After eight seasons in Oklahoma City, it isn't a stretch to say that Kevin Durant may be departing for a new team after the 2016 playoffs conclude. The last year of his five-year contract will be up, and he will then become an unrestricted free agent, with a plethora of teams around the league bound to have strong interest in the all-star scorer. Will the Thunder propose a worthwhile offer to him, or will he be on the hunt to join another contender to play out the prime of his career?
There are several obvious choices for Durant to consider, and also a few that are almost out of the question. It's unlikely that it would be feasible for him to join a roster as successful as the Warriors or the Cavaliers. Both of those teams already have their established stars, and moving to either franchise poses too much of a risk of continuing the power struggle Durant currently faces with the Thunder, which involves him competing with Russell Westbrook as the face of the franchise.
Instead, if Durant decides to move on, it will likely be with a team that mostly has a young, talented roster, that is already a playoff team, or is close to being a perennial playoff contender. At age 27, Durant is about to enter the prime of his career, and probably won't be willing to take on a rebuilding project. The only exceptions could be for a very specific media market, or if the contract is just too good to pass up.
Either way, it should be an interesting focal point of the upcoming NBA offseason. Ranked below are the top 15 free agent destinations for Kevin Durant.
15 Milwaukee Bucks
Though the Bucks suffered a disappointing end to this season, they aren't a team devoid of talent. Michael Carter-Williams and Jabari Parker are two young pieces the team is building around, and the addition of a proven, elite veteran like Durant would make them a threat in the playoffs immediately. None of their top five leading scorers are over the age of 25, and they need to add a player with certified playoff experience that has shown real productivity. Milwaukee may not be the hottest free agent destination, but the personnel fit could work for Durant. Overall, it's a long shot, but still not out of the realm of possibility.
14 Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets have an intriguing roster, and probably had a better season than anyone expected, taking the Heat to seven games in the opening round of the playoffs. Though they already have a proven scorer in Kemba Walker (20.9 PPG), Durant could easily split that work with him. Factor in some very serviceable depth in Jeremy Lin, Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky, and this is a team that could start winning playoff series. Durant would give them the elite star that is needed to succeed in the NBA, and have a solid roster around him. Plus, Michael Jordan's involvement, and a nice location could sweeten the deal.
13 Atlanta Hawks
All things considered, the Hawks are in "win now" mode given the age of their roster. There are 11 different players on the team that are at least 26 years-old, which fits right into Durant's range. KD could fit well alongside other productive veterans such as Al Horford, Paul Millsap, and Jeff Teague, who would probably be a version of Russell Westbrook that's easier to work with, though of slightly lesser quality. Atlanta won a playoff series this year as is, so adding Durant as their elite scorer could mean that they compete for an Eastern Conference title in the sub-par East. Given they already have their core players established, this isn't too likely, though would still make sense.
12 New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are one team that could definitely see a complete 180 in their winning percentage if they were able to land Durant. The main reason being, they already have a certified elite player in Anthony Davis, who can control the paint in an era where that is a lost art. Adding a perimeter scorer like Durant only would make that offense more lethal, supplemented by other quality players such as Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday. Ultimately, it could create a "Shaq/Kobe" dynamic between Davis and Durant, though obviously likely less-dominant than they were in their prime. Nonetheless, this is a reasonable scenario, but given the Pelicans still play in the West, expectations should be tempered.
11 Detroit Pistons
The possible saving grace for this destination is that the Pistons play in the East, and have a roster that's young enough to still have a lot of career mileage, but experiences enough to be accustomed to the NBA pace. They finished above the .500 mark this year, achieved a playoff birth, and only seem to be getting better. They have size in the form of Andre Drummond and Marcus Morris, both proven productive players, and scoring capabilities with Reggie Jackson (18.8 PPG). With these traits already on board for the team, adding Durant and his elite scoring could make them a viable contender for an Eastern Conference crown.
10 Philadelphia 76ers
Now that Philly has been rid of Sam Hinkie and his perpetual rebuilding process that gutted the entire roster, they will be adding pieces (other than Durant) that make them a viable pro roster for the first time in almost five years. What better way for the new management headed by Bryan Colangelo to bring in a certified star in the form of Durant? He could pair well with rising talents Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, in a traditional NBA power that has the chance to be revived. Though not as likely as some other, more instantly gratifying destinations, it's deceptively better than many "middle of the pack" teams, and could ultimately be a good fit.
9 New York Knicks
However, if Durant were to go to a traditional power in the Northeast, the Knicks are probably the one that fits the bill. On top of the brand name and Phil Jackson's involvement, the team has star-power in Carmelo Anthony and rookie revelation Kristaps Porzingis. All things considered, just adding Durant probably makes them a playoff team, and in the dire Eastern Conference, anything is possible, so a deep playoff run isn't out of the question. Given Anthony's lack of playoff success, he would probably welcome the opportunity to work with KD, and the duo could prove to be one of the best one-two scoring punches in the league.
8 Toronto Raptors
Placing Durant alongside a Raptors roster that has established stars in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and youthful depth, could result in a big threat to the Eastern Conference. It would give the team three legitimate 20 (at least) PPG scorers, in the same model that the Heat used during the Lebron years, combining him with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade. It remains to be seen if the Raptors can keep winning at the rate they are/have this season, but the upside is definitely there. Consider this a decent destination for Durant; a unique market, but with enough complimentary pieces to make it enticing as a free agent.
7 Orlando Magic
The Magic are quietly building an impressive roster that is full of youth, and primed to break out in the next several years. Players such as Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon and Victor Olapido could benefit from Durant's locker room presence, as well as on-court effectiveness. Again, it may seem like a reach, but a Durant-led Magic roster could be a force in the East in a couple of years, or even less. It would give them their first certified star since Tracy McGrady, and restore some excitement in the market for the team in general. For Durant, it would give him a realistic chance at success with a young roster that can be maintained for the rest of his prime.
6 Minnesota Timberwolves
It's widely considered throughout that the future for the T-Wolves is extremely bright. The team has three future stars in Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine, who are all 20 years-old. Factor in 25 year-old Ricky Rubio and this is a roster that has a ton of youthful potential in it's ranks. It may not be translating into wins at this moment, but there is little doubt that in a couple of years, this team will be a force to be reckoned with. Given the long-shot of winning immediately, this may not be on Durant's radar. However, it has to be at least considered, because his scoring ability alongside the youthful athleticism of this group could turn into a championship team.
5 Houston Rockets
Yeah, the Rockets may have proved themselves to be an underachieving mess this season, but there's still enough top-flight talent here that warrants consideration on both ends. The scoring threat of Harden and Durant would probably be the best in the league, and combined with the presence in the paint provided by Dwight Howard, there's little question that the team could put together a deep playoff run. Durant could end up being the stabilizing force necessary for this group to realize their full potential. It's a quality franchise, that just needs another elite piece to the puzzle. Even in the West, this supposed trio could compete against the top competition.
4 Washington Wizards
The Wizards are building around two key pieces, in John Wall and Bradley Beal. As is however, this nothing more than a roster that can barely hit the .500 mark, and faces an early exit from the playoffs. They need a true star in their ranks, and Durant fits the bill. He could elevate the rest of the team, taking "good" players like Wall and Beal, turning them into "great". Yet again, it has to be mentioned that playing with a roster like this in the East will yield better results than being stuck in the tougher West. With Durant, this Washington is immediately knocking on the door of Lebron's Cavaliers, and could even surpass them in a couple of years.
3 Memphis Grizzlies
Another team in the precarious "win now" mode, the Grizzlies have a tough, underrated roster, that is an elite player away from making a real impact. Zach Randolph and Mike Conley don't receive enough appreciation, and they also have quality depth such as Mario Chalmers. The addition of a prime-time scorer like Durant immediately makes them a viable threat for the conference title. It would indeed have to be "immediate", given that most of the talent on the team is hovering around the age of 30. Still, if Durant is interested in winning as soon as possible, this is one of his best bets. Memphis isn't the best market for basketball, and the team is unproven in the later playoff rounds, but it could be a risk worth taking.
2 Portland Trail Blazers
This is probably the best roster that Durant can grow with over the next several years. They already have a star scorer in Damien Lillard (25.1 PPG) for him to pair with. Additionally, they have C.J. McCollum and Mason Plumlee, who can provide great support. Portland has proved that they are a team that is poised to break out, and Durant immediately makes them a threat in the West. Most of their roster hovers around the mid-20s age range, which is optimal for a player in Durant's position. Overall, with the Portland market's similarity to Oklahoma City, this is probably his best fit for a destination. However, if he wanted even more of a potential reward, he could always consider the...
1 Los Angeles Lakers
Now that Kobe's excessive farewell tour has ended, the Lakers can get back to trying to win games during the regular season. This is the perfect opportunity for Durant to sign a high-profile contract with a major market, and lead a young roster down the path to prosperity. Undoubtedly, for all their struggles this season, the Lakers have some young talent waiting in the wings. Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and D'Angelo Russell are only going to get better, and in the presence of an elite scorer, who is actually willing to help them get better, the roster would be on the right track. The carpet has been presented to Durant in L.A. to become the next face of the franchise. It's enticing, and could transform his career from elite star, to national superstar. The only question is: will he take the bait?