Adding Kevin Durant to the NBA’s best team is a scary thought for the rest of the league, but it’s one that seems to be a realistic possibility. With the forward set to hit free agency this summer, the Golden State Warriors may be the favorites to land Durant if he chooses to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Warriors are “significant frontrunners” to sign Durant, sources told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo's The Vertical. Such a move would send shockwaves through the NBA, and in perhaps similar fashion to LeBron James' move to the Miami Heat and then back to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
There’s still a very good chance that Durant remains with the Thunder. Even if he eventually leaves as a free agent, he could sign a one-year contract with the team this offseason, looking to test the waters of free agency when the contracts of teammates Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are up and the salary cap is projected to reach $108 million. But there’s no debating that Golden State has put themselves in a great position to land another one of the NBA’s top stars.
“All that stuff I can't control,” Durant told Anthony Slater of NewsOK regarding the latest rumors. “Like I said, when that time comes we'll talk about it, but for right now, I'm 100 percent committed and locked in on being the best team and player I can be and helping my team try to get to a championship."
As the best team in basketball with the league’s fourth highest payroll, the Warriors wouldn’t seem like a candidate to offer Durant a max contract. The Heat had the league’s 13th best record before they put together the “Big 3” in 2010, and the Cavaliers consistently missed the playoffs with a low payroll before bringing back James in 2014. But Golden State’s roster is constructed in such a way that they can realistically create enough room to sign Durant.
Durant will command around $25 million per season if he hits free agency this summer because of a projected salary cap increase to $89 million. Golden State’s core made up of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are all All-Stars, but they will only make a combined $44 million next season. Curry’s guaranteed salary of just over $12 million makes him the biggest bargain in the sport, and both Green and Thompson are signed through at least the 2018-2019 season.
There’s no question that Golden State will give Curry a max contract next year, and a foursome of Durant, Curry, Green and Thompson would make the Warriors the favorite to win the NBA Finals for the foreseeable future. Durant has an MVP award and a trip to the NBA Finals in his nine-year career, but he’s still seeking his first championship. The 27-year old wants to win multiple titles, and signing with Golden State would be the best way to make that a reality.
The Warriors would have to get rid of their top role players in order to make acquiring Durant possible. Andre Iguodala, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, and starting center Andrew Bogut would both have to go since they are each guaranteed a little more than $11 million for the 2016-2017 season. Both still have a lot of value as trade pieces, and Warriors general manager Bob Meyers could use the stretch provision on one of them if necessary. Letting Harrison Barnes walk as a free agent this summer would also be a requirement, considering he’ll get more than the $64 million over four years that he turned down in September.
At the start of the season, the Washington Wizards appeared to be the biggest threat to sign Durant away from Oklahoma City. Durant is from Washington D.C., and the Wizards reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year with a core of young players. Washington still has a chance to sign Durant, but they seem to be a less likely option now that they’ve struggled and are currently on the outside of the playoff race.
There has also been talk that Durant could turn his sights elsewhere. According to ESPN pundit Stephen A. Smith, Durant and Westbrook may choose to join forces as members of the Los Angeles Lakers. Smith was quick to point out at that a move to L.A. is a "big possibility."
Durant, who has remained steadfast in denouncing rumors of his departure, would still have a chance to win multiple titles by signing a long-term contract with the Thunder. Oklahoma City has reached the Western Conference Finals in three of the last five seasons, and no NBA team has a one-two punch like Durant and Westbrook. Golden State, however, could be a back-to-back champion this summer, while on pace to break the single-season record for wins.
After missing most of last season because of a broken foot, Durant is back to being in the MVP conversation. He’s averaging 27.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Durant and Curry have the highest field-goal percentages among top scorers, at 50.8 and 50.6, respectively.