This upcoming free-agency period is certainly not going to be short of story-lines, and with Wednesday’s news that Kevin Durant would be declining his $31.5 million player option with Golden State for next season and entering free agency, one of the biggest slowly kicked in to gear.
Let’s make clear from the outset; this news is not a surprise. Of Durant’s myriad options, taking $31.5 million for one year to stay in Golden State and rehab his torn Achilles was well down the list. That’s particularly so given a number of teams – including the Nets, Knicks and even the Warriors – are expected to table max offer sheets to the two-time Finals MVP.
Regardless, a definitive answer to any question in the fog of uncertainty surrounding this NBA offseason is an answer nonetheless. There is a world where Durant could have opted in and spent the year pressure-free, rehabbing with some of the league’s best training staff and facilities.
That world no longer exists. The Easy Money Sniper has voluntarily entered the media maelstrom of free-agency, leaving himself with one less option to choose from.
So, what are his remaining choices? Let’s take a look.
1. Run it back with the Warriors
Durant has one major reason to stick with Golden State. Actually, 57 million reasons to be exact.
Much like Kemba Walker in Charlotte, courtesy of the NBA’s home-team-favourable free-agency rules the Warriors can offer Durant one more year and $57 million more dollars than any other team in the league.
Don’t gloss over that number. Read it carefully. That is a humungous, jaw-dropping sum of money, which seems to get downplayed in any discussion around Durant’s future. What human in the history of the world has ever been able to ignore that much cold hard cash.
Thanks to Durant’s perennial All-Pro credentials Golden State can offer a five-year $221 million deal, whereas any other team in the league maxes out at four years and $164 million.
Of course though, there are rumours in the ether that Durant and his team aren’t happy with how the Warriors handled his calf injury in the playoffs. Hardly surprising. The circumstances of the Achilles injury were always going to lead to questions being asked, and naturally the spotlight turned to the training staff.
$57 million does tend to mend even the most broken of bridges, though.
Durant will be 32 years old by the time of his comeback 2020-21 and returning from arguably the most severe injury a basketballer can suffer. This is probably his last chance at securing a long-term payday. Just ask the likes of Chauncey Billups, Kobe Bryant or Elton Brand whether they would’ve liked the opportunity for a five-year deal after tearing an Achilles.
What the Warriors have built – financially and on-court talent – in the Bay Area is likely to see them remain a league powerhouse for the foreseeable future. In 2020-21 they’ll still likely have that core of Draymond Green, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, which has the talent to be competitive even as each member of the quartet reaches the twilight of their prime.
In the end though, money talks. The safe, logical, rational option is for Durant to return to the franchise which has given him so much.
As the infamous burner accounts saga showed, though, logical and rational are not things necessarily in the Slim Reaper’s repertoire.
2. Run it forward with the Knicks
Yes, those pesky Knicks. Has there ever been a sporting organisation so talked about in the media and yet so utterly, seemingly-irrevocably useless in terms of on-field performance?
Nothing has gone right in New York for the last two decades. Yes, they’re finally, genuinely in the mix to snare a top free-agent, but that free-agent will be spending the next twelve months (at least) on the sidelines.
James Dolan’s clusterf*ck of an organisation can offer Durant four years and $164 million with enough cap space left over to pick up a second superstar. The attraction of joining them though doesn’t come from the money or even the potential of the roster (which is questionable at best).
The allure of joining the Knicks is ineffable. It’s the possibilities. It’s the chance to take the league’s most downtrodden franchise back to the glory where it thinks it belongs. It’s the fame and fortune that comes from hob-nobbing with the world’s elite in one of the world’s greatest cities.
Genuine basketball superstars in the Big Apple have been few and far between since the days of Patrick Ewing. Carmelo Anthony was, all things considered, a letdown. Phil Jackson’s triangle offense was a disaster. LeBron spurned them in 2010 and again in 2014.
Durant, since signing his one and one deal with the Warriors last summer, has always been the Prince that was Promised. Leading the Knicks even to the playoffs would earn him a place in basketball folklore; a position he has always craved. Those two championships and Finals MVPs with Golden State will always carry asterisks; a championship in New York (as unlikely as it is) might go down as the greatest of them all.
3. Flick the Knicks; Bet on the Nets
The attraction of Brooklyn is obvious; it’s all the trappings of a life in Manhattan but without the drama and ineptitude of the Dolan family.
It seems likely the Nets will also table a max offer to Durant, and currently Vegas has them listed as the outright favourite to grab his and Kyrie Irving’s services.
The key here is that even if the Knicks do attract Durant and another max guy – let’s say Kyrie – the roster is clearly not deep enough to make a genuine championship push in the improving East. It’s young, yes, and guys like Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier have shown glimpses of stardom, but that team is 2-3 years at least away from consistent competitiveness.
Brooklyn’s is already there. The Nets showed – by making the playoffs for the first time since 2015 – that they have the talent and culture for success. All they’re missing (all due respect to DeAngelo Russell) is a genuine superstar.
A starting 5 of Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Durant and Jarrett Allen is as talented as any in the league. That core could be around the mark in the East for the next 4-5 years.
The Nets have never won a championship. Whilst it wouldn’t be quite as glamorous as winning one with the Knicks, there’s enough substance there that Durant’s legacy would be secured.
If staying in Golden State is logical and going to the Knicks is illogical, going to the Nets perfectly splits the difference.
4.Shock the World
It’s fair to say the three options listed are by far the most likely outcomes; the Vegas odds reflect that.
But with his initial move to the Warriors, Durant showed pretty unequivocally that he doesn’t give a flying f*ck what’s expected of him. He’ll do whatever he feels is best for Kevin Durant.
As we wrote the other day, the pending Kawhi Leonard decision may cause a number of dominoes to fall.
One of those dominoes just might be Durant. The Clippers are clearly banking on Leonard, but if he runs it back with the Raptors they’ll be left with a pile of cash, a talented roster and all the perks that come from being in LA. There’s a distinct possibility they decide to offer Durant the max, get another year of experience/trade value in to the likes of Landry Shamet and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and then make a real run at the 2020-21 title.
A team like the 76ers would also have to do some cap maneuvering, but could be another option. Dallas has the best young duo in the league with Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic and a flexible cap; Sacramento can offer arguably the most exciting young core and even teams like Boston or New Orleans could find a way to get close to a max deal.
The odds suggest Durant’s mind is moving in one of three ways, but anything can happen in this 2019 off-season.
Written and produced for Sportstips.com by Eddie Dadds