Let the Celtics Courtship of Kevin Durant Begin

The confetti hadn’t even reached the floor at the NBA Western Conference Finals before all-out speculation on Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant’s future would begin. As the most prominent player entering free agency this summer, it is natural to wonder where the superstar would play next. In Boston, rumors are beginning to swirl about secret meetings between the Celtics and Kevin Durant’s representatives; where it was implied that the soon-to-be free agent might consider playing for the Celtics should the team make other player acquisitions to enhance their chances of contending for a title. While these meetings have not been confirmed by either party and the list of players have not been divulged, it does not take away from the growing optimism that Durant may call TD Garden his next basketball home.

I for one struggle with the recent rumors surrounding meetings between the Celtics and Kevin Durant’s representatives. As a player under contract with Oklahoma City, it would be borderline unethical for these two parties to engage in discussions about the future of a player who, at the time was trying to lead his team to an NBA title. For the Celtics, these type of hypotheticals could be viewed as tampering with a player while under contract with another team. For these reasons I have my doubts about the validity of the rumors along with the viability of a notion that the Celtics were given such guidance in an effort to bring Durant to Boston.

But, let’s just say that this discussion was had and the Celtics were given such guidance on players to obtain in order to increase their chances to ultimately sign Durant. I will play on that assumption from this point forward. In order for such a signing possible; not only do the Celtics need to sign at least one more prominent player, they will also have to trade some of their assets (young players, draft picks) to bring another elite talent to town. One thing that helped him earn the moniker “Trader” Danny Ainge was his ability to make franchise-altering trades. In 2007 those moves paid immediate dividends (2008 title); while his trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett brought a bounty of valuable draft picks. It would be through these picks that a deal could be made with.

Should the Celtics be able to acquire key players to lure Durant to town; what kind of players could be had? Below is a short list of viable players that could be acquired either as a free agent or via trade that could be the type of player Durant’s representatives could be envisioning. The trade category also takes into account the current team’s direction and possible lessening interest in said player.

Free agency: DeMar DeRozan (Toronto), Harrison Barnes (Golden State), Al Horford (Atlanta), Andre Drummond (Detroit), Dwight Howard (Houston)

Trade: Jimmy Butler (Chicago), Paul George (Indiana), Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento)

As Jerry Maguire famously stated… “show me the money!”. In order for any acquisition of Durant to take place, there has to be the financial wherewithal to make it happen. In two words, Salary Cap. The NBA salary cap from 2015-16 season ($66 million) will jump considerably once the new $2.7 billion television contract with the league kicks in for this upcoming season. Should the cap increase as many predict it will (to approximately $80 million), a team like Boston will have nearly $52 million to spend on multiple player salaries. And of the current players on Boston’s roster entering free agency, only Evan Turner appears to be a player who would be on the Celtics’ list to retain. Jared Sullinger has some baggage (not to mention extra weight) that would make a long-term commitment viable.

Now for the downside of Durant signing with Boston. While all the aforementioned factors play in Boston’s favor, let us also not lose sight of the possibility that Durant’s agents also had similar conversations with other NBA general managers; informing them of what is needed to entice Durant to their respective cities. Should such scenarios play out (and likely should since this is Durant’s first big plunge in the free agent market), here are a handful of teams that may be in play:

Oklahoma City Thunder: Clearly the team that can sign Durant with no other roster moves required is his current team. In “OKC”, Durant knows the players, the coach and the city, one that brings a college-like excitement to every home game. On the downside, Durant has to consider that two of his current teammates (Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka) will be free agents after next season, and there is no guarantee that talent core will be maintained beyond the 2016-17 season. In addition, Durant may need assurances that more reinforcements are brought to town to put them at the top of the conference and return to the NBA Finals.

Los Angeles Lakers: The departure of Kobe Bryant leaves this marquee franchise without a bon-a-fide superstar. There is young talent in place that could be used as trade chips, along with signing a player the caliber of Al Horford. The lure of Los Angeles could be a key here. Should the new salary cap be as estimated ($80 million) the Lakers will have more than $56 million to sign players this off-season. also keep in mind that former UCLA star Russell Westbrook is a free agent next summer. The Lakers could make some short term deals to improve next season and then pursue Westbrook in the summer of 2017. It is not far fetched to picture these two reunited in LA.

Golden State Warriors: If you can’t beat them, join them. Presently, the Warriors are projected to be just $6 million under next season’s projected new cap number. This does not take into account the $5 million qualifying offer that would come off the books once Barnes declares himself a free agent. Once that occurs, Golden State could free up additional cap space by jettisoning Andrew Bogut and/or, Andre Iguodala, both of whom will be in the last year of their contract. by doing so, an additional $22 million would be freed up. they would already have marquee players to play along side that any of Durant’s representatives indicate is a necessity. Clearly a scenario that could play out, one that would put the rest of the league on notice that the Warriors will remain leading contenders for many years to come.

Dallas Mavericks: With Dirk Nowitzki entering free agency, there could be a scenario where the Mavericks make a max offer to Durant and then resign Dirk. In fact, there are three players (Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons, Deron Williams) who all have player options, resulting in $29 million coming off the books. This would bring their summer cap number to $32 million, meaning that multiple new players could be signed before resigning their incumbent free agents. Being a home state team (Durant played for University of Texas) with a free-spending owner who is player-centric could be an enticing package for Durant.

Miami Heat: Team president Pat Riley must cope with a roster in turmoil. Dwayne Wade, Loul Deng and Hassan Whiteside are starters entering free agency. Add to this the uncertain health status of Chris Bosh (blood clots), and this would be a franchise primed to make several moves this summer. Entering free agency, the Heat may have upwards of $32 million based on next season’s projected cap but will need to expend a good portion of said money to put a competitive team on the court to entice Durant in the first place.

Chicago Bulls: Starting with Jimmy Butler as the franchise centerpiece, the team has the potential of also having Derrick Rose at their disposal. Adding a player via free agency might not be as easy as it would be for others due to limited future cap room, but trades are also options here. Being in the last year of a contract, it is feasible that Rose could be dealt, but consider the return to be less than equitable given Rose’s injury history.

San Antonio Spurs: A core of LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard is a great place to start the discussion. The Spurs also have aging winners in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to add to the talent mix. The likelihood that Tim Duncan hangs up his hi-tops will be impacted by whether San Antonio could maneuver a deal to bring Durant to town. Highly unlikely given the team’s projected salary next season would already be in excess of the new cap number ($84 million). Many moves would have to be made, with the result being the roster composition would be drastically different to make room for the All Star forward.

Los Angeles Clippers: See Lakers with respects to Los Angeles appeal. Only in this case, the team has a solid core of star quality players. With the right moves, the Clippers could further elevate their league stature through the acquisition of Durant. It may require the team moving a centerpiece player (Blake Griffin) to make room for Durant.

Cleveland Cavaliers: The team presently has a “Big Three” with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. The only way a deal could be made would be for the Cavs to Jettison one or two of the following players: Tristan Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love. It is highly improbable that such moves could be made, especially since it would require two key members of the two-time Eastern Conference champions. Improbable but not impossible; it all comes down to the motivation and the opportunity.

Houston Rockets: James Harden is in place, along with some other solid players. The departure of Dwight Howard could be a detriment for the Rockets, as they would lose a All Star caliber player. Houston would have to obtain a paint presence; with Andre Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins, and Al Horford likely targets in order to make the Rockets a viable option.

Conclusion: I am of the mindset that Kevin Durant will remain in Oklahoma City, where he already has a contending team in place. All of the alternatives present possible long-term contention opportunities but are also dependent on many additional moves taking place.

Of course Durant will need assurances from his geneal manager thay his soon-to-be free agent teammates in 2017 (Westbrook, Obama) will remain. He will also need commitment from the organization that more will be done to enhance their chances to win in the 2016-17 season. If the aforementioned conditions are not met, then a job is more probable.

Looking at the other teams mentioned, the Celtics, Lakers and Dallas currently are the best positioned to make a serious run at Durant this summer given their roster and salary flexibility. Oklahoma City is the safe destination for Durant to remain but that comes with long-term roster stability concerns. At present the Celtics should be considered a leading candidate to bring in the player that team president Danny Ainge has longed for since losing out on him in the 2007 NBA draft, should the Thunder forward decide that it is time to move on.

In the end, it will all come down to the Celtics and Lakers should Durant truly want out of OKC In this league it only seems fitting that the cornerstone franchises be pitted against each other once again in a competition with high stakes on the line. If winning quickly is the need, the Celtics are the choice; but if long term viability and ancillary factors come into play, the Lakers will come out on top.

If nothing else, having it be June and these two teams are on the minds of many seems fitting. I am not normally a betting person, although I did place a wager on the Celtics winning the NBA title with 75-1 odds back in the summer of 2007. That was before the “Big Three” was formed. History has shown that to be a sound investment on my part. Looking at the free agent market both from a player perspective, I give the Celtics decent odds to secure their next franchise-altering star. When it all shakes down, the big winner in this free agent frenzy will be Kevin Durant due to his massive contract. You could make a case that Celtics fans would be a distant second in the winner’s circle should Durant come to Boston, but the team would ultimately be reaping the benefits for years to come.

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