Tough news week for NBA wing defenders: beginning next year, you get five hundred percent more Kevin Durant. Five times the threes. Five times the slashing. Five times the seven foot alien willing to spot up from just about anywhere in the arena.
Because, you see, it’s now been reported as a virtual certainty that Kevin Durant will be leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for four different teams: the Washington Wizards, the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers, and now the Golden State Warriors. The good news for Thunder fans? He's also staying in Oklahoma.
…Unless, of course, he gets traded to the Clippers, in which case the famously sane minds of Russell Westbrook and Dion Waiters will be left to separate Blake Griffin and Serge Ibaka everyday in Thunder practice. For those who might be lost, let’s recap this week’s fresh round of speculation.
Last Friday, Stephen A. Smith told the Mason and Ireland radio show that Durant will be joining Russell Westbrook on the Lakers. As wild and random as this report may have seemed, it was nothing compared to the Thursday deluge.
First, Zach Lowe made a compelling case for why the ever-imminent Thunder dynasty shouldn’t be put on hold just yet.
Next, no less than The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski – almost unquestionably the top reporter in the game – wrote that the Warriors are the "significant frontrunners" for Durant’s services should he leave this summer.
He even followed it up in the same piece with speculation that if the loss of Durant appears imminent, the Los Angeles Clippers may provide the Thunder an enticing trade piece in Blake Griffin.
What should help Thunder fans breathe easy, though, is not what these reports are based on, but instead what they aren’t: new developments. Nothing has happened, Durant hasn’t said anything, and even Woj himself admits as much: "Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said."
It's like watching a dog park inexplicably devolve into chaos because the hound in the corner decided to howl.
Still, though, with the Thunder only days away from their first matchup of the season with the Warriors, there’s no better time than now to digest and gauge these reports. And we’ll start with Stephen A.
There are several points that merit mention here. First, Smith and Kevin Durant do not have a good history. Smith is, of course, a seasoned veteran working for the largest sports programming network on the planet, and likely does have a plethora of potential NBA sources. But the venom last summer was real, and the smart money is on virtually any human being other than Stephen A. Smith breaking relevant Durant news as free agency approaches.
Another intriguing aspect of the Smith report was its framework. The Durant angle got the headlines, but Smith’s real revelation was the alleged certainty with which the Lakers believe Russell Westbrook is on his way. Though Westbrook’s departure to the Lakers has long been speculated, this is the first report to link Durant to the situation as well. It was also interesting to see the lack of panic this report seemed to initiate among Thunder fans. It’s always felt like it was all or nothing with KD and Russ. If Durant leaves, we all expect Westbrook to follow suit. This report isn’t a fresh wound, but instead a re-opened scab.
Durant and Westbrook to the Lakers would, of course, be painful for a number of reasons, chief among them the fact that two superstars were generally happy with their basketball situation but just wanted another franchise, another city, and another fanbase. It would also provide a gargantuan blow to the narrative that the sheer hugeness of the NBA media machine renders market size meaningless to star players in the modern age.
Because of the source, and because of the fact that Durant and Westbrook would be wasting their primes waiting for a worse team to develop around them, and because of the fact that this scenario would likely involve Durant withering away with a bottom-tier supporting cast for a year as he waited on Westbrook, let’s choose to ignore this one for now. Again, Westbrook to L.A. isn’t new. Let’s not make it new by throwing Durant’s name in the headline.
Lowe’s piece on why OKC might remain an intriguing franchise for Durant served to recalibrate the madness, and it was ultimately a timely reminder that Durant still has a pretty good thing going with the Thunder. Durant and Westbrook are inseparable as a narrative, but Lowe’s trademark X-and-O's analysis highlighted a litany of reasons why Durant would either be crazy to stay or crazy to leave. He rightly points out that, depending on who you ask, the Thunder are either maddeningly inconsistent or have yet to peak. Lowe’s focus on the value added by Steven Adams and Enes Kanter is essential reading for those still clinging to the same arguments ("It’s all iso!" or "Westbrook hogs the ball!") used to describe the 2011 Thunder.
This is an Oklahoma City Thunder site, and everyone on it is going to naturally gravitate towards Lowe’s view that the Thunder are still in this – both for the title and for Durant. Lowe’s piece doesn’t require a ton of analysis on a Thunder site, but it’s highly compelling considering the author and his ability to argue Basketball Reasons.
Woj’s report broke the Internet for reasons other than just its source. LeBron James and Chris Bosh knocked down the superteam barrier in 2010, creating an NBA landscape where star players no longer fear the ridicule of joining up to chase rings in the prime of their careers. KD to the Warriors, though, would take it several steps further. The Warriors aren’t a mere playoff team that has played the long game in order to clear up cap space for the right opportunity. They are a budding dynasty that, come July, may be riding a wave of back-to-back championships. They are so good right now that some fans are openly wondering if adding Durant might even serve to ruin a good thing. Let that sink in: the Warriors are so good that there is a legitimate fear that adding KEVIN DURANT may ruin their chemistry and leave them worse than they currently are. That is the caliber-team that Woj is saying may well add Kevin Durant.
The complementary speculation that the Thunder may attempt to trade Durant should he inform them of his imminent departure has more weight than any singular free agency rumor at this point, but it almost certainly won’t be for Blake Griffin. The entire Western Conference isn’t big enough for Griffin and Serge Ibaka to coexist peacefully, much less the Thunder locker room. Or a freaking airplane.
Woj, despite his eternal greatness, has been wrong about this kind of thing before. It’s not to say his logic is wrong, because it’s not. The Warriors will do everything they can to lure Durant, and Durant would almost certainly get the championship ring he so strongly desires if he heads to the Bay. But again – this report isn’t based on new information. Even the ridiculous analysis of every word and wink and waive Durant gave Knicks players carried more weight than KD to the Warriors currently does. That may change, but it would require something to, you know, actually change.
The Thunder have 19 road games left during the regular season, and nearly all will be accompanied by a local column about why the home team’s situation could make sense for Durant. Because Kevin Durant makes sense for everybody. He makes sense in every system. He makes sense in every locker room and as the face of every franchise. Because of this, he also makes sense on the front of every website. And as crazy as any NBA team would be to let Durant’s free agency casually drift on by, reporters like Stephen A. Smith and Adrian Wojnarowski would be even crazier.