By Zac Piesse.
Kevin Durant has been a part of the Oklahoma City Thunder since the beginning. Their fans don’t know a world without KD. The Thunder have been dreading the beginning of this year’s offseason with Durant becoming an unrestricted free agent. To make things worse for the Thunder, the other member of the most deadly one-two punch in the NBA, Russell Westbrook, is also eligible to test FA in 2017. It would be diabolical for the Thunder franchise if either of these two top five players in the league choose to leave.
Durant headlines a pretty strong free agency class. Featuring talents such as Hassan “Red Velvet” Whiteside, Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, and Dwight Howard, this year’s free agency will be very interesting.
Many pundits believe that Durant will leave, others don’t. With the big jump in the salary cap this year, many different teams are poised to make a move for KD. The grass does always look greener on the other side…
At the beginning of the season, the Washington Wizards were at the forefront of the race for KD’s signature, but that concept soon deteriorated as the Wizard’s season went down the drain, similarly to Bradley Beal’s health (who is also a F.A. this year).
The Los Angeles Lakers have also been in the running for KD’s services. The Lakers are in a “big market”, being the most recognisable NBA franchise worldwide. In my mind, the notion of a “big market” is dead. In the social media era, which we now live in, where an NBA player plays basketball does not really matter. As the world becomes so much more interconnected because of the internet, and social media as a whole. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be unreal to don the Purple and Yellow, but it doesn’t weight into player’s decisions as heavily as it once did. The Lakers don’t exactly have the most exciting roster either.
Another potential suitor for Durant, who would fit the best for his game, is the Boston Celtics. If Durant was to leave OKC, I think he would go to Boston. Their young core, on the back of back to back playoff appearances, is moving from strength to strength. They have been missing a scorer like Durant, having relied heavily on Point Guard Isiah Thomas, and intricate team play from the rest of their squad. The emergence of Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart allowed the Celtics to reach the fifth spot (though in a 4-way tie for third). The Celtics also have a plethora of draft picks available for trade, or use this coming offseason. They have the 3rd and 16th overall pick, they did have the Timberwolves First round pick as well. But this was Top 12 protected for 2016. They could produce an enticing package to send to OKC if Durant did choose to leave, but I do not see this occurring.
I do not believe that Durant will sign a long-term deal with the Thunder this year, but he might sign a one or two year deal. If he resigns with the Thunder this year, he can earn $150.5 million across five years. If he resigns elsewhere, $110.9 million across four. Here’s the money maker, if he signs a one year deal this year, he can resign next year for $208.1 million across five years. Now that’s a small fortune…
The brotherhood that has been created over the past eight seasons between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook cannot be discounted. The loss in this year’s Western Conference Finals will only bring them closer together. They complement each other so well, the speed and aggression from Westbrook, the poise and killer instinct from Durant makes for unbelievable viewing. Four trips to the Conference Finals, and one to the NBA Finals in 2012, means that there is still some unfinished business from both superstars. To place so highly in such a competitive Western Conference, over such a long period of time, it would be tough to see Durant leave that all behind.
This year against the Warriors, the Thunder were very very unlucky, but the Warriors three point scoring was what beat them this year (similarly to the rest of the league this year #73-9). Perhaps the Thunder could find some shooting themselves. As their three big men, in Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, and Enes Kanter have improved out of sight. Adams particularly. Their young core improved dramatically this year, and they must continue to do so, if Durant is to stick around.
The future is looking bright for Oklahoma, but if Durant does leave, Westbrook does too. That spells the end of the Thunder’s playoff hopes, and the franchises immediate future.