For most basketball fans, Golden State’s win over Oklahoma City Monday night means they can turn their attention to the NBA Finals, and the rematch between LeBron James and Stephen Curry.
But with the Thunder’s season now officially over, this is also the beginning of the Kevin Durant watch, as the all-star forward is set to become a free agent on July 1. Reporters at the Western Conference finals wasted little time asking Durant about his future after the Game 7 loss to the Warriors, but it was too early in the process for Durant to offer anything.
‘‘We just lost like 30 minutes ago, so I haven’t even thought about it,’’ Durant said. ‘‘... I'll think about that stuff, I don’t know when. But we just lost an hour ago, 30 minutes ago, so I don’t know.’’
Durant is not the only free agent, of course. James and Dirk Nowitzki have player options that they could exercise, although both players are expected to remain with their teams. Dwyane Wade will be an unrestricted free agent, but it appears he will return to Miami, as both he and Heat management look to be on the same page.
While other intriguing names exist (DeMar DeRozan, Al Horford, and Dwight Howard, to name a few), Durant is the big prize of the offseason, and once his situation is settled, the rest of the free agency picture will fall into place.
Let the rumors and speculation begin.
Why should Durant leave Oklahoma City?
Durant just completed his ninth season in the league, all with the Thunder. He has reached the NBA Finals just once, in 2012 when Oklahoma City lost in five games to the Miami Heat.
Durant seems to get along with teammate Russell Westbrook, but he could have a desire to branch out with a different organization. A move out of the Western Conference could certainly be appealing. Oklahoma City has had to battle the likes of the Spurs, the Warriors, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks.
In the Eastern Conference, Durant would just have to worry about James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Why should Durant stay with the Thunder?
The more success Oklahoma City had this past season, the more likely it seemed he could return. The Thunder defeated the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs, then took the defending champion Warriors to the limit, grabbing a 3-1 series lead before succumbing in the end.
‘‘We weren’t supposed to be in this position,’’ Durant said after the loss in Game 7 to Golden State. ‘‘We faced two great teams, I think, in the San Antonio series that really showed who we are, and in this series. I thought we peaked at the right time, and got better at the right time, but unfortunately we didn’t come out on top.’’
Westbrook is playing at an elite level and helps shoulder the burden for Durant. It’s difficult to imagine Durant joining a team that has another player as talented as Westbrook already on the roster. Center Steven Adams got better as the season went on, and at 22, it appears his best days are ahead of him.
Durant seemed to appreciate what the Thunder accomplished this year, and how close they are to breaking through.
‘‘I'm just proud of what all we’ve been through this season,’’ Durant said. ‘‘We stuck together and we sacrificed for each other. That’s just what makes this game so special.’’
The Western Conference is certainly tougher, but teams like the Spurs, the Rockets, and the Mavericks appear to be past their prime, while the window for the Clippers also could be closing, meaning Oklahoma City could be battling Golden State once again next season should Durant opt to return.
‘‘We fought,’’ Durant said. ‘‘Everybody fought hard every single minute they were on the court. It sucks to lose. It sucks, but it was tough. It was a tough series.’’
There is also the issue of money. The Thunder would be able to outspend other teams to keep Durant in Oklahoma City.
Durant to Boston?
Celtics president Danny Ainge has coveted Durant since before the 2007 draft, even getting fined for sitting next to Durant’s mother at the Big 12 tournament in March of 2007. Ainge has said that if the Celtics had the No. 1 pick in 2007, he would have selected Durant. Unfortunately, the Celtics ended up with the No. 5 pick in the draft lottery that year.
This summer, the Celtics appear to have plenty of room under the salary cap. But so do other teams. What really set the tongues of Celtics fans wagging was Durant’s trip to Boston in March, when he scored 28 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds in Oklahoma City’s 130-109 win over the Celtics. While he was in Boston, Durant spoke glowingly of the city, the fans, and the Celtics organization.
“I like the city a lot, I like the city a lot,” said Durant. “It’s cold but they love sports here. It’s a family atmosphere I feel when I walk around the city, so yeah, I like it a lot.”
Even newly acquired Patriots defensive lineman Terrance Knighton is trying to lure Durant to Boston. He recently discussed the possibility of Durant joining the Celtics.
“You know, I think he created that buzz on his own,’’ Knighton said. “He talked very highly about Boston and the tradition here. Obviously with me being a big fan of his and being a friend of his, I definitely will be pushing my hardest to recruit him here once the offseason comes.”
The team is competitive, having won 48 games this past season, and only looks to get stronger with eight picks in the draft, including the No. 3 selection overall, as ESPN’s Chris Forsberg writes.
“Boston, with an intriguing young core signed to team-friendly deals, also has the cap space flexibility this summer to pursue two max-contract free agents.”
There is also the stability of the organization. The Celtics extended the contracts of Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens ahead of the free agency period. Durant doesn’t have to worry about who will be calling the shots in the front office, or diagramming plays from the bench. He won’t have to worry about Stevens bolting for another job.
Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas got off to a rough start in his recruitment of Durant. Shortly after the Thunder were eliminated from the playoffs, Thomas tweeted out the number 35, which is Durant’s number with Oklahoma City, along with a shamrock. It was a nice gesture, although the Celtics retired 35 in honor of the late Reggie Lewis. Thomas quickly deleted the tweet.
Fox 25’s Butch Stearns, in an appearance on WEEI, said the Celtics have spoken with Durant’s representatives already.
“I have this on pretty good authority: The Celtics have sat with his agent and other representatives of Durant. The Celtics do know — I don’t know who it is — but they do know who he would prefer to be brought here in a LeBron [James]-Chris Bosh-Dwyane Wade-like way. Because that’s how it works in the NBA. You need to know who the guy or guys that that guy wants, which would be a factor,” Stearns said.
Other landing spots for Durant
The Miami Heat are always mentioned whenever an NBA superstar like Durant hits free agency. They landed James in 2010, but the chances of landing Durant seem unlikely. For one, there is too much uncertainty surrounding Chris Bosh’s future. Also, Wade is now 34 and has battled injuries in recent years.
Durant could head back to his hometown and play for the Washington Wizards, where he would be teammates with former No. 1 pick John Wall and be reunited with former coach Scott Brooks. But Washington appears to be a long way from contending, making a deal unlikely.
The Knicks have also been mentioned as a possible suitor for Durant
Back in the Western Conference, the Warriors, Spurs, and Los Angeles Lakers are also said to be interested in making a pitch to Durant, although Golden State and San Antonio would be forced to gut their rosters.
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