As Oklahoma City Thunder fans sweat and wonder if former MVP forward and superstar Kevin Durant will bolt town next summer, NBA league executives seem to think there’s little to fret over.
According to a report from CBS Sports’ Ken Berger from the Summer League in Las Vegas, “informally polled” executives expect Durant to re-sign with Oklahoma City when he becomes a free agent next summer.
However, Berger’s report also indicated that a small number of teams, the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, and Washington Wizards, are “in the mix” to steal the six-time All-Star and four-time scoring champion for the Thunder.
Despite the interest of those squads, all of whom will have the salary cap space necessary to sign Durant, especially with the cap jumping to $89 million for the 2016-17 season, OKC can take solace in the lack of movement from free agents this summer.
Delving into the biggest signings in the free agent market this summer, Berger points out that only one player, LaMarcus Aldridge, turned down a maximum-level contract in order to switch teams while 11 others stayed put.
Furthermore, the Thunder might have saved some cap space when they matched Enes Kanter’s four-year, $70 million offer sheet from the Portland Trail Blazers. OKC might have been forced to shell out even more to replace Kanter next year with the cap rising, but decided to keep Durant surrounded by quality players and to make another title run next season.
Still, Durant’s pending free agency will surround the Thunder all of next season. A foot injury kept Durant out for all but 27 games last season, but he’s expected to be back at full strength next season beside point guard Russell Westbrook and will be the most coveted free agent on the market.
With one of the richest NBA histories in the league, the Lakers could be the biggest threat to lure Durant away. L.A. already expects Kobe Bryant to retire at the end of the season, leaving the squad with massive star role to fill and Durant could be swayed to fill it. The Lakers also have an promising young core, highlighted by No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell and point guard Jordan Clarkson, as well as burgeoning big man Julius Randle.
And with center Roy Hibbert’s $15.5 million contract coming off the books, the Lakers have only $19.8 million devoted to player salaries next season. That gives L.A. the opportunity to land Durant and another complementary star to return to the top of the West.
With salary cap space, a big market, and one of the league’s most loved owners in Mark Cuban, the Mavs do have the potential to swipe Durant away. But they haven’t quite been able to lure players to Dallas of late, with DeAndre Jordan the latest to spurn the Mavs. Dallas does have some nice pieces in newly signed guard Wesley Matthews and the expected addition of Deron Williams, but Dirk Nowitzki continues to grow older and the Mavs might have too little to surround Durant.
It’s been said Washington could tempt Durant and bring him back to his home town, but the Wizards also have the requisite talent to compete in the East with Durant as the focal point of the offense. There’s All-Star point guard John Wall, developing two-guard Bradley Beal, big man Martin Gortat, and young forward Otto Porter.