Kevin Durant is still on the market, and while we've heard the expected leaks out of his team meetings -- he was blown away by the Clippers, things went well with the Warriors, the Celtics brought Tom Brady to their pitch -- we still don't really know anything more than the biggest fish in the sea is still swimming around. Durant's decision isn't quite as big as LeBron James' was when he left for Miami, but it's close. If he leaves, the league's power structure becomes entirely, and immediately, different.
Our experts weigh in on the situation while we wait for Durant's decision.
1. Does Westbrook's deal impact KD's decision?
Ken Berger: Yes. Greatly. If Westbrook is thinking about leaving, then Durant would be more inclined to move on. So in a way, Durant's most important meeting isn't with any of the teams he's meeting with, but with Westbrook himself. That's one of the factors; it isn't the most important factor, but it's one of them. The others being, where can Durant find a better and more sustainable winning situation than Oklahoma City? And, you know, money. Hassan Whiteside says he'll give up some of his cash, but don't expect KD to do the same.
James Herbert: Durant will have offers to join teams with multiple stars under contract. There is some risk involved in staying in Oklahoma City when his co-star could bolt in a year. That is part of why signing a one-year contract with a one-year player option makes sense, and it's surely something the Thunder's competitors are currently emphasizing. If he leaves, then it hurts OKC's chances of winning a title in the next few years, and that means it hurts its chances of keeping Westbrook, too. If OKC misses on Durant because of Westbrook, they could then very well miss again on Westbrook next year because of Durant. Basically, don't miss.
Zach Harper: Is there any way Durant stays with the Thunder and then Westbrook decides to leave the situation a year from now? Yes. Technically. Westbrook could decide he wants to be back closer to the West Coast where he's fron, or want to go to a major market to explore some of his other interests away from basketball in his downtime. Russ could want his own team and pull a full-on Stephon Marbury with Durant as his Kevin Garnett (except the money disparity wouldn't be the reason). All of that said, Westbrook leaving after Durant stays would genuinely be a shock to me. I wouldn't worry about Westbrook's deal if I was KD.
Ananth Pandian: It likely does factor in somewhat but I'm unsure how much it's weighing on Durant's mind. Durant can of course take a one-year deal in Oklahoma City and then explore free agency again next season with Westbrook. But right now, it seems like Durant isn't heavily considering Westbrook's 2017 free agency as it relates to his own free agency.
Going the other way, if Durant does decide to sign elsewhere, it will likely have a big impact on Westbrook's 2017 free agency. Westbrook would be the man in OKC but the Thunder won't likely be a contender. Would Westbrook's championship aspirations also cause him to leave Oklahoma City or would he be content on the Thunder, helping them try and woo another superstar type player to play alongside him? Similar to Durant, Westbrook's decision will be all the talk next summer.
Matt Moore: I think the bond between the two is stronger than people give it credit for... but I also think that means they don't worry about splitting up. They're going to be friends no matter where each of them plays. Yes, they have something special together in Oklahoma City and enjoy playing together, but their relationship doesn't end because one of them puts on a new jersey.
And if Durant re-signs, that doesn't make Westbrook -- who has a different personality and different off-court goals -- a lock to re-sign next year. They are not bound to one another. At the same time, Durant's going to go through these meetings, with Steph Curry and Chris Paul and ... Tom Brady, and he's going to look at all of them and know that he's got Westbrook back in OKC. No one else has a Westbrook, certainly not as a No. 2 option, and that matters, just as next summer, if Durant re-signs, nowhere else will have a KD for Westbrook. It's not simple, and none of it is absolute.
2. If Durant leaves, what's OKC's move?
Berger: Not panic. The only scenario that I can envision where Durant leaves and the Thunder don't take a step back would be a sign-and-trade for Blake Griffin. Beyond that, they're going to take a step back no matter what they do. What they want to avoid is trying to replace Durant by overpaying a marginal free agent a boatload of cash -- sort of like they did for Enes Kanter. They'd still be in a decent spot. They just added a young, budding star in Victor Oladipo and they have a lot of picks coming. And they still have Westbrook and rising star Steven Adams. Play the hand you've been dealt. Don't fold.
Herbert: Try to find another starting small forward in free agency, which won't be easy at this point. Guys like Nicolas Batum, who would've been perfect but re-signed in Charlotte, and Chandler Parsons, who got $98 million in Memphis, are already gone. So is Kent Bazemore, who re-signed in Atlanta, and Luol Deng, who's now a Laker. So ... Harrison Barnes anyone?
Beyond that, it's worth looking at the trade market. Denver might be willing to part ways with Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler, and Sacramento might not be attached to Rudy Gay.
Harper: Would it be crazy to look into what you can get for Russell Westbrook right away? Should you shop him to Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota in exchange for a package of Andrew Wiggins or Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio (that could be tricky with Russ being a free agent in 2017)? Should you see if Boston will give you their good young players and the majority of the draft picks they've acquired? Could you move him to the Lakers in exchange for D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram? Or do you just ride it out with Russ, assume he'll want to stay, and try to find him another good player right away? This is not a situation they want to face.
Pandian: Find a small forward either through free agency or trade, which, to James Herbert's point, won't be easy. Durant is such an unique talent that it is basically impossible to replace him. But the Thunder will have to at least try because they currently have virtually no depth at the small forward position.
Moore: Talk to Westbrook and see what he wants to do. If he wants to get a head start on his next chapter, try to work that trade immediately before the shock waves of Durant's departure set in. Don't try and hold onto him if he says he's probably leaving. If he says he's undecided, you can wait, but be ready to liquify the whole shebang the minute it turns sour.
If Durant leaves, the cornerstone is gone. Trying to rebuild into a title contender without him, even with Westbrook, just doesn't seem likely. You're not going to get a top free agent to sign there. You have to be ready to shift into asset collection mode.
Have a Plan B ready immediately.
3. OK, so where does Durant end up?
Berger: It's always tricky predicting what 20-something basketball players will do in free agency, especially this year. Will Durant take the long view, recognizing all the success he's had in OKC and all the success the organization is poised to continue to have? Or take the LeBron view, realizing how dramatically you can alter your career arc through free agency? My best guess is, both. Meaning, he'll re-sign with OKC on a one-year deal with an option for 2017 and do this all over again.
Herbert: Anything is possible, but I think he'll stay in Oklahoma City and try to finish what he and Westbrook started. As presently constituted, the Thunder have enough talent to win 65-plus games and contend for a championship. There's appeal in reaching the top of the mountain with the team that drafted you and in a city where you're comfortable. If he signs a 1+1 deal, he can get a massive raise next summer when he's a 10-year veteran and the salary cap rises again.
Harper: 1-and-1 with the Thunder and recalibrate with Russ in a year. See if the move to get rid of Serge Ibaka for multiple pieces works. See the development of Steven Adams. See the sustainable depth Sam Presti has built and what it could mean moving forward. See how Billy Donovan is able to build on their postseason success. And see if you can deliver that final knockout punch to the Warriors to see if you can get back to the Finals for the first time in five years. I think Durant's competitive nature and confidence drives this decision.
Pandian: I say he re-signs with the Thunder. Oklahoma City was just one win away from getting to the Finals and now they added some more scoring and defense with Victor Oladipo. Coupled with the continued growth and development of Steven Adams and Andre Roberson, the Thunder are a true championship contender and probably are the best situation for Durant. Again he can even sign a one-year deal, see how the Thunder do and then explore free agency with Westbrook in 2017. Giving the Thunder at least one more year.
Moore: I just can't get past the idea of "They have Russell Westbrook." The Warriors have the best team, but I don't think, based on everything I know about Kevin Durant, that he would want to be No.2 on a team and be Steph's spot-up shooter. They'd work him into the offense, they'd give him a lot of attention. But in the end, it's Steph's team. I don't think KD wants that. He wants to win, but he also wants to win on his terms.
I think he re-signs with the only team that has a player of Russell Westbrook's caliber as a No. 2 option, the Thunder, on a one-year deal, and we do all this again in a year.