A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The case against Kevin Durant going to Washington

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The persistent rumor of Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City for Washington reared its head again when Grantland’s Zach Lowe mentioned “rumblings” of Durant narrowing his 2016 choice down to the Thunder and Wizards.

Let’s break down the case for and against the Wizards as a Durant destination

Should the Thunder be worried about Durant leaving?

Absolutely. By the time of his free agency in 2016 he’ll have played 9 seasons in the league and the media pressure will be eating at his legacy if he hasn’t won a championship yet. The Thunder will have had 4 seasons after the James Harden trade to prove they made the right choice and Durant will have to consider whether the next 4 years will be any different. That Oklahoma City’s inability to win a title so far has been so heavily affected by its owners refusing to pay the luxury tax or amnesty Kendrick Perkins, may also rub Durant the wrong way. Oklahoma City’s owners are not doing everything in their means to win a title.

Why Washington?

Those making a case for Washington are doing so for two reasons. First, Washington, D.C. is Durant’s hometown. Secondly, Washington has appealing young players like John Wall and Bradley Beal along with other pieces like a centre in Marcin Gortat, to help Durant contend immediately after making the move. Playing in the weaker Eastern Conference also helps the new Wizards become a powerhouse, albeit if Lebron’s Cavaliers and Durant’s Wizards are both in the East and West no longer has a Thunder with Durant, the days of conference imbalance may have shifted.

The case against

I have a hard time buying into the Wizards as this major a threat for Durant, for the same reason the years of Kevin Love to the Lakers rumours never sold me. The problem is most of what Washington can provide is similar to Oklahoma City’s case. Durant playing in his hometown has sentimental appeal, but does it have more sentimental appeal than staying in Oklahoma City with the love he has for the city and long time teammates there? Likewise, Washington has young talent, but playing with the Wizards talent like John Wall, Bradley Beal and an older Marcin Gortat is not a more elite core than playing with Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, etc. The Eastern Conference would only be easier than the West in the first two rounds which hasn’t been Oklahoma City’s problem. Facing down a conference final-Finals combination like Cleveland and the best West team isn’t an easier task to the title than the Thunder have now. If Durant is dissatisfied with Oklahoma City management and coaching, this doesn’t play in Washington’s favour as their current ownership/management/coaching core of Ted Leonisis Ernie Grunfeld and Randy Wittman has often been derided.

As mentioned before, the key reason for Durant leaving Oklahoma City is losing faith the franchise can win him a title. Does moving to the Wizards really solve this problem for Durant? Or is it just a lateral move?

I haven’t even mentioned yet that Oklahoma City will also be able to offer Durant the highest maximum salary, likely the biggest contract the league has ever seen at that point. Durant is the type of competitor who would take a pay-cut to land in the best situation, especially with his sizeable marketing income, but it’s another reason why Washington has to provide a clearly better situation than Oklahoma City, not just one as good.

Is there better candidates?

So if he leaves, what we likely have is a Durant who’s played 9 seasons without winning a title and despite his love in many ways for playing in Oklahoma City, has to find a better spot to achieve in goals and fulfill the potential of his career.

What I want is a team with two other veteran superstar players, like Miami had. Then when adding Durant, they become a “super-team” everyone should fear. The part that’s playing against Oklahoma City is that the cap is expected to rise heavily due to a new TV deal, which could give more teams the available cap-space to chase after Durant.

There’s 3 teams that stand out to me:

L.A. Clippers – No star wants to go the Lakers anymore, so the Clippers may as well take their place for the L.A. team who’s success attracts the big stars leaving their teams. More-so, in terms of willingness to spend whatever luxury tax it takes, surely Steve Ballmer would be the utter opposite of Oklahoma City’s owners. Durant joins two other superstar talents in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and while Paul would be heading into his 12th season, he has the skill and smarts to age beautifully, especially if he’s the 3rd scoring option of this core.

Getting Durant to L.A. is tricky financially, as Paul, Blake, J.J. Redick and Spencer Hawes combine for 56.2 million already signed in 2016-2017 and this is before considering Deandre Jordan’s likely sizeable next contract. The cap in 2016-2017 is estimated to be at something like $88.8 million based on a 45% increase from 2015-2016, but Durant may also have to be paid something like $25-30 million in his first year to match the increase.

Why I believe it can work is if the cap blows up this heavily in the summer of 2016, there will be more capspace than free agents to sign with it which could lead to a comically insane bidding wars for the free agents available. Because of this, teams may realize the sharper move is to absorb contracts from other teams to make use of their capspace. Therefore if it takes the Clippers moving Jordan, Redick, Hawes or other contracts to make room for Durant after he agrees to sign, considering the cap conditions this may be a fairly easy roadblock to get past. The important number is that Paul and Griffin’s combined 43 million owed in 2016-2017 is so far below a projected cap number like $88 million, that fitting Durant after a few moves looks more than feasible.

Houston Rockets – The appeal is similar to the Clippers. They have two stars in James Harden and Dwight Howard and would promise a super-team to Durant. In addition the owner/GM combination of Les Alexander and Daryl Morey is one of the most reliable and committed in the league. The upside is a more complimentary fit, with a defensive anchor in Dwight beside Harden and Durant instead of two offensive stars like Paul and Blake. But Dwight also represents the downside, as he’d be heading into season 13 and has a style of game expected to age less gracefully than a player like Chris Paul. Dwight will always be both gigantic and a smart players, so I expect he wouldn’t be chopped liver, but the longevity of the trio is less clear-cut.

Financially the Rockets are set to make a run at Durant. Dwight Howard will likely opt out of his 23.3 player option in the summer of 2016 considering the new TV deal’s prices and the bidding war that will come with it and could cost more than Durant to keep. However, Harden only makes 16.7 million in 2016-2017 so this helps make the combination more affordable. Trevor Ariza’s 7.8 million in 2016-2017 is the only other notable contract for the Rockets, unless Terrence Jones is extended a year early. In any case like the Clippers, moving contracts that aren’t Harden and Dwight probably won’t be hard.

Cleveland Cavaliers – Oh, did you forget these guys? Yes, the immediate question is if Lebron James is blocking Durant from SF and Kevin Love is blocking Lebron from going to PF again, how do you start all three? But to me it’s not out of the question that eventually Cleveland decides its favorite lineup is Lebron at power forward and Kevin Love at center, a godly mismatch even before adding Durant at the three.

Financially it’s the most difficult of these options, considering Lebron will also be getting a new contract with the TV deal. Kevin Love has an opt out in the summer of 2015, but financially he may feel the best decision is to opt in, then get a mega contract the summer after. This is before considering Kyrie Irving’s 14.8 million and Anderson Varejao’s new 10 million extension. Getting all of Durant, Lebron and Love would likely require both Love signing next summer at a smaller deal and moving Irving and Varejao’s contracts first. Otherwise perhaps the Cavaliers just let Kevin Love go in free agency and still manage to win over Durant into playing with Lebron and Kyrie. Either way, if Durant’s goal is to win a title the frontrunners are the teams with the most talent and Cleveland fits that bill.

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Written by jr.

November 4, 2014 at 3:30 pm

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