clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Kevin Durant Free Agency Pain Rankings: Part 1

New, comments

Welcome to the Kevin Durant Free Agency Pain Rankings, where I countdown Durant's most painful free agency destinations from the viewpoint of a Thunder fan. Conference, market size, and Drake all play a major factor in Part 1 of 2.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Not all sports pain is created equal. Sometimes you have to sleep it off. Others, the lone remedy is an extended period of all sports avoidance on both television and the web. And lastly, some change you forever, and not for the better.

The Oklahoma City Thunder's series loss to the Golden State Warriors represented the dreaded third tier.

Perhaps once the Warriors finally finish off Cleveland, the sheer weight of the Warriors loss will finally begin to wane. Every element of an All Time Loss was present: the huge lead, the realistic shot at a title, and even the familiar downfall that somehow re-emerged more crushing than ever. I still can't believe Klay Thompson's Game 6 three-point barrage. I just want a do-over where he puts on merely the 2nd or 3rd greatest shooting performance in playoff history, and the Thunder move on to face the beatable Cavs.

All this, and the greatest pain of all may still be lurking just around the corner.

For those who haven’t heard, the Thunder have a player named Kevin Durant, and he is very good. He also, come July 1st,  will be unemployed, ripe for the hiring by any NBA team willing to convince him that their path offers him the best opportunity for on- and off-court career success. There are many factors at play, including the oft-reported reality that the Thunder can offer Durant more money than any other team if he simply defers his ultimate long-term decision. But What if Durant decides that he doesn’t want another year of speculation? What if he signs a long-term deal this summer? This has been reported as a realistic possibility.

For the record, I believe that Durant will indeed opt for the short extension that allows him to enter free agency at the same time as Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. For their final act, the trio that has so often brought joy and pride to Thunder fans, they may well tear it all down.

Even that is a bridge that we can only hope to cross. If Kevin Durant leaves by himself this summer, it will strike a savage blow to the Thunder fan base that could require years of healing. I've thought a lot about his ultimate destination and how it might affect my feelings on Durant's departure. At first I thought it wouldn't matter, as if the absolute value of his status as a Thunder player was the lone relevant detail. After three playoff series against bitter rivals, however, it's clear that the chosen franchise will have a direct effect on the healing process.

With that, welcome to Part 1 of the Kevin Durant Free Agency Pain Rankings, where I count down the most painful free agency destinations for Kevin Durant from the viewpoint of an Oklahoma City Thunder fan. I will count backwards, starting with the least painful scenario at #30 (take a wild guess), and will finish with what could only be described as basketball doomsday for Oklahoma City. There is, of course, nothing scientific about these rankings, and I would invite everyone to chime in below in the comments section with your own rankings or opinions.

Beneath each team, I have noted Likelihood ratings on a scale of 0-10.  For teams other than the Thunder, Likelihood ratings are independent of the chances he stays with the Thunder. To say it in a way that makes sense: "IF he leaves, this is the likelihood that I think he would go to this team."

Part 1 of these rankings will feature teams 30-16. Part 2 will focus on the soul-crushing top half, and will come next week.

Kevin Durant Free Agency Pain Rankings

30. Oklahoma City Thunder

Kevin Durant should stay in OKC because of Russell Westbrook. Kevin Durant should leave OKC because of Russell Westbrook. The Thunder have peaked. The Thunder are now entering their prime. Analysis of Durant's outlook as a lifetime Thunder player have long been printed on take-proof Kevlar. If you see a link to why Durant should leave Westbrook, check the date - there's a good chance it was written in 2011. The media officially exhausted all original Durant/Westbrook/OKC/Harden trade narratives by early 2014.

As Sam Presti has mentioned, the Thunder aren’t starting the recruiting process this summer. They started it the day he walked into the building as a rookie. No one knows how Kevin Durant fits with the Thunder long-term more than Kevin Durant. If he stays, it’s a testament to the culture and roster the Thunder organization has built, and if he leaves, fans can rest-assured knowing that he at least had complete information. That would help ease the pain, right?

Likelihood: 7/10

29. Philadelphia 76ers

While this absolutely, unequivocally isn't happening , a deal involving KD playing for the 76ers would represent the least painful Durant-less scenario for Thunder fans in the coming years. He would be out of the West, and it would be fun watching him hoist fifty shots every night. Additionally, any move to Philly would likely entail a sign-and-trade, with Ben Simmons as the inevitable target. Jahlil Okafor or Nerlens Noel or even Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel provide insufficient value for Kevin Durant, neither plays a position of need.

Losing Kevin Durant would be a disaster for the Thunder, but Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams might still be young enough to wait a year for Simmons to develop. That said, Russell Westbrook isn’t staying in OKC to play with Ben Simmons, rendering this a full reboot. I don't want a full reboot.

Likelihood: 0/10

28. Orlando Magic

While the Orlando Magic will remain an elite League Pass team in 2016-17, it won’t be because they sign Kevin Durant. What gives the Magic a slight pain advantage over the Sixers, though, is the market size. If Durant leaves Oklahoma City for New York or Los Angeles or Miami, hometown Thunder fans can chalk it up to the fact that in the modern NBA, it may have been a minor miracle that Kevin Durant stuck around in a relatively small market as long as he did. If KD leaves to go to a mega media market, it’s because he was going to do that all along. But a move to Orlando (ranked as the 20th largest market)? That would make it personal.

Likelihood 0/10

27. Milwaukee Bucks

Look at this jersey:

kd

Not only would I buy that jersey, I would also buy-in completely to whatever nickname someone smarter than me makes up for Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Jason Kidd would probably start them at both guard positions. They would even have consecutive numbers. I almost want to see this, but I won't.

Likelihood 0/10

26. Charlotte Hornets

In the latter stages of the past season, the Hornets became one of the most likeable up-and-coming teams in the league. A national audience was finally exposed to the Hornets’ home court design, and Imposter Kemba Walker was switched out for March Madness Kemba Walker, as he returned to his rightful place as the gritty, undersized star he should have always been. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist would be able to cover opponents’ best wing player, allowing Durant to rest on defense.

And I don’t want to add more fuel to the rumor mill, but we can’t rule out an arrangement between Durant and Jeremy Lamb to link back up and dominate  the East.

Likelihood: 0.5/10 (Jordan Factor)

25. Minnesota Timberwolves

Welcome to the Time Machine Scenario, where Kevin Durant is transported back to the 2011 Thunder, a team loaded with young talent and perpetually ahead of schedule. It doesn’t even matter who they draft this year or if they keep Ricky Rubio or if they ever figure out what Zach Lavine actually is. I don’t even care if the Thunder somehow pried away Andrew Wiggins in a sign-and-trade – in fact, I’d prefer Durant just form a duo with Karl-Anthony Towns. With all due respect to Wiggins, Durant would make this look less like a basketball play and more like an alien invasion.

When you survey the NBA roster landscape, it’s clear that Kevin Durant would significantly improve every team. But how many teams, as currently constructed, would immediately threaten a Golden State dynasty by signing KD away from OKC? The Spurs, Cavs, and Clippers are the obvious answers, with Houston perhaps somewhere on the edge. But what about Minnesota? Going into the 2017-18 season, no one would be more talented than the Durant-led Timberwolves.

Likelihood: 0/10

24. Indiana Pacers

Much like the Spurs could somehow find a way to incorporate both Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, the Pacers would be thrilled with the burden of building a team around Durant and Paul George. The other pieces aren’t quite there in Indiana. Myles Turner hit the rookie wall after a few torrid weeks, Ty Lawson – despite a slight bounce back from his time in Houston – peaked in 2014, and after that there is…Ian Mahinmi? George Hill? Monta Ellis?

Sorry, Pacers fans – it’s not happening. Slight pain upgrade here, as it would be disheartening to see Frank Vogel’s vexing exit compounded by the addition of no less than Kevin Durant.

Likelihood: 0/10

23. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks would be closer to the 26-28 mark on this list if they would somehow scrap last season’s sickening rebrand. This jersey would be awesome.

There are a lot of question marks in Atlanta. Al Horford seems like he is on the move, and the conjoined point guards seem destined for a split. Kent Bazemore will probably get overpaid, and Kyle Korver somehow looked even older than he was this season.

That said, plugging Kevin Durant into the lineup next to Paul Milsap wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, and if the Hawks somehow keep Horford that would instantly create the best starting frontcourt in the league. You also have to like the fact that, as a Hawk, KD would be on a team that could truly push Lebron in the East. I actually wouldn’t mind this, but – once again – it seems unlikely.

Likelihood: 3.5/10

22. Brooklyn Nets

For such a bad team, and for one with such a depressing future, the Nets would actually be a relatively painful team to see KD suit up for. First, I’m not sure I can stomach too many Sportscenter segments where "insiders" talk about Roc Nation’s role in pushing Durant to the team formerly owned by Jay-Z. It’s a take tailor-fit for a People Forget That segment.

Perhaps more than anything, KD playing for the Nets would be sad. The Nets are the league’s most hopeless franchise, and even a scorned Thunder fan base wouldn’t wish such a fate on its departed hero.

Likelihood: 1.5/10

21. New York Knicks

How nonthreatening are the Knicks? They only beat out the lowly Nets by virtue of the fact that they would probably be on television more often, and thus provide a more regular reminder of Kevin Durant’s employment by a franchise that isn’t the Oklahoma City Thunder. Other than that, who cares? There’s every reason to believe that Durant and Kristaps Porzingis would form a fruitful partnership on offense, but it would be excruciating to witness the expectations placed on Kevin Durant despite that fact that the Knicks – as currently constructed – are not legitimate contenders in the East. It would be fun to watch the occasional simultaneous outbursts by Durant and Carmelo Anthony, but wouldn’t that really just be more of the heavily-criticized alternating iso ball, only this time partnering Durant with a player far less exciting to watch than Russell Westbrook?

There’s no denying that the NBA would be a lot better off with a strong New York team, but right now you could combine the top 12 players from both New York teams and still miss the playoffs. Durant would do wonders for basketball marketing in New York, but in the end he would likely accomplish little more than that. There is no team Kevin Durant could play for that would offer such a jarring combination of high expectations and probable failure. I don’t think that Kevin Durant will ever wear a Knicks jersey, and if he does it will represent little more than a highly-profitable, breathlessly-covered basketball sabbatical.

Likelihood: 3/10

Tie: 20. Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings

The Nuggets were one of the teams I had trouble placing on this list. They aren’t very good, their future hinges largely on the development of a polarizing young point guard, and they ruined their existing (very good) small forward by omitting surgery on his partially-torn ACL.

The Kings are still the Sacramento Kings.

These teams reach #20 by virtue of being in the Western Conference. That’s it. Kevin Durant will never play for either. Move along.

Likelihood: 0/10

18. New Orleans Pelicans

Now we’re getting somewhere. This isn’t about going to a certain market size or wallowing in mediocrity – Kevin Durant to the Pelicans would instantly form a major threat to the Thunder and the rest of the West. In 2015-16, the Pelicans had terrible luck with injuries, but there isn’t any reason why their win total shouldn’t spike in the coming season. Jrue Holliday was an All Star the last time he stayed healthy, Ryan Anderson is a half-decent asset in the modern NBA, and Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon should somehow be able to combine to create a single passable shooting guard.

And then there is Anthony Davis, who, despite his potential, needs a costar more than anyone else in the league. Durant would ease the Brow’s burden considerably, allowing Davis to properly develop as a sidekick until he's ready to own the NBA. Durant would also help counteract the dangerous game currently being played by Alvin Gentry, as he inexplicably compels Davis to move further away from the basket. This is Serge Ibaka 2.0 happening before our very eyes, only the Pelicans would be wasting about five times the potential.

The Pelicans need to get Kevin Durant just as much as other teams need the Pelicans to not get him - and that is saying something.

Likelihood: 0.5/10

17. Utah Jazz

The Jazz are a true star away from being a serious threat in the West. Their inside presence is virtually unrivaled, and Dante Exum will start the season having had a full calendar year to heal from his ACL injury. Gordon Hayward has quietly been a fringe All Star for multiple seasons running, and the Jazz boast some oddly effective players off the bench. One could make a sound argument that the Jazz, more than any other team in the West, could make the most significant and relevant leap by obtaining Kevin Durant. Just imagine this:

Nevermind – don’t. He isn’t to going to Utah, even if it would be fairly defensible basketball choice.

Likelihood: 0/10

16. Toronto Raptors

Pros: likeable co-star in Kyle Lowry, great city, Eastern Conference team.

Cons: Recent playoff performance, Drake.

Despite the fact that the 2015-16 Raptors were at fault for several of the least entertaining playoff games in recent memory, there is still plenty to like about Toronto. Kyle Lowry’s perseverance has always been admirable, and Durant has seemingly developed a rapport with DeMar DeRozan.

But Drake. I want to be clear that I don't necessarily dislike Drake, and I am on board for virtually anyone whipping up extra fan support for their favorite NBA team, but - much like with the Knicks - the constant reminders  of Kevin Durant playing for a different team would be completely unavoidable. The pain edge goes to the Raptors, though, because in their case the coverage would transcend mediums. How many KD references would be on the next Drake single? 2? 200?

If Durant signs with Toronto, it's tough to imagine DeRozan leaving, and boom: the Cavaliers have a true threat in the East. However, any Durant departure will lead to my avoidance of sporting coverage for the foreseeable future. Don't take away music, too.

Likelihood: 3.5/10

Check back next week for Part 2.