Kevin Durant’s free agency sweepstakes are close to being officially underway as face-to-face meetings with the incumbent Thunder, Warriors, Spurs, and others will take place this weekend.
The full @KDTrey5 meeting sked: OKC Thursday, GSW/Clippers Friday, Spurs/Celtics Saturday, Miami on Sunday, per source. That’s the list.
— David Aldridge (@davidaldridgedc) June 30, 2016
There are high level implication scenarios in play with Durant. While the conventional belief is that Durant will hang in there with OKC for at least one more season, this summer he has the ability to make a pendulum-shifting move by possibly joining one of these teams.
Klay told me he's going to give KD space on Team USA, but also do whatever it takes to get him to join Warriors.
— Justin Termine (@TermineRadio) June 27, 2016
The Warriors and Spurs are clearly the big fish in the running. Both might be considered long shots for different reasons, but Frank Isola of the NY Daily News reported that Durant has real interest in joining the Warriors if he doesn’t re-sign with the Thunder. Gregg Popovich and the Spurs will do their due diligence by meeting with Durant, like the Warriors, offering him a chance to form a super team. Both teams still have some maneuvering to do in order to create more cap room, but their pitches will simply revolve around winning.
Leaving OKC would create shock pulse around the league at this point, but not if Durant leaves for a situation that provides an equal if not better opportunity for him to compete for a championship right away. That’s part of what he had to mean by making the best basketball decision in free agency. The Warriors and Spurs are the proverbial elephants in the room in that regard, but the sleepers in the room hold some weight too.
I see the Celtics as a fascinating sleeper for Durant. They don’t have the most lucrative offer in terms of their current roster, but they do have Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas (who hasn’t been shy about wanting Durant), and Boston pride on their side. Durant also has a known affinity for Larry Bird. The Celtics, like the Knicks, do have an atmosphere in place to ensure Durant a chance to be a realistic competitor in the East.
Even though I don’t foresee Durant being eager to literally follow in LeBron’s footsteps, the Miami Heat are another sleeper. According to the meeting schedule, Pat Riley will have an entire Sunday to himself to pitch to Durant. Other concerns with the Heat include the health status of Chris Bosh and the staying status of Hassan Whiteside, but even if Whiteside walks this summer, the prospect of a new Big 3 with Wade, Durant, and Bosh has merit.
The Knicks, who I thought might emerge as a sleeper, didn’t even land a meeting with Durant. The Clippers, however, did land a meeting, and as The OC Register’s Dan Woike reported, they’re going to pitch Durant on forming a Big 4 with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan. The Clips would need to do some maneuvering to pull that off as well.
I’m not convinced that Durant would leave OKC for another Western Conference team this summer. As many have noted, these meetings could be foreshadowing for next summer, should Durant sign the 1+1 deal and hit free agency again in 2017. But the realistic sleepers for Durant right now should be in the East, where he can shift gears and contend for the conference and an NBA title right away.