Kevin Durant free agency: Ranking K.D.'s options, from Clippers to Knicks to staying with the Warriors
Which of K.D.'s presumed top choices would be the best situation for him?
Kevin Durant is set to become one of the biggest free agents in NBA history this summer. At various points, we have seen reports ranging from his signing with the Knicks being a virtual certainty to the Clippers recently emerging as an equal threat. The Brooklyn Nets are expected to get strong consideration as well, while Durant returning to the Warriors, though rarely discussed as a realistic option, remains a possibility.
Durant could also join LeBron James with the Lakers, who indeed have the cap room for a max free agent. Wherever he ends up, it feels like one of those five teams is a pretty solid bet. Based on reports, team situations and championship prospects, as well as a few conversations with people around the league, here is a ranking of Durant's options based on the likelihood he signs with each.
New York Knicks
The Knicks have been the favorite to land Durant for some time and it still feels that way, though a report from Marc Stein indicating the emergence of the Clippers as an equal threat gives some pause to this ranking. The Knicks have room to add two max players, as do the Clippers, but I really believe the swing factor in New York's favor is its years of total ineptitude. That sounds crazy, admittedly, that one of the most coveted free agents in history would actually be drawn to a consistently dysfunctional and downtrodden team, but if you think about it, this takes the savior factor off the charts for Durant.
There's just not as much to gain anywhere else.
The Clippers are already pretty good, and besides that, Los Angeles will always be a Lakers town. Likewise, the Nets, though a far more stable franchise with frankly a better roster at this point, will always exist in a Knicks town. The Warriors are Stephen Curry's team, now and forever. But if Durant could win a championship as the leading man in New York, considering how desperate and passionate that fanbase is, he would ascend to a level of basketball heroism, unlike anything he could attain anywhere else.
And at the end of the day, the Knicks, for all their blundering ways of the past two-plus decades, absolutely offer the possibility of becoming an overnight championship contender. Again, they have room for two max players. Let's say that becomes Durant and Kyrie Irving. Or Durant and Jimmy Butler. Or Durant and Kawhi Leonard. Whoever the two max players are, the Knicks also have a strong enough trade package -- with this year's No. 3 overall pick and young players like Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson -- to perhaps bring in a third star.
Perhaps getting Anthony Davis is too far of a reach with that package, but perhaps a Bradley Beal or a Kevin Love could start a real discussion. Maybe Jrue Holiday if New Orleans goes into full rebuild mode after conceding to trade Davis. Bottom line: New York has the very real possibility of adding three All-NBA level players. You know Durant believes he can win with that. But take caution, Knicks fans. Obviously, nothing is set in stone.
"I was in New York in 2010 when we thought we were getting LeBron," a league exec told CBS Sports. "Obviously that didn't work out as planned."
Los Angeles Clippers
Here's the sell for the Clippers: A better current roster than New York -- by a mile -- and the flexibility to add the same two max players the Knicks can offer. Side note: If K.D. really wants to prove himself as the best player in the world, how about going heads up with LeBron in the same town, playing in the same arena, and leading the Clippers to a title before LeBron could do that same for the Lakers. That would be about as definitive a statement as Durant could make.
"The Clippers have always felt like the best situation to me," an Eastern Conference scout recently told CBS Sports. "I don't have any kind of information or any idea of what Durant is thinking, but if you just look at that roster. Guys love playing for Doc [Rivers]. That situation looks pretty good to me."
It's true. The Clippers have done tremendous work in setting up their books for this summer with the Blake Griffin, Tobias Harris and Chris Paul trades and other smaller moves, and now they have two of the biggest bargain contracts in the league with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell making $8 million and $6 million next year, respectively.
With Landry Shamet and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari, that's five legit players to go with potentially Durant and another max guy. Doc Rivers would be looking at a deep, balanced team whereas the Knicks would be a more traditional super-team with top-heavy talent filled out with a lot of minimum and young players. That's a blueprint to win now and into the future, as Durant might, at this point be interested in a longer-term deal.
The Nets have the capability to create about $60 million in cap space, which is close to two max salary spots depending on the particular free agents and the max salary for which they're eligible, but it will take some maneuvering -- namely they'd have to renounce all their free agent cap holds, which includes D'Angelo Russell, and they'd have to find a trade partner to take the $18.5 million Allen Crabbe is due this coming season.
It's very doable, but even if the Nets only get to one available max slot, which they can do very easily while still retaining Russell, Durant would have a lot of incentive to sign with Brooklyn. They are already a playoff team and Russell is coming off a career year. Spencer Dinwiddie is on one of the better deals in the league. Joe Harris is a terrific floor spacer for Durant and is actually a much better player than that limited description suggests. Nets GM Sean Marks has done a great job in building a team that is ready to compete now with the addition of one marquee player, but also for the foreseeable future.
To me, the Nets would have to create two max spots to become as attractive as the Clippers or Knicks. Russell is an All-Star, but he isn't enough as a wingman for Durant to win a title. If Durant says he's ready to come to Brooklyn, the Nets will part with Russell almost certainly. At that point, it would be about finding a taker for Crabbe. They should have enough draft choices to attach to him to get a deal done with someone, perhaps a team like Atlanta that is looking to pile up assets and could take on money.
Simply because they have to do a bit of cap gymnastics that the Knicks and Clippers don't to offer Durant a superstar wingman, the Nets are third in this pecking order.
Golden State Warriors
You have to wonder what, and how much, effect this postseason run the Warriors are on without Durant will ultimately have on his decision this summer. If he was already worried about the perception that the Warriors don't need him, the fact that they're 5-0 in the playoffs without him would only seem to bolster that opinion.
In pure terms of winning more championships, Golden State is clearly the best place for Durant. But the question becomes: How much will more championships in Golden State really matter to Durant? If they win this year, that's three straight. How much will the perception of him change with one or even two more titles on a team that, again, doesn't appear to totally need him to win?
On the other hand, if the Warriors win this year, could Durant turn down the possibility of winning four straight? Jordan never did that. Shaq or Kobe never did that. LeBron's never even won three straight. A fourth straight title, no matter how the outside world would view him, would unquestionably put Durant in the conversation for one of the greatest players of all time among real NBA people. Frankly, he's probably already in that conversation.
Now, what if the Warriors DON'T win the title this year? Would Durant be worried about looking like he's bailing the second things get a little challenging? Again, there are still some moving parts in this situation until Golden State's season comes to a close. Does Durant even play again with the strained calf? He's already doubtful for the first few games of the Finals. If they lose, does that then reaffirm his importance and entice him to stay? If they win without him, does he really have any more purpose there?
In the end, it just feels like Durant's time with the Warriors is coming to a close. They've served their purpose together. It's a long shot that he stays no matter how this season turns out, but I do think it's more likely that he stays with the Warriors than it is that he joins the last team in this list.
Los Angeles Lakers
This is going to be short. If Durant is worried about people thinking he hitched onto the Warriors' wagon, what are they going to say if he goes to the Lakers and wins next to LeBron? Joining LeBron is the all-time wagon hitch. Durant would never be viewed as anything other than an opportunist who first joined arguably the greatest team ever only to follow that up by joining arguably the greatest player ever.
Pretty simply, I don't think Durant wants any part of that backlash. Plus, I think he believes he's better than LeBron at this point, that it's actually LeBron who needs Durant more than the other way around. That actually might be true. But people would never see it that way. And Durant, at the end of the day, does care how people see him. I would be shocked if he went to the Lakers, but they do have the cap space and with a trade they could potentially add two superstar players next to LeBron. It's still the Lakers. It's enticing, no question. But I still say no way for Durant.
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