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Kevin Durant Free Agency Pain Rankings: Part 2

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Part 2 of the Kevin Durant Free Agency Pain Rankings focuses on LeBron, ring chasing, and why Boston might not be an ideal fit. Now it gets real. Too real.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to 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 am counting backwards, starting with the least painful scenario at #30 (take a wild guess), and will now finish with what could only be described as basketball doomsday for Oklahoma City. There is nothing scientific about these rankings, and I would invite everyone to chime in below in the comments section with your own rankings or opinions. Part 1 was fun and games. Part 2? The stuff of nightmares.

Click here for Part 1

Kevin Durant Free Agency Pain Rankings, Part 2: The Top 15

15. Detroit Pistons

I'm not a man of the cinema. If I was, this spot would be occupied by a specific example of a heroic protagonist inexplicably joining forces with a villain who isn’t even all that powerful. After all, Kevin Durant is heroic, Reggie Jackson is a villain, and Reggie Jackson is not Russell Westbrook.

But with a straight face, I believe that if Kevin Durant somehow ends up with the Pistons, they will eventually win the East. They still need a true centerpiece-level star (and Andre Drummond may well develop into just that), but their roster is pretty loaded. Besides Reggie and Drummond (both potential All Stars next season), I really like Tobias Harris, and Stanley Johnson’s floor officially has been set at "good Dion Waiters." Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a passable jump shot away from becoming an upper-echelon shooting guard, and is already a top-tier defender at the position.

The Piston’s aren’t going to get Kevin Durant, but if they did, a starting lineup of Jackson/Caldwell-Pope/Harris/Durant/Drummond (with Stanley Johnson as a potentially dynamic 6th man) could be dominant. Harris has the size to guard many of the opposing 4’s, letting KD avoid too much wear and tear over the long haul. Durant would also finally give Detroit a true outside shooting threat to draw traffic away from Drummond on the block. Unfortunately for him, though, Drummond’s best chance of playing with KD will come through USA basketball.

Likelihood: 0/10

14. Phoenix Suns

Non-Thunder fans will wonder what the Suns did to get all the way up to #14. The team isn’t very threatening: the franchise itself is a mess, their best player just missed the second half of the season after knee surgery, and no one seems to know what to make of Alex Len. For whatever reason, though, the Suns are guaranteed to give the Thunder one or two frustrating games each year.  Whether it was the Gerald Green game, the Westbrook/P.J. Tucker incident, or the gut-punching loss last February, the Suns have been a steady thorn in the Thunder’s side over the past couple of seasons. During the January-March doldrums of the season, it often feels like the Suns are on the schedule just about every third night. That’s why the Suns are at #14: it feels like they play the Thunder 25 times a year, and I don’t want the Thunder to play against Kevin Durant that many times.

Despite players like Len and Brandon Knight failing to integrate as seamlessly as the franchise had hoped, the Suns seem to have hit on a potential star in Devin Booker, who would be a great fit next to Durant and form a pairing that many Thunder fans hoped would come via the 2015 NBA Draft. With all due respect to Cameron Payne and his potential, it hurt to see Booker go one pick too early. Booker's strong rookie season only twisted the knife.

Eric Bledsoe reportedly wants the Suns to sign Harrison Barnes, and that actually seems like an ideal fit. Someone is going to overpay Barnes this summer, and the Suns might actually be wise to be that someone. Adding Barnes to form a trio alongside Bledsoe and Booker could be the start of a solid core that might eventually attract a star, but that star won’t come this summer and his name won’t be Kevin Durant.

Likelihood: 0.2/10

13. Chicago Bulls

I’m sure a Bulls rumor or two will pop up during the league-wide courtship of Durant because a Bulls rumor or two pops up during the league-wide courtship of every big free agent. They’re the league’s official bridesmaid: always a finalist, but always ending up with Carlos Boozer. This year, that puts the Bulls right in line to snag Nicolas Batum, a fine player who is just good enough to prop up unrealistic expectations – the kind of player you can immediately plug into the starting lineup before getting steamrolled by Cleveland in the second round.

The Bulls are absolutely the wrong fit for Durant in every way except for the conference they play in. Unless they somehow dump Derrick Rose on the Nets, the Bulls will trot out a pair of starting guards who hate each other, Doug McDermott, and Nikola Mirotić. Assuming they let Joakim Noah and Paul Gasol walk, the only centers left on the roster will be a guy named Cristiano Felício. Because I was in a fantasy league last year that consisted of fewer than 175 teams, I have no idea who this player is. The Bulls are reportedly willing to trade Butler to the Timberwolves in exchange for Andrew Wiggins and the #5 pick (YA THINK?), but if they let him go for anything short of that, Chicago could well be the league’s worst team in 2016-17. A high draft pick might represent a relatively successful haul in the coming years, but a core of a non-Simmons or –Ingram rookie, Doug McDermott, and Nikola Mirotić would win fewer than 25 games. I understand that there are very few intelligent scenarios in which the Bulls don’t make some major moves this offseason to revamp their roster, but it’s tough to envision one or two or seven that might get them where they need to be to satisfy Durant’s desire to win now.

Durant signing with the Bulls wouldn’t be the absolute worst-case scenario for Thunder fans. But much like with the Nets or Knicks, it would be depressing to watch KD toil away and continue to fall short of the Finals. If Durant really wants to head East in search of an easier path to a ring, he will have better options – albeit ones that I consider far more painful.

Likelihood: 2/10

Tie: 12. Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks

It’s my duty as a Thunder fan to hate these teams far more than I actually do. Both have eliminated the Thunder from the playoffs during the Westbrook/Durant era, and both are mortal locks to hand the Thunder a dispiriting loss at some point during every season. No team is more likely than the Grizzlies or Mavs to end a 5-game OKC winning streak. That alone is unforgivable.

That said, it’s always been difficult to hate players like Dirk or Mike Conley or Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies made the villainous move I’ve been waiting for when they acquired Mario Chalmers, but even he became a sympathetic figure when he tore his Achilles.

Durant alongside Prime Dirk would have been one of the most interesting and aesthetically vexing duos in league history, but if you plug Durant into the current Mavs lineup, he would look like a misplaced new toy in a second-hand thrift shop. In 2009, playing with Dirk and Deron Williams would have been a dream fit for Durant. Considering that the Mavs are a prime candidate to sign (read: vastly overpay) Dwight Howard this offseason, I guess the Mavs meeting with Durant would start off with something along the lines of "How would you like to get the 2009 All-NBA team back together?"

You know, the kind of question an idiot would ask.

Likelihood: 1/10

10. Portland Trail Blazers

Sorry Portland – you already had your chance at Kevin Durant.

The Blazers would give Durant basically everything he already has, only with a much better shooting guard. Perhaps no team deserves a superstar free agent more than the Blazers, but they seem more likely to load up with second tier guys until the league’s landscape is reset in 2017.

There’s nothing wrong with the Blazers - quite the opposite, as they boast the NBA’s second best backcourt and are led by the man who many claim should have been named Coach of the Year. The Blazers have shooting to spare with Allen Crabbe and the suddenly relevant Al-Farouq Aminu (WTF?).

Damian Lillard will court KD heavily, but the sad truth for Portland is that the Blazers’ best chance of landing Durant was the summer of 2007, not 2016.

Likelihood: 3/10

9. Boston Celtics

I’ll spare everyone the Bill Simmons angle here, but know that it looms large.

Instead, I’ll ask a question that no one seems to be answering: How, exactly, does signing with the Celtics get Durant a ring? They have a lot of cap space, a large asset in the #3 overall pick in Thursday’s draft, and the best young coach in the league, but even the most outrageous rumors don’t sound like the foundation of a team that's a lock to start racking up titles.

What is the best case scenario for Boston? It’s probably something like signing KD and Al Horford, and then flipping the #3 pick for someone like Jahlil Okafor. I’ll be extra generous and say they somehow turn a package of the third pick and some players into Jimmy Butler. That makes a KD/Horford/Butler trio. I like that trio a lot, but not enough to start planning trips to championship parades. If Durant has other reasons for going to Boston (maybe he likes the city or the history of the franchise), then that’s a fine trio to be a part of, and perhaps they could one day challenge for a ring. But this has somehow been branded as a ring-chasing scenario, of which there are multiple better options. If KD really, really needs a ring before he hangs it up, he should just get it over with and go to the Warriors or Spurs. Why waste valuable years of his prime on a potential contender that would be, at best, a slightly poor man's version of his current squad?

Consider the chart below. I put together a quick sum of the Player Efficiency Rating, Win Shares, and Value Over Replacement Player numbers from the Cavs, Warriors, and Thunder from 2015-16, and compared the numbers to those of the combined Durant/Butler/Horford trio. I am being more than kind to the would-be Celtics by a) actually giving them Jimmy Butler, when I really think they are looking at Okafor or Love more realistically, and b) using the Big 3 "names" from the Thunder and Cavs. If I sub in Kanter for Ibaka, for example, this gets ugly for the future Celtics.

Comparing Big 3's
Team Trio PER Win Shares VORP
Cavaliers James/Irving/Love 66.4 27.1 11.9
Warriors Curry/Thompson/Green 69.4 37 17.1
Thunder Durant/Westbrook/Ibaka 69.7 34 15.9
2016-17 Celtics Durant/Butler/Horford 68.9 33 14.2

The Celtics would certainly be a very good team, and would be considered contenders in the Eastern Conference, but if Durant truly wants a ring, Boston isn’t the place.

Likelihood: 5.5/10

8. Los Angeles Lakers

What if I told you that listening to Stephen A. Smith pat himself on the back all summer isn’t even the greatest danger here? Impossible as that seems, hear me out:

By the time this article goes to virtual press, it’s likely that mainstream sports media will have picked up the infinitely dark rumor that the Lakers will attempt to sign Kevin Durant and LeBron James this summer.

Even though these power rankings are generally omitting cap numbers based on the logic that any team with a realistic chance at KD will find a way to make it happen, the Lakers could potentially have a league-leading $62,613,020 in available cap space headed into 2016-17. That would allow them to easily sign KD and LBJ and still have a ton of space left to fill out the roster or even grab DeMar DeRozan. Their other option? Sign two of the game’s three biggest stars, play out 2016-17, and go into the summer of 2017 as the pre-eminent free agency destination for a loaded cast of stars-for-hire. You might have heard of a few of these guys.

Who could join KD and LeBron in LA? I can certainly think of at least one other player who has long been rumored as a future Laker.

It says a lot about the Clippers’ hateability that the creation of an all-time super team in Los Angeles would somehow seem more palatable in purple and gold, especially considering that the Lakers might actually have pretty good chance to pull this off. As any Lakers fan will gladly tell you, "the Lakers don’t rebuild – they reload." There’s a good chance that Kevin Durant would be the first shoe to drop. If he becomes a Laker, look out.

Likelihood: 6.5/10

7. San Antonio Spurs

This is a very low ranking considering the Spurs’ considerable strength and viability. While it’s true that the nicks and cuts from the second round playoff matchup have yet to completely heal, the Spurs would be the least painful of the realistic contenders that Durant might choose. Though it would be incredibly bittersweet to see KD get a ring with San Antonio, at this point in the list it’s all too relative.

Landing Durant would obviously be an unbelievable coup for the Spurs. Not only would they immediately boast the league’s premier trio (all in the same inhuman front court), they would also eliminate their most difficult matchup in the Western Conference. I have a hunch that Greg Popovich won’t lose as much sleep over Steven Adams and Enes Kanter if Kevin Durant isn’t there as well. He would be a bit more occupied with the ridiculous riches at his disposal.

If Durant signs with San Antonio, you can bet that Tim Duncan will be back to play a pre-determined limited role. Durant, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Tim Duncan can all play power forward in different lineups, and the Warriors themselves would have nary a three-point shooting edge whenever KD, Kawhi, and Danny Green were on the floor together. Though his advanced defensive numbers have been inconsistent throughout his career, Durant has always been willing to buy in. Nowhere is this more of a requisite than in San Antonio, and it’s probable that KD’s already passable defense would reach new heights as a Spur.

Would I be happy for Durant if he won a title with the Spurs? Not exactly, but considering how he has handled his time – especially his free agency - with the Thunder, I could learn to accept the graduation of Kevin Durant to a franchise that delivers rings to good players who sacrifice for the betterment of a great system.

I believe the Spurs are a very real threat to grab Kevin Durant. He surely knows he could win everything in San Antonio while somehow also escaping the stigma of an All Star ring chaser. The Spurs have built a special aura that paints each new signing as a celebration of everything right with professional basketball. Durant signing with the Cavs or Warriors would be crushed by the media as a blatant display of selling out, but the Spurs would signal something like a "newfound maturity" where KD "has learned to set aside his personal goals" and "chase basketball perfection." In the end, it would all be just as disgusting.

Likelihood: 5.5/10

6. Los Angeles Clippers

This past season’s injuries and internal violence may be clouding my judgment as I relegate the Clippers to the bottom half of the top 10. It’s important to remember that, mathematically speaking, the Los Angeles Clippers are always twice as hateable as they are good – and they are usually really, really good.

As a Thunder fan, I stand firmly against the creation of additional permanent Western Conference powers. KD to the Clippers would cement their status as a real free agency destination instead of a franchise whose recent success will end up - with any luck - a distant, questionably authentic memory. I want Clippers fans to yearn for the days of Austin Rivers and Cole Aldrich. I want back that sustained (basketball) misery for anyone who has supported this or this. Also, the emoji thing was stupid.

Full disclosure: the Clippers are the first team I moved up on this list as I wrote their entry. I had them at 9, then kept bumping them up as I kept writing and imaging Kevin Durant actually joining and aiding in the success of this team. I’m stopping now before they end up in the top 2, though even that might not be high enough.

Likelihood: 2.5/10

5. Washington Wizards

As I write this, Ted Leonsis is almost certainly en route to a meeting with Adam Silver, where he will propose that the free agency period begin immediately. He knows that coverage of LeBron’s arrival back in Cleveland will be unavoidable. Kevin Durant is going to see the parade. Kevin Durant is going to see LeBron’s tears as he addresses his hometown fans for which he just ended an epic championship drought.

At some point during the next week, Kevin Durant is going to think "What if I did that for D.C.?" He won’t be wrong to consider it.

Unfortunately for the Wizards, the rest of the league will have plenty of time to steer KD back to reality. The Wizards have a good point guard who is still developing and a deadly long range shooter who will play at least 25 games a season, but the rest of the roster won’t do much to help Durant get past LeBron and the Cavs. Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre both have bright futures ahead of them, but where do they fit in on a roster that includes Durant? At least one of them would have to be traded (likely for Bradley Beal insurance), and suddenly the stable of young talent on the Wizards doesn’t quite stack up.

The Wizards are a reactionary franchise (Don't believe me? Five seasons.) playing games in a dimly-lit arena, 75%-filled with the most fickle fans in North America. Sooner or later, D.C. turns on everyone. Imagine if Durant’s 5-year stay with the Wizards doesn’t culminate with a title? With RG3 out of the picture, D.C. sports media is desperate for a new whipping boy. How long would Chris Cooley harp on KD failing to win a title? 5 years? 25 years? Two games into the first season of Durant’s contract, the fans and talk show hosts would be entertaining the idea that Otto Porter worked better in the flow of the offense.

#KD2DC was a real thing, and so, too, were the reports that Durant himself was thinking better of it. Today, I don’t have to look on Twitter to know that a pocket of Wizards fans are trying to leverage the Cavs’ title into bringing back the possibility that Durant considers the Wizards. A clever play on words about how Durant would be likely to leave Washington, D.C. in either four or eight years with a low approval rating and few tangible accomplishments has probably already been written. If it hasn’t, know that it would be the likeliest outcome.

Likelihood: 5.5/10

4. Miami Heat

There were a lot of reasons to hate The Decision, but chief among them might be that it allowed the sports media to construct a re-usable formula for whenever a big free agent signs with the Heat. Someone at every news station keeps  "Welcome to Miami" on his or her iPod just in case. The bad Photoshops of Pat Riley as the Godfather are still out there. ESPN saved the Excel spreadsheets so they can just plug Durant’s contractual values in and then spend hours of air time discussing the impact of Florida’s state tax rate on Durant’s eventual wealth.

For my money, the Heat are the biggest threat to pry Durant away from the Thunder long-term. Maybe it’s the potential roster versatility, or maybe it’s Pat Riley’s incredible skill in the field of coaxing young millionaires to come play in Miami – no matter, the Heat organization has shown that it can make any move necessary to fit multiple superstars before, and it looks ready to do it again. I just hope it’s not with Kevin Durant.

With Durant, Miami would be serious contenders in the East on Day 1. They had the best rookie duo in the league last year in Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, and Dwyane Wade still has a season or two left of being the league’s ultimate x-factor in crunch time. The Chris Bosh situation should come to an ugly and very depressing end this summer, which could free up considerable cash to help offset the risk of paying Hassan Whiteside while they simultaneously spend heavily on new players.

But don’t let the fact that they play in the East fool you. Don’t be seduced by the idea of LeBron’s former team coming back to destroy him. Instead, wallow in bone-rattling furor as you watch this play again and again and again:

Likelihood: 6.5/10

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

It’s easy to get caught up in all the positive feelings about the Cavs right now, but it’s a fact that every fan base other than the Cavs’ has now suffered longer. This can’t be allowed to happen.

Kevin Durant would, of course, transform the Cavs from mere defending champion into the greatest offensive juggernaut the league has ever seen. No matter what you think of Kevin Love or his fit in Cleveland, he would be the 5th option many times down the floor after LeBron/Durant, Kyrie, and often J.R. Smith. Kevin Love may not have lived up to expectations thus far as a Cav, but he would absolutely be the best 5th option in many, many decades – not to mention the most expensive.

I’ll omit the question of KD’s fit here, as LeBron’s nearly-unprecedented versatility allows any player (well, other than Kevin Love) to integrate into the Cleveland lineup. For the record, I believe that Durant joining the Cavs would create the best possible team. I think Golden State and maybe even San Antonio – if they so choose – could both challenge the new record of 73 wins if they sign KD, but I think Cleveland with Durant would have greater basketball potential. Too many options. Too much shooting. Too much playmaking. It would be a brutal situation for the rest of the league going forward. No team has ever had the horses to defend a massive lineup like Irving/James/Durant/Love/Thompson – partly because no one’s ever had to.

Luckily, even the internet isn’t floating this one, instead choosing to focus on the aforementioned, completely ludicrous possibility of the Durant/James duo signing with the Lakers. Now that Cleveland can have nice things, Los Angeles is about to get very, very greedy.

Likelihood: 1/10

2. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors had so many chances to make this easy.

If the Warriors had just crushed the Thunder like they were supposed to, it would have been easier to bid farewell as Durant chose a path with a clearly superior squad. But then the Western Conference Finals happened, the suspension didn’t happen, and the Thunder answered every question about whether or not they could enter 2016-17 as a legitimate title threat – assuming, of course, that they are able to keep their starting small forward.

After dispatching OKC, all the Warriors had to do was finish off a relatively untested Eastern Conference foe. They were 75% of the way there before Draymond Green went after a man who is the father of three children and missed the should-have-been closeout game.

Now? Now the Warriors need Kevin Durant. After going 73-9, they finished the season just 7-7, and in the process poured a river’s worth of gasoline on the "they didn’t face any real test last year" fire. Now? Now Steph Curry can text Durant things like "You know that iso ball you and Russ get killed for in OKC? Here they call it revolutionizing the game" and "it's crazy - the press here gets on everyone else's case about showboating, but when we do it they call it gaining impressions and audience engagement."

Now the Warriors can chase Kevin Durant with a straight face. The inevitable budding dynasty is suddenly one piece away.

KD to the Warriors is eminently more possible than it was a week ago. In case you get caught up in the coverage cycle that will soon pivot to Steph Curry’s upcoming heroic path to redemption, consider this timeline:

·May 2016: Warriors hand Thunder the most painful series loss in franchise history

·July 2016: Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson stand on the Gold Medal podium together, gleefully embracing like the best friends they have already become. How many times this summer would KD hit a three off a pass from Klay and a moving screen from Dray, leading to Bob Costas peppering highlights with stuff like "Get used to it! Going to see it for the next five years in the Bay!"? Thunder fans, catch the Olympic fever!

·October 2016: Warriors begin 2016-2017 season that will culminate with 75 wins and another title

·June 2017: Warriors win NBA title again

·June 2018: Warriors win NBA title again

·November 2024: Warriors retire Kevin Durant’s jersey

·September 2028: Draymond Green introduces KD as he is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame

Doesn’t all of that sound fun? Turns out that the Warriors really are light-years ahead of everyone else - they are considering signing Kevin Durant.

Likelihood: 6/10

1. Houston Rockets

Morey

Time and the emergence of Steven Adams have helped me live comfortably with the James Harden trade, but I don’t want to deal with it evolving into something else. Kevin Durant signing with the Rockets would confirm the one fear we thought we had moved past: the Thunder had it all, and they threw it away. No matter where you call "home," this would hit too close.

No longer could the trade be spun into a narrative about filling out the roster, or the fit of Harden’s skillset. We couldn’t point to those rumors about Harden partying deep into the early morning during the 2012 Finals. Bill Simmons would talk endlessly about this photo – again.

If Durant stays in OKC and Steven Adams continues to improve, the Thunder could well still end up on the right side of the trade. If Durant leaves and goes to any of 28 other teams, it’s a crystal clear blowout loss. Durant signing with Houston, though, would be such a disaster that it wouldn’t even justify everything ever written or said about the trade - all of it would suddenly become too soft and too forgiving.

I also strongly believe that if Durant somehow ends up in Houston, Russell Westbrook will give strong consideration to following him, whether Russ re-joins the duo next summer or Durant and Westbrook both go in 2017. While this scenario is not the exact topic at hand, know that it would signal nothing less than the most glaring case of roster mismanagement in the history of American sports. It 's not like Sam Presti was trying to stay ahead of the age curve. It wouldn’t be a case of a good young player being traded, only to grow into something far more formidable than could have realistically been imagined. No. This would be three teammates – three best friends – turning into the Hall of Famers everyone expected, reunited in a rival city because the Thunder thought they were smarter than everyone else.

Basically, it is the House of Cards Season 5 script, starring Daryl Morey.

I give this a low Likelihood score only because of recent reports that Durant has "no interest" in going to the Rockets, but this is much like an asteroid destroying the earth. It probably won’t happen this summer, but if it does I can’t stop it. Thus, I fear it. For the same reasons, I refuse to rule out Durant-to-Houston out until KD officially signs, whether it’s with OKC or with another – any other – team.

Likelihood: 3/10

Unless otherwise stated, all statistics from Basketball-Reference.com.