Kevin Durant will be a free agent this summer. So which NBA jersey will he be wearing come next season? Durant has a plethora of options to choose from - like, any team he wants, practically. But, just who are the most realistic candidates to acquire the seven-time all-star?
The Oklahoma City Thunder exited this season's playoffs in the Western Conference finals. Durant and Co. took the Golden State Warriors to the limit over seven games. But, once again, the Thunder just couldn't quite get over the finish line.
Despite Durant being one of the best players in the league, he is yet to win an NBA championship in his career. Could the doubts now be creeping in regarding ever achieving that goal in Oklahoma? Or, conversely, does a competitive conference finals against the Warriors offer encouragement instead?
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The Thunder are a deep, talented squad of players. They have one of the very best point guards in the game in Russell Westbrook. But, perhaps, it's just not going to happen for Durant and Westbrook in OKC? Not together. Perhaps Durant would benefit from some new scenery, a new beginning and some fresh teammates? Perhaps, for Durant, it's just not that simple.
Assessing team chemistry and morale is one thing. Counting the money you could make here, there and everywhere is another. And then there's also the idea that by leaving Oklahoma, you might just be downing the very people you've done so much to help lift up.
Indeed, Durant's strongest tie in Oklahoma might just be with the people that cheer him on rather than his peers that play alongside him. The 27-year-old has strong emotional ties to the people of OKC. After eight seasons in Oklahoma, Durant has become the heart and soul of not just the team, but the city, too.
In 2009, after devastating tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma, Durant donated $1 million to help support the community that so feverishly supports him each and every night. Durant also puts a lot of time into the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation, aiding education and providing opportunities to the kids of Oklahoma.
The superstar's ongoing support for the people of Oklahoma who are less fortunate in life has built a bond, a connection, and elevated Durant to role model status in the community. Durant is deeply invested in Oklahoma off the court as much as he is on it.
Bridges have been built over the course of years that will not be broken easily. However, broken they still could be. For Durant will be a free agent this summer. Every team in the league will be chasing his signature. Decision time is here. Finally.
But just where will that decision see Durant playing his basketball next season?
It's been four seasons since the Boston Celtics last advanced past the first round of the NBA playoffs. But under Brad Stevens the franchise has regrouped and is now heading in the right direction.
Isaiah Thomas has been a revelation since joining from the Phoenix Suns. Although, the point guard remains the team's only genuinely, reliable scorer and needs help on the offensive front. This year's playoff exit was mainly due to a lack of scoring, in addition to a lack of playoff experience. Durant could offer both and a whole lot more.
The Celtics are in need of a superstar to take their emerging team to the next level and Durant would obviously fit the bill perfectly. A Durant-Thomas combination could be among the most exciting in the NBA. A chance to escape the Western Conference surely appeals, too.
Where do you go if you cant win a championship in your current situation and are starting to get anxious about missing out altogether? The Miami Heat, of course. LeBron James moved there in 2010 and subsequently picked up two championship rings.
Could Durant now do likewise in 2016? The Heat is a proven championship-calibre franchise with Dwyane Wade leading the team. Wade is 34 years old now, but looked fantastic in this season's playoffs.
A Durant-Wade combination could be deadly, as long as the rest of the team stays together around them. However, Chris Bosh's future is currently uncertain due to medical reasons. While Hassan Whiteside is a free agent this summer and also uncertain to return.
Home sweet home. Durant was born in Washington, but does he want to play his basketball there? The Wizards already have a good backcourt in place with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The forwards need some rebuilding, though. And what better way than to add Durant at the three spot?
The signing would certainly put the Wiz in the mix of leading contenders. But that's basically where Durant is with OKC right now. In the mix. Scott Brooks taking charge from next season could have it's appeal for Durant after the pair spent so many years together at the Thunder.
But is that enough to lure the superstar small forward to DC? Durant, seemingly, really wants to win a championship in OKC. But if that's not working out, then the possibility of winning a title in his hometown might be the next best thing.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The Los Angeles Lakers need two things this summer: a small forward and a superstar to fill the void left by the now-retired Kobe Bryant. Durant would tick both boxes. But can the Lakers give Durant the championship that he craves? The scenario all fits together rather well until that little thing called winning comes into the equation.
The lure of the Lakers is undeniable. Stepping into Kobe's shoes would be an honour, you would think. But, Kobe's shoes aren't worth a lot without at least one of his rings. Luke Walton taking over seems like a step in the right direction and the team is young and only going to get better.
The Lakers even have the second overall pick in this year's draft. The future looks undeniably rosy on paper. But just how fast can the second worst team in the NBA - according to the standings - really become genuine championship contenders? And especially in the Western Conference.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
And then there's Oklahoma City. The emotional pull is there. Some familiar home comforts are there. An all-star point guard, Westbrook, remains there. But is a championship going to be arriving there any time soon? Is it really worth persisting with things as they are?
Westbrook himself will also be a free agent in 12 months time. Who knows what will happen then? Durant could decide to stay on a multi-year deal only for Westbrook to bail next summer. The smart option for Durant could be to sign a one-year contract in OKC this summer, give things one more chance, and then see what Westbrook decides next year.
Durant would then be able to demand more money in 12 months time after then amassing ten years of NBA experience. He'll also give potential suitors another 12 months to get their finances in order to accommodate potentially signing him. And Durant also gets another year to mull things over. He is 27 after all, not 37. He has time in hand still.
It wouldn't be a long-term commitment by any means. But after all the speculation and gossip, staying put in OKC could well prove to be the smartest choice for Durant this summer. In the short term, anyway.