SALT LAKE CITY — The Celtics traveled to the Hamptons on Saturday, hoping to convince free agent megastar Kevin Durant that Boston was the place for him.
One day earlier, the 73-win Warriors had dispatched a Hall of Fame-level entourage that included Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. Boston countered with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, but they simply could not match Golden State’s basketball star power.
So the Celtics appealed to Durant’s love of basketball. Coach Brad Stevens focused on strategy, going into detail about how the team would use Durant in its inventive and effective system.
Meanwhile, the Celtics players in attendance — Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, and Marcus Smart — discussed cohesion and Stevens and Boston’s rabid fan base. Brady, one of Durant’s favorite athletes, explained what it would be like to be an icon in such a sports-crazed city.
The Celtics left the meeting confident in their pitch, with president of basketball operations Danny Ainge even wearing a pair of Durant’s signature Nike sneakers. Durant was receptive and appreciative of the session, but gave few clues about his choice.
Then on Monday morning, after visiting with six teams over the holiday weekend, the forward announced on The Players’ Tribune website that he would be joining Golden State.
The decision ended a dizzying weekend that had been filled with rumors, hopes, and NBA fans refreshing websites for hours on end. For the Celtics, who agreed to terms with four-time All-Star Al Horford on Saturday, it stopped a big weekend from turning into a historic one.
“The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction,” Durant wrote. “But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.”
Durant joins a team already loaded with NBA stars. The Warriors set an NBA record for wins this past season, but lost in the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now, Golden State will be the overwhelming favorite to capture next season’s crown.
According to ESPN, Durant’s deal is for two years and $54.3 million, with a player option in the second year. So there is a chance this entire process could be revisited next summer.
For the Celtics, this recent flirtation could lay the groundwork for revisiting this courtship, particularly if Golden State’s super team does not work out as planned. But the most likely scenario is that Boston will simply move forward and continue to improve its roster elsewhere.
At the Celtics’ shootaround prior to their summer league game against the 76ers in Salt Lake City on Monday, the general consensus was that the franchise just wanted to refocus.
“I wouldn’t say it’s disappointing,” guard Terry Rozier said. “He’s got to make his decision. If that’s what he feels is the right fit for him, then good luck to him next season. But we’ve just got to move on. We’ve got to get ready for next year as well.”
Durant’s free agency was one of the primary backstories of the season. During visits to other cities he was often peppered with questions about his looming decision.
Durant was always polite, and his normally harmless comments about a city would be picked apart for clues, even if there was not necessarily a clue there.
When the Thunder visited Boston last winter, for example, these comments from Durant were dissected and obsessed over for weeks: “I like the city a lot. 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.”
All along, though, there was a wide belief that Durant would remain with the Thunder, either with a long-term maximum-salary deal or a two-year contract that included a player option after the first season.
For most of the year, the Celtics were considered long shots as they dreamed of luring Durant. But gradually their talent, youth, roster flexibility, and potential may have become too much to ignore. Boston was one of just six teams to secure a sit-down meeting with Durant, who spurned other traditional franchises such as the Lakers and the Knicks. And that, on its own, was a small win for the Celtics.
“It just shows us and everybody else that we’re right there,” Rozier said. “We’ve got our foot right there in the door.”
Despite Durant’s decision, the Celtics have upgraded their roster, and they probably are not done. The four-year, $113 million agreement with Horford was a coup. And the team has high hopes for Jaylen Brown, the No. 3 overall pick of this year’s draft.
League sources have indicated it is likely that Boston will guarantee the contracts of forwards Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko before Thursday’s flexible deadline. Big men Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger, meanwhile, are restricted free agents, meaning the Celtics will have the option of matching any deal the players receive.
No, the Celtics will not sign Kevin Durant, but they also have no reason for panic.