about that time was the line in which Durant told his mother in the crowd, "You are the real MVP." That sentiment struck a chord with almost everyone watching as his mother, Wanda Pratt, instantly broke out into tears. Pelicans F Anthony Davis sent Kevin Durant a congratulatory text message and the response caught Davis off guard. “You on your way to get it,” was his response.
Davis made the all-star team for the first time that season and admitted he was stunned by how KD replied to him. “For a guy who knows what it takes to win an MVP award, telling me that I’m on my way, it means he sees something in me. That means a lot, especially from one of the best players in the league right now, if not the best. It just meant a lot. It made me want to work even harder.” The results of that exchange may not be what has propelled AD to becoming one of the league's best players, but he is unarguably amongst the top of the NBA. A chance to play alongside Davis would give KD by far the best big man he has ever played alongside and the possibility of DeMarcus Cousins on that roster as well would be arguably the best front court we have ever seen in the NBA.
11 No Chance: The Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. It took seven games for them to be eliminated and that proved that their 4-seed was no fluke. Even though Indiana lost, the Pacers were a clear winner after what transpired in the aftermath of Paul George asking for a trade. When the deal was first agreed upon, the Pacers were being laughed at for getting fleeced by the Oklahoma City Thunder. The idea was that Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis were pennies on the dollar in exchange for Paul George the multiple time all-star.
What the critics did not anticipate was that Victor Oladipo would closely watch Russell Westbrook's work ethic and transform himself in the off-season to be everything that Paul George wasn't. Nate McMillan proved to be a great strategist and formulated a plan to take the role players of the Cavs away and it nearly worked. I have listed off all of the positives about the Pacers but there a few things that would give Durant cause to pause. Oladipo is only one player, and the talent around Durant has to allow him to be a second or sometimes third option in the offense. This team would not be capable of those things and KD would not go to Indiana if he had to struggle.
10 Would Leave For: The Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota has the talent, great coaching and a future NBA superstar. Before the start of the season, NBA General Managers were surveyed on different topics involving players in the league. One topic that had surprising results was what player would you sign if you were starting a new franchise? Every player in the NBA would be available and GM's selected Karl Anthony-Towns. That is high praise for the former Kentucky Wildcat who has put together two back-to-back seasons that have showed us why everyone was so high on Towns in the 2015 NBA draft. If you watched the playoffs unfold for Minnesota I would assume most of those GM's would change their mind about Towns if asked the same question today.
Minnesota has a presence in the front court with Towns and a defensive wizard in Jimmy Butler.
If you added Kevin Durant to this Minnesota team they would have all bases covered. There is also a mutual respect by Kevin Durant and Big KAT. Towns was asked about his favourite NBA player when playing Call of Duty on twitch. "My favourite player in the league? My favourite basketball player right now in the league is… I still love Kevin Durant, he’s one of my favourite players." On paper, it would work. Whether the individuals would sacrifice enough to make it work in reality would be the question.
9 No Chance: The Utah Jazz
Going back to last off-season, the Utah Jazz were expected to go into the NBA's basement as they lost Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics for nothing. Gordon Hayward wanted to find a place where he truly had a chance to compete, and he did not see that being in Utah. In what may go down as one of the biggest draft day steals, the Jazz sent Trey Lyles and the No. 24 pick to Denver Nuggets for the rights to Donovan Mitchell. While at Louisville, Mitchell did not show the scoring prowess that he has displayed in the NBA otherwise he would have certainly been in the discussion as a top-5 pick.
What we are seeing in Utah is unordinary and teams are not usually led by rookies on deep playoff runs. With that said, Kevin Durant would not leave the league’s best team to partner up with such an unknown. Can the Utah Jazz replicate this season again? That would have to be questions that most people would have including Kevin Durant. Head coach Quin Snyder is one of the leading candidates for coach of the year this season and that has to be a plus if you are KD. There a quite a few positives but there are still too many questions for Durant to make this move.
8 Would Leave For: The Philadelphia 76ers
Watching the end of the regular season, the Philadelphia 76ers have become the NBA's darling. That is understandable if you consider the future of this team with Joel Embiid already being amongst the best big men in the NBA and the promise of Ben Simmons. The comparisons to Ben Simmons are LeBron James and Magic Johnson. A great honour as both players is amongst the best that have ever played in the NBA.
The Boston Celtics have proved that we may have crowned the Sixers prematurely and that team is not as close to being one of the NBA's elite as their record has showed. Besides, Kevin Durant thinks that Ben Simmons is special and that means something. After a come from behind victory against Philadelphia where the Sixers lead by as many as 24 points, Durant said, “He’s something that I’ve never seen before as (really) playing the point guard. That height, that speed, and that strength,” Durant said. “You can tell he’s Aussie too, he doesn’t mind getting into some scuffles and showing his feisty side. That’s going to mean well for the Sixers down the line.” Is that enough for Kevin Durant to want to join the "Process”? I cannot say that for certain, but with Durant looking to score and Simmons looking to pass the ball they would make for a lethal trio in the city of brotherly love.
7 No Chance: The Milwaukee Bucks
There are a lot of things to like about the Milwaukee Bucks if you are a free agent looking for possible destinations. They have Giannis Antetokounmpo, the player many believe will one day become the best player in the NBA when LeBron begins to decline. Can you imagine Kevin Durant on the same team as the Greek Freak? Defensively, that team would be able to cover so much ground that opposing teams will have nightmares. Kevin Durant is not one to shy away from sharing his fondness of his fellow NBA brothers. Before facing the Bucks in March, Durant had glowing words about the All-NBA talent. "The Greek Freak, I think, is a force. I’ve never seen anything like him," Durant said. "His ceiling is probably … he could end up being the best player to ever play if he really wanted to. That’s pretty scary to think about. He’s by far my most favourite player to watch."
As great as Giannis is individually, the Bucks have a few weaknesses that stop them from being amongst the elite.
The Milwaukee Bucks are looking for a new head coach and that means that free agents will not know what kind of system they would be walking into. There is also the weird ownership situation where the majority stake is rotated every 4 years and the controlling party will change soon. This is a reason why some coaches will be apprehensive about taking the job. The team should have also performed better this season than they did. The Bucks have a lot going for themselves but the shortcomings would stop Kevin Durant or any other top tier free agent from joining their club.
6 Would Leave For: The Boston Celtics
Like I mentioned previously about the San Antonio and Gregg Popovich, the Boston Celtics check off the box for having a great head coach. In fact, Brad Stevens may already be on par with coach Pop for best coach in the NBA. The way the Celtics have been able to overcome injuries and get the same production by their reserves can only be compared to Popovich's magic. In addition to great coaching, the Celtics check off the box for great teammates. Between the supremely talented Kyrie Irving, all-stars Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum look on their way to becoming stars. The scary part about this team is you may be able to add Terry Rozier to that discussion because his play with Kyrie sidelined due to injury has been nothing short of spectacular.
The closest thing to mirroring the loaded roster in Golden State would be for Durant to go to Boston. We all know the road to the NBA Finals is a lot easier in the Eastern Conference than the West. Durant has voiced praise for Kyrie saying, "Kyrie’s the most skilled player – well, top three most skilled players in the league in my opinion, one of the most skilled players to ever play." With young talent on rookie deals, this team would be able to go toe to toe with anyone in the NBA.
5 No Chance: The Miami Heat
When a player is looking to change teams, basketball reasons are always most important. After you take the basketball reasons out of the equation, there are other factors that weigh in to such a big decision. The weather in Miami and the atmosphere in general is always going to be a positive for an athlete with a lot of money. There is also the Dion Waiters factor. Waiters played in Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant and those two formed a great bond. This season, Waiters dealt with injuries and missed the majority of the season. Before Durant played the Miami Heat last season, he spoke about his relationship with Waiters. "It’s gonna be fun. He’s playing great basketball, and I’m so proud of him. I know it’s going to be a fun matchup between him and I. I don’t wanna call him my little brother, but he’s my brother of a younger age. I learned a lot from him. He learned a lot from me. It was a great, great relationship that we had and it’s gonna be a fun matchup."
That sounds like enough to make you believe that Durant would entertain the Miami Heat. The problem is that they are still too far away from being a championship contender. The salary issues in Miami come down to the max dollars that Hassan Whiteside receives although he has played like anything but a superstar. The Miami Heat check off most of the boxes for KD but the most important one, and that is winning.
4 Would Leave For: The Cleveland Cavaliers
This may seem like a reach as many would ask why would Kevin Durant want to play on LeBron James' team? Kevin Durant wants to beat LeBron James so there is no way that happens. The same line of questioning will have arisen in the summer of 2016 when KD joined the Golden State Warriors. Just as improbable as that move was, this would also be considered as unlikely. There is a solid relationship between Durant and LeBron dating back to when KD worked out with LeBron in the summer of 2014 in Akron.
In a piece in GQ magazine when Durant was asked about the infamous shot over James in last year's NBA Finals, Durant said "That was the best moment I ever had...I made the game-winning shot in the finals against my idol. Somebody that I really, really, really followed since I was a ninth-grade high schooler. I felt like he was passing the torch to me." The play of LeBron James this postseason has shown that he may not be ready to pass that torch just yet. But how great would it be to play alongside the guy you grew up idolizing when he still has more to give to the game of basketball? Enough for Durant to think about it for a second or two.
3 No Chance: The Denver Nuggets
If you are a fan of the NBA, the Denver Nuggets may be one of the most fun teams to watch in the entire league. The team has a home court advantage that most other teams don't and it is their altitude. Denver is nicknamed the "mile high" city because it is exactly one mile above sea level, the highest in the United States. On the court, the Nuggets play with pace, score a ton of points and have one of the most talented up and coming stars in Nikola Jokic.
Kevin Durant is a fan of his game and went into detail about what he likes about Jokic.
"Man he’s different, he’s different. He’s still young, though. You gotta let him still develop and grow. But his feel for the game for a young player like that is different. The way he passes, the way he pushes the break, shoot the three, shoot the mid-range. Now it’s just a matter of consistently every single day just knowing the work habits and knowing how hard it is to lead your team every night to a W. That’s something that every young player goes through, especially as talented as him. He’s going to figure it out at some point, and he’s going to be a force for a long time." When Kevin Durant makes his decision the Nuggets will not be a consideration. Even though the team is on the cusp, Kevin Durant would have to be the leader of this team and as we know that is not one of his desires. The Nuggets will be really good next year; KD just won't be a part of it.
2 Would Leave For: The Houston Rockets
Kevin Durant and James Harden have a great relationship off the court. Back to their days in Oklahoma City, Harden was Durant's closest friend on the team not Russell Westbrook. I'm sure that does not come as a surprise to many as Westbrook and Durant make sure to bark at each other whenever they play. The Houston Rockets have a great point guard and a superstar in Harden, which checks off two boxes that would entice Durant. The Mike D'Antoni system would be basketball heaven for Durant as he would be able to shoot the ball at will. Check this; Kevin Durant mentioned that he has had discussions with James Harden and Russell Westbrook to form their own super team. "It’s not something that any of us are focused on right now," said Durant. "But, sure, we’ve had discussions. We know each other through basketball and I think that’s something that’s normal for players of our caliber to talk about. I think one team with the three of us on it could be really hard to beat. And for a long time, too."
Harden also chimed in about these conversations, "Imagine if we played on a team in a city in Middle America and brought them their first-ever major professional sports title," he said. "That would be pretty cool. We’d be legends there forever. We’d own the town." The Rockets are not in Middle America and have already won championships but playing alongside these guys specifically means a lot about how talented he feels they are.
1 No Chance: The Washington Wizards
John Wall is the perfect point guard to play alongside a player like Kevin Durant. John Wall is everything you get in Russell Westbrook with a much better feel for facilitating the ball. Bradley Beal is also a great shooter and playmaker in his own right so that’s also a plus. His former coach Scott Brooks may have even been offered the coaching job because of his relationship with Kevin Durant. If you did not know, this is KD's hometown team. That is the reason why he will not ever go and play for the Wizards. You don't have to take my word for it, KD said so himself. "I don’t want to open up anything in the past, but I really just didn’t want to play at home," Durant said. "It was nothing about the fans. Being at home, I was so happy with that part of my life — playing at home, being in front of friends, hanging with friends and family every day.
He went on to say "That was a part of my life that has come and gone. I was like, I’m trying to build a second part of my life as a man living in a different part of the country, just trying to do different things. I did everything I was supposed to do in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, I felt. Now it’s time to do something new. I didn’t want to come back. That’s just my thought process behind it. It had nothing to do with basketball, the fans, the city. It was just like, 'Alright, that part of my life I’ve conquered already. What’s next?'" The Wizards are in a tough spot because the rest of the conference may be passing them by. They will need to make some changes to get to the top of the conference but whatever they play to do will not include Kevin Durant.
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