By Chris Molicki
I said it after Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals: Kevin Durant is going to re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The fact that the Thunder could knock off the Warriors in Oakland showed that the gap between these two teams was not that big. An embarrassing sweep might’ve caused KD to think about leaving, but Game 1 gave provided a blueprint.
Then, OKC pushed the Warriors to the brink, and honestly should’ve won the series. Their team was a terrible matchup for Golden State and gave them their toughest test. I thought to myself, this solidifies that Durant is staying. To be the best, you have to beat the best (the Warriors), and the Thunder were on the cusp of it.
But as soon as Game 7 ended, articles began to pop up about the prospects of Durant leaving, with many of them saying he should and will leave. I was shocked. Why exactly would he leave this team?
As most people know by now, money won’t be the issue. The most logical financial option would be for Durant to sign a one-year deal with OKC with a one-year option. Then, with the cap rising, he would opt out and sign a max contract with the Thunder, who can give him more years and more money than anyone else. If this decision was based solely on money, the thought of Durant leaving wouldn’t even be discussed.
And speaking of the one-year opt out, that’s another reason why Durant should stay. LeBron James has smartly signed one-year deals to give himself flexibility. Why wouldn’t Durant follow suit, run it back for next season, and then reassess his options in 2017, when his pal Russell Westbrook is a free agent? That would give him another chance to see if this new Thunder machine is for real, while also retaining contract flexibility.
The main reason Durant should want to give it at least one more go with OKC is simple: no other team has come close to beating the Warriors. The key to winning a championship in the current NBA is to beat the Warriors. And if there’s no other clear (or even remotely clear) solution out there, doesn’t that make the Thunder the best option to, in fact, beat the Warriors?
It’s been nearly impossible to find a team or even a formula to solve Golden State, but I think the Thunder have it. They’re a long, athletic, and physical team that can shut down passing lanes and beat down the Warriors on the perimeter and the glass. They have two of the top five players in the league, capable of taking over a game at any time. There’s Durant, a silky sharpshooter who has improved his defense and excels at pretty much every aspect of basketball, a true superstar. They have Westbrook, a firecracker that blazes through the court and takes advantage of the Warriors’ turnovers, and who is also improving (if slowly) on his defensive gambles, decision-making, and shot selection. Steven Adams is a supreme rim runner who not only fuels a near-unstoppable pick-and-roll game, but also protects the paint. And the list goes on. Serge Ibaka is as versatile a big as they come, and his ability to be a stretch 4 and also protect the rim is invaluable. Dion Waiters got his act together and can now make meaningful contributions on both ends of the floor. Andre Roberson’s cutting, rebounding, and defense offset his poor shooting, and watch out if he improves his jumper. Enes Kanter can continue to help and Cameron Payne may start to help. And there’s room to trade or sign a free agent if OKC deems necessary.
So really, what team provides a better situation than that? I’ll discuss the options people have thrown out there, but I’m not including Golden State. I just can’t imagine KD giving up and essentially riding shotgun to Steph Curry for his first ring. People thought LeBron got criticism for going to Miami, but that would be nothing compared to what Durant would get if he joined the Splash Brothers.
There’s really only three logical options in the East: the Miami Heat, the Washington Wizards, or the Boston Celtics. The Heat are probably the best of the bunch, but there’s a lot of uncertainty, especially surrounding Chris Bosh. There’s no guarantee that Hassan Whiteside returns, and if he does, he’ll command a pretty penny, as will Dwyane Wade. Is a core of Wade, Whiteside, Goran Dragic, and Justise Winslow better than Westbrook, Adams, Ibaka, and Waiters? Nope.
Boston would certainly give Durant the chance to build a strong team. But if you surround him with role players like Isaiah Thomas (I know he’s an All-Star, but he’s the third-best guy on a championship team, if that), Jae Crowder, and Marcus Smart, it’s not going to be better than OKC. As for Washington it seems like Durant doesn’t even want to return home, and the Wizards have a million and one question marks outside of John Wall.
If Durant stays in the West and leaves OKC, there’s only one logical option: the San Antonio Spurs. The Blazers (not ready to contend with the Warriors), Timberwolves (same, although it’s a fun thought), Rockets (um, no), Pelicans (even KD and AD can’t carry a D-League roster), Clippers (not enough money), and Lakers (he wants to win, remember?) all have their red flags.
But a return to Texas does make sense. Durant could join Pop and the rich Spurs tradition that has a history of winning. Their current roster suggests they’re ready to win now with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
However, OKC is still the superior option if we’re splitting hairs. Durant loves Oklahoma City, and the thought of staying home could be a big factor in a tight race. Plus, he just trashed the Spurs in the second round. Why leave the team that beat them?
And this is where the money factors in. Even if you think the choice between the Thunder and the Spurs is closer than I do, the money pushes it over the edge.
A lot can happen over the course of the year. The Warriors have their own free agency issues. Injuries are always right around the corner. And if they can finish Cleveland off, winning three in a row is an extremely tall task.
So let’s not overthink this, everyone. Kevin Durant isn’t going anywhere. At least not yet.