By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Thunder superstar Kevin Durant officially becomes a free agent at 12:01am on Friday and perhaps as soon as then he will begin sitting down with teams that have the best chance of obtaining his services for at least next season and perhaps beyond.
The Thunder, Warriors and Spurs have secured face-to-face meetings. The Heat, Celtics and Clippers are expected to and according to ESPN’s Chris Broussard now have secured meetings. The Rockets, Lakers, Wizards and Knicks are hoping to get a chance to make direct pitches but the odds are decent for just one of those teams, the Knicks.
Durant is in New York City now. He has been there mainly to help hype the debut of his latest Nike sneaker the KD9. He is also reported to have had dinner Friday night with longtime pal Carmelo Anthony and will be with Anthony again to help make the official announcement of the 12 members of Team USA who will compete at the Rio Olympics.
The Knicks will likely make the cut mostly because of the trade that brought former NBA MVP Derrick Rose in from Chicago.
They’ll pitch the bright lights and big stage of the NBA’s largest market and their improvement as a team with Rose, Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis.
But with new coach Jeff Hornacek and questions about just how that will all fit together there’s not much chance KD will actually be convinced to sign a deal.
In fact the Thunder are still believed to be the favorite and probably by a wide margin.
The Warriors are now probably the most likely team, other than OKC, that has a realistic shot. Durant is friends with many of what would be his future teammates and he respects Steve Kerr’s abilities as a head coach.
The Warriors would also be able to keep much their main core intact and still afford a max deal for Durant. Other role players would have to go and probably Harrison Barnes or Andrew Bogut too.
The Spurs would have to do some wheeling and dealing in order to fit in max contract for Durant. As things stand right now the Spurs won’t have any cap room come Friday morning. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are mulling retirement, Tony Parker’s name has been spinning around in the rumor mill as someone the Spurs would be willing to trade.
So the uncertainty surrounding San Antonio and who exactly will be on the roster next season might be enough to prevent the Spurs from making much headway.
The other teams in the running also have major issues. The Celtics have great tradition and a highly respected young coach but at the moment they don’t have a championship ready roster. Durant would be their only superstar level talent.
Miami’s Pat Riley has a bunch of rings but his current roster could have a lot of holes soon. Dwyane Wade is 34 now, Chris Bosh has health issues that could lead to his retirement. Hassan Whiteside could be on the move in free agency so who knows what the Heat’s roster is going to be.
The Clippers would most likely have to send Blake Griffin packing and Chris Paul, though a terrific point guard, is older now too at 31 plus he’s coming to the end of his contract.
Durant has said time and again money isn’t the most important thing. It’s his comfort level with teammates and staff and the ability to have a legitimate shot at a championship.
He has all of that with the Thunder. Solid relationships all around, face of the franchise and a roster that keeps getting better.
Sources both inside and outside the organization say Durant did not have an issue with the team sending Serge Ibaka away in a trade and that KD is “excited” about the acquisition of Victor Oladipo.
The Thunder’s “pitch” to Durant has been on display for years. Since 2011 Oklahoma City has made it at least to the Western Conference Finals four times and despite that success, which would normally have them stuck down near the bottom of the draft they’ve managed to obtain six players who were lottery picks and high ones at that. Oladipo, who was the 2nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, and 11th overall pick last week, Damantas Sabonis, are the latest examples.
Thunder GM Sam Presti has proven he can do what it takes to continue to bring in high level talent to re-charge the roster.
And of course if money does come up, the Thunder can offer a fatter paycheck than any other team.
KD probably already has a pretty good idea of what he’s going to do. These meetings will serve as a way to re-enforce that thinking and maybe give some teams a chance to alter it.
Durant can reach a verbal agreement with a team about anytime from July 1st on but league rules prohibit him from actually signing a contract until July 7th.
He leaves for an overseas promotional tour on the 9th and then Team USA training camp cranks up on the 18th so he would probably prefer to have a new contract settled and signed before then.
As the week progresses, we’ll update any new information here on the website and when the clock strikes midnight on Friday we’ll be updating everything from sources and reporters around the NBA.