Despite suffering a devastating Achilles injury to end his 2018-19 season, Kevin Durant will still be signing a max contract this summer.
The question is: From who?
Before going down, Durant was looking every bit like the best player in the world, putting up 32.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists per playoff game on insane 51.4/43.8/90.3 shooting splits, including three 40-plus point performances and a 50-point outing against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Then came the injury that could change the outlook of the entire offseason.
Will Durant now choose to opt into the final season of his contract and spend the year rehabbing with the Golden State Warriors? Or is he still leaning towards switching teams this summer? And if he does leave, where will he go?
Below, we break down the five likeliest free-agent landing spots for the 2014 league MVP this summer.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The Los Angeles Clippers have huge plans for the summer, plans buoyed by the fact that they’re in a huge market, by the instability of the team they share that market with and by their nearly $58 million in cap space (with the ability to open up more).
Most reports at the moment connect the Clippers to another elite wing free agent, Kawhi Leonard, but that hasn’t totally stopped the Durant-to-LAC speculation. The latest on the matter comes courtesy of The Athletic, who reported the following one week ago:
“The Clippers are firmly in contention for Leonard and/or Durant, but Durant’s torn Achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday night – as well as Leonard’s Finals run with the Raptors and Davis’ recently revised trade list – has somewhat clouded the offseason forecast.”
It’s a long shot, but Los Angeles does have some selling points that Durant and Co. might fight interesting, including their ability to pair him with another star-level free agent thanks to their copious amounts of cap room.
So although this one may seem unlikely at the moment, don’t forget that things can change very quickly in free agency, especially in a summer that projects to be as chaotic as this one.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Another probable long-shot suitor based in Los Angeles, the Lakers have, at different points in the past, been thought of as a potential landing spot for Durant.
That probably changed with the injury, though.
2019-20 will be LeBron James’ age-35 season, and although he seems to be challenging Father Time better than any athlete has before, his prime has to be coming to an end soon. (Probably.)
That means the Lakers don’t have the luxury of using up a max-salary slot on their books for a player who likely won’t contribute a point next season, and instead need to target an in-their-prime max option, if they’re able to open up enough room for a third superstar.
The dream of watching a team headlined by a three-headed attack of Durant, James and Anthony Davis, unfortunately, doesn’t appear very likely anymore.
A team in the market that Durant has long been rumored to be interested in, the Brooklyn Nets seem to have a real shot at nabbing the two-time Finals MVP this summer.
At least that’s according to the latest intel from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who said on June 19:
“‘I’m told KD is doing a lot of soul searching right now,’ Woj said. ‘You know. stepping back from the injury. processing all of this. KD can go back to Golden State on a five year, $200 million plus deal that gives him absolute assurance that coming off his Achilles injury, that maybe gives him something else to think about, staying in Golden State, but Brooklyn and the Knicks are very much in the fight to get Kevin Durant.'”
Something working in Brooklyn’s favor with Durant revolves around another elite free agent that they’re considered favorites for, Kyrie Irving, who is close with Durant and could convince him to join Irving on a new adventure.
Even with Durant supposed to miss next season, going all in on him is still obviously a very worthwhile move for Brooklyn, who not only would be signing one of the best players in the NBA if they do manage to pull it off, but they’d also stealing him from the team they share a market with, who were the supposed favorites for him all along.
NEW YORK KNICKS
The one constant in rumors regarding Durant’s free agency over the last year has been New York.
Maybe that has to do with his agent, Rich Kleiman, being a lifelong Knicks fan who is based in NYC…
…or perhaps it has to do with Durant simply wanting to start over on a team of his own, where he can prove he doesn’t need to be on a loaded roster to win.
For their part, New York has done a good job of clearing up cap space – nearly $70 million-worth – ahead of what could be a franchise-changing summer, and not wasting that vital flexibility in typical Knicks fashion, trying to rush the process.
But even when New York does things correctly, things seem to go against their favor.
They tanked harder than just about any other team in 2018-19, and still only ended up with the No. 3 pick. They clear cap space to star hunt the likes of Irving and Durant, and see the former apparently drift towards choosing their intracity rivals and the latter suffer a severe injury in one of the last games of the season.
The Knicks may be running their operations more smoothly and sensibly than they have in a long time, but they’re going to need something to break in their favor soon if they want to actually reap the benefits of their patient labors, or risk another year of tanking and rebuilding.
Maybe Durant will be that break they so desperately need.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
If it’s maximum financial stability Durant is searching for after such a frightening injury, especially for a player in his 30s, then he’ll have no choice but to re-sign with Golden State this summer.
They’re the only team with the ability to offer him a five-year deal, one that would be worth northwards of $200 million, and they’ll probably be happy to do so.
Not only would that mean keeping one of the best players in the league for the rest of his prime, it would also be the right thing for the Warriors to do after seeing Durant rush back from a simple calf strain and making it so much worse by not just sitting out the rest of the Finals.
According to reports, Durant is still in the early stages of processing how the injury will affect his free agency, and still isn’t clear on what his next move will be.
Whatever he does decide, it’ll have ramifications league-wide and change the outlook of the NBA for years to come.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.