NBA rumors: Grizzlies to make run at Kevin Durant?

With or without Gasol, Memphis’ mandate will be unchanged: make the playoffs. They are working to keep Conley in summer free agency, with Memphis planning to be one more contender with two stars that will try to persuade Kevin Durant to make it a Big Three, league sources said. Durant’s the longest of long shots in summer, but the short-term trade deadline directives are unchanged: The Grizzlies are determined to use the trade deadline to better the roster for a playoff push.

More on Kevin Durant Free Agency

New York faces long odds to land Durant to begin with. But they took a hit after Derek Fisher was fired, league sources say. As noted here previously, Fisher was going to be a factor in Durant's free agency this summer. But hiring Brooks could get Durant's attention.
Golden State’s 46-4 record is tied for the best mark in league history through 50 games. With three All-Stars in Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, Golden State has youth and plays an attractive brand of unselfish basketball that fits Durant. The Warriors play in front of an intimidating Oracle Arena crowd and are expected to debut a new San Francisco arena in 2019. Durant has quietly done his due diligence on the Bay Area, too, sources told Yahoo Sports.
When it comes to free agency, Durant said he will lean most on his Roc Nation agent Rich Kleiman and personal manager Charlie Bell. Regarding Jay Z, Durant told Yahoo Sports: “He’s just the big homey. That’s how it is. I got two people I talk to and figure it out with every day. They give support.”
“It’s hard for it not to enter your mind,” said Durant, 27, about free agency. “There’s a lot of uncertainty to what’s going on because I haven’t really thought that far. I just try to focus on playing basketball, man. When I lock in I try to get better every single day. I’m trying to come in and help my teammates every single day. That’s what my thought process is always focused on."
“There’s a lot of uncertainty that’s going on, because I haven’t really thought that far,” Durant said. “I’m just trying to focus on playing basketball. I’m locked in on trying to be better every single day and trying to come in and help my teammates every single day. I think that’s what my thought process is always focused on. “Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”
But with Howard widely expected to demand the max, it puts the Rockets in quite the quandary. They would clearly prefer to do a more reasonable deal to keep him, one that doesn’t have him making approximately $41.5 million at the age of 35 in his 17th season (2020-21) – especially if they have a chance at landing Kevin Durant. The 27-year-old Oklahoma City Thunder star is the biggest fish in the free agency sea this summer, and the Rockets – who traded for his pal and former Thunder sixth man, Harden, in Oct. 2012 – are expected to make a serious run at the former MVP. They are slated to have approximately $45.5 million in salary cap space, meaning something has to give if there’s any hope of a Harden-Howard-Durant union in the works.
The Rockets' grand plan, sources said this week, remains making an all-out pursuit in free agency this summer for Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant. Rockets officials have long believed privately that they will have as good a chance as any team to steal Durant away from the Thunder in the offseason because of his strong relationship with his former teammate, Harden, and the room Houston has to pay Durant max-contract money while also re-signing Howard.
Free agency chatter has ramped back up in the last week, people linking you to the Lakers, to the Warriors. Any response to those rumors? Durant: "I blame it on you, man (laughs). Before you had a story out, nothing was happening and it was cool (referring to this story). Now I guess you could say it's ramped up. That's a part of it. That's a part of this process. Everyone has to do their job. Of course the fans want to know what's going on, but I can't control that. I can't control any of that. Just gotta work hard every single day, focus on what's in front of me and not worry about what's gonna happen down the line. All that stuff I can't control. Like I said, when that time comes we'll talk about it, but for right now, I'm 100 percent committed and locked in on being the best team and player I can be and helping my team try to get to a championship."
Is it a surprise that the media has you linked to a team like the Warriors that's already had success and has a championship? Durant: "I don't know. I don't know. I try to not even think about that. It's a certain amount of teams, don't matter if it's a free agent now or 20 years down the line will be linked with those type of teams. I try not to worry about that. I know the position I'm in and I knew the position I'd be in before the season started. I knew that that stuff was coming and I prepared for it early on. Just try to worry about what I can control and that's coming out and working hard every single day. Everything else that's out of my control is not of my concern. Like I said, during the summer time, we'll talk about that."
I won't make you say his name, but there are rumors your team might pursue a certain star free agent. You guys are 41-4, or 42-4, or whatever. Do you hear those rumors and think, "Wait a second. How much better could we possibly get? Why change anything?" Not in those terms. I hear that stuff, and it's human nature to be interested in it. I'm very comfortable with our team, and obviously being 44-4.
There is nothing contained in this commentary to suggest anything of substance from Durant’s side or even Westbrook’s side. This commentary is simply the dream scenario from the L.A. Lakers, framed solely through the prism of the Lakers. A league source chuckled at the idea, saying if Durant and Westbrook wanted to remain together, they’d earn more staying right where they are.
The same source said that while Durant may explore his free agent options in 2016, there is a growing sense that Durant may be more open to signing a one-and-one deal, where he takes one fully guaranteed year and a player option year and remains in Oklahoma City for one more year. Such a deal ties his own free agency to Westbrook’s in 2017 when the salary cap goes up again.
The Golden State Warriors’ plan of pursuit predates their 2015 championship run, a bold plot to declare the futility of resistance. It isn’t only that the NBA champions are determined to recruit Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. The truth is that they’re the most intriguing destination to him. If Durant leaves the Thunder, the Warriors are the significant frontrunners to sign him, league sources told The Vertical.
Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said – but the real threats on the summer market are beginning to reveal themselves. Durant is determined to win – to be an immediate championship contender at 27 years old – and that keeps bringing him back to the Warriors should he make the decision to leave Oklahoma City.
Perhaps no Warriors player would sacrifice so much on a personal level, yet Green is unflinching in his support of signing Durant, league sources told The Vertical. He’s expected to be a tenacious recruiter of Durant for the Warriors’ contingent. There are several moves the Warriors can make to maneuver the roster to clear a maximum salary slot for Durant. To have the chance to incorporate a superstar in full sprint onto the NBA’s best team, well, it’s practically unprecedented.
Outside of those well-known suitors – Washington, Houston and Miami – there’s another California team determined to make a bid for Durant, league sources tell The Vertical: The Los Angeles Clippers. If the opportunity comes to move Blake Griffin and replace him with Durant, the Clippers won’t hesitate, sources said.
"Keep in mind this, one of the biggest reasons I'm told, that Kevin Durant may have the Lakers at the top of his list, is because the Lakers have been led to believe, by whom specifically I do not know, but the Lakers have been led to believe that it is a very good chance that the following year Russell Westbrook is coming."
Stephen A. Smith: "They love each other, and they love being on the same team with one another. And if it so happens to be in the L.A. market, all the better. I'm not saying it is done. (...) It's a big possibility."
Stephen A. Smith: "Make no mistake about it, Russell Westbrook doesn't have a problem being in L.A."
“I spent some nice time up here playing basketball in New York City. Some of the most memorable times in my life was coming up here, playing outside, just getting the pure love of the game up here. I remember that, always going to remember that the rest of my life and tell my kids about that when I get older. I come from Maryland. We know how big basketball is here. Of course I enjoy playing here and the Garden. Every movie you watch, you had a scene playing basketball in the Garden. Everything reverts back to being in the Garden, whether [it’s] musicians, basketball players. To play here is just a blessing.’’
Much has changed since the start of the season. The idea of Durant signing a one-year opt-out deal with the Thunder has gained traction, sending him to the 2017 market with Russell Westbrook. The Warriors and Spurs have hit supernova levels of play, stealing away a bulk of the league's headlines and interest. And the teams below them are searching for a current identity, not a long-term pipedream.
His people have remained quiet. And even when Durant has been quoted, like in Houston in early November or Brooklyn earlier this week, the comments came from innocuous pregame questions about his brief thoughts on the home team. He likes this guy's game. He likes this team's arena.
There were reports earlier this year that the Miami Heat, like many teams across the league, had lined up their cap situation to make a run at Kevin Durant in free agency this upcoming offseason. But during Durant's media sessions in Miami the past couple days, local reporters didn't even bring up the topic. Besides his return to Washington D.C. last month, Durant really hasn't faced much free agency talk yet this season.
"I don’t think he’s thinking about it right now. I think for him it’s just more trying to get healthy, get back on the court and play basketball. When you come off an injury and you feel like you’ve done everything you have to do to rehab and get back on the court and then you have another freak injury like that, that right there can be a little bit frustrating by itself. I don’t think he’s worried about it, as a matter of fact I know he’s not worried about the free agency coming up."
But he believes that Durant is happy with his home team now. "Come on, man. He just got into the Hall of Fame," Anthony said. "He brought this team here— he didn’t bring this team here, but he’s a big part of Oklahoma as a whole. Not just from a basketball standpoint, from an economic standpoint, business standpoint – he’s a major part of what goes on out here. "I think nowadays with the way that this social media is, I don’t think you have to be in a major market to get those opportunities. The way the TV deal is, you’re seen all over the world now and not just big markets."
Stefan Bondy: Fisher says he wants limit praise on Durant w/ impending free agency. We all know how trigger happy Thunder can be w/ tampering charges.
The Knicks weren’t a hot ticket for free agents last season coming off a 17-65 record and with a European project first-round pick named Kristaps Porzingis. With a 6-6 start and Porzingis looking to be a potential cornerstone player, the Knicks could be an attractive destination if Durant decides to leave Oklahoma City. Nevertheless, the Knicks are about $4 million short of having maximum cap space. They would need to have either Derrick Williams or Arron Afflalo opt out of their two-year deals, and that is hardly a given. Team president Phil Jackson can get very close to having max room if he is uses a stretch provision on point guard Jose Calderon.
Not only does he have a long history with the top free agent of the 2016 summer (the Thunder’s Kevin Durant), but also the top free agent name in 2017 (UCLA product/Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook). Alas, those are stories for another day. On this day, it’s the Rockets who simply must find a way to fix their problems soon in this post-McHale era.
Elhassan: "They didn't extend Harrison Barnes, they didn't extend Festus Ezeli... so it gives them the flexibility pretty much to work around those guys, to maybe negotiate a sign-and-trade. So if you're Oklahoma City and Durant says 'I'm outta here', Golden State can put together a pretty solid package. The question is if you're Golden State, at what point do you say 'that's too much.' Because the Thunder are going to ask the Sun, the Moon and the stars."
To sign Durant at his maximum using cap space, the Warriors could only have about $64 million in committed salaries and holds on their books. Remarkably, they can stay under that number while retaining their key pieces thanks to Stephen Curry’s comically cheap $12.1 million salary.
For Miami to be able to make a competitive bid for Durant, the Heat would need to either pass on signing Whiteside; or trade McRoberts, somehow get Whiteside at something closer to $10 million for 2016-17 (that’s not happening), cajole Wade to take less than $10 million and fill out the roster with cheap labor.
Big-name teams like the Lakers, Bulls and Knicks have designs on Durant, but few front-office executives guess he’d wind up in any of those markets. (There has been the lingering possibility, though, that the defending champion Warriors could get Durant’s attention.) “Everyone is going to be ready for him, I think everyone wants to at least be in the mix and see what happens,” one Eastern Conference general manager said. “But I think everyone knows that it is going to take a lot to get him out of OKC, and if it isn’t OKC, it’s going to be Washington. Stranger things have happened, but going into it, I think it will be down to those two places.”
But the former league MVP held his ground when asked about the return and looming summer sweepstakes. “Just looking forward to the game, man,” Durant said. “Playing against a really good team, a really fast team. It’s going to test us on both ends of the court and it’s good to see my family, man. I haven’t seen them in a while. I haven’t played in front of them in a while so I’m looking forward to it.”
Anthony Slater: Kevin Durant got lobbed a pair of free agency related questions. His response: How tough is it when you're constantly asked about your free agency decision and people I'm sure are giving you their suggestions? KD: "I just try to go about every day, focus on that day. Not try to worry about the future too much. Worry about that stuff when I get there. I've been saying I don't know. I really just focus on our team. I'm happy I'm playing again and that kind of takes over my thought process. Just worrying about playing and happy I'm playing."
"He appears to (not want) to be the center of attention when it comes to that. A more down-to-earth type of guy where he's one of the guys. You can respect that. I can understand why fans want him to come. He's a top three players in the world, he's from D.C. and a player like that can change you from getting to the Finals to possibly winning the Finals. It goes both ways. That's why the NBA is better than a lot of sports. ... In basketball, one or two stars going to a different team, your expectations are different. This is a star league and he's a top three player. ... Hopefully he does (come to D.C.)," Jared Dudley said.
"First of all, it's always an elephant in the room when you're talking about that stuff. I don't want to, like, totally just dodge it. I know it's coming. I know the situation," Durant said. "But I'm really focusing on how I can be better every game. And how I can get back – I don't want say get back, because I'm back – but get used to playing again. All that other stuff is going to come, but we'll wait until we get to that bridge when we cross it."
"Free agency is like a season now, and it shouldn’t be that big. Me, I feel, is you should focus on who you have on your team. It’s easy to get your hopes up and expect a guy to come to your team or whatever — and I’m not talking about myself, I’m just talking about free agency in the past years and in the future — you get your hopes up as a fan, and then they let you down and you end up not liking the player. There’s a little bit too much emphasis on that type of stuff, but it’s part of the game."
All of which, he admits, makes this free agency process somewhat uncomfortable. "Yeah, I’m really not good with attention," he said. "I really don’t like all this stuff to be centered around me, but I know it comes with it, that it’s a part of it. But I’m still getting used to it. I’ve learned to embrace it a little bit, but it’s still a little awkward for me.
The reason is obvious: Washington will be among the teams trying to lure Kevin Durant from the Thunder. Durant grew up in the D.C. metro area and, should he be willing to leave Oklahoma City — still a very open question — the Wizards would be considered a favorite to sign him. They could do so if they order the contracts the way the Spurs did with Aldridge and Leonard, with Durant first signing, then with Beal’s contract coming after.
Another league source laughed at the thought that Kevin Durant would be interested in the Sixers once he becomes a free agent after the season. "Are you kidding me? There is no way," he said. "Whoever thinks Kevin Durant is coming to the Philadelphia 76ers is absolutely out of their mind. There's no way . . . in any scenario. He's not doing it. He wants to win."
It could've degenerated into an ugly back-and-firth. But Durant let it go after that. He's trying to stay disciplined about his vow of silence. The season will be chaotic and emotional. Durant knows that. He doesn't want to get swallowed up in it by giving thoughts of free agency too much weight too soon. "I hope that every time he's asked about it this year, every single time, he will say, 'I'll talk about this after the season,' " teammate Nick Collison says.
Under the current rules, Durant would be eligible for a larger maximum salary in 2017. Using the estimated $108 million salary cap figure, Durant could be eligible to earn approximately $35.6 million in the first year of a new deal that summer. The rules could be radically different or mostly the same by then, so any numbers for this timeframe should be considered very theoretical. But if the numbers and rules stay mostly intact, he could sign for up to five seasons with Oklahoma City and net over $200 million.
Stephen A. Smith: Regarding @KDTrey5 and his negative comments about me, let me say this: At NO time did I ever say I SPOKE to K.D. Or his family. Or his brother, friends, teammates, etc. (although I can assure you all I have on several occasions in the past). I said I HEARD from folks I know -- in a league I've been covering for 19 years -- that if he were to leave OKC as a free agent, these are the cities I was told he was considering. OKC. LA. Miami. DC. NY. I stand by it all. And that is that.
Stephen A. Smith: His assertion that I was lying is not only FALSE, but totally uncalled for. Especially from a player who receives nothing but praise not only from me, but from practically every media member you can find. Yet, for some reason, we're all the same folks who don't know *&%$ about the game of basketball. Whose thoughts he could give a &^%$ about. Essentially, individuals he wishes he'd never have to talk to.....that he's being forced to tolerate.....as if someone has done something to him.....OF ALL PEOPLE!
Q: There was the first of these unnamed sourced free agency reports that we're expecting to come out throughout the season. The whole Lakers thing that Stephen A Smith came out with, do you have any response to that? Kevin Durant: "I don't talk to Stephen A Smith at all. Nobody in my family, my friends, they don't talk to Stephen A Smith. So he's lying." Q: What's the best way to attack those because I know you're not naive to think these won't be popping up throughout the year? Kevin Durant: "If you ask me a question, I'll talk about them. But like I said before, I have people who I talk to about everything and I know for a fact they didn't talk to him, so he's making up stories."
On ESPN’s “First Take” Tuesday morning, Stephen A. Smith said that sources have told him Durant’s preferred landing spot is the Los Angeles Lakers if he does not re-sign with the Thunder next summer. “Regardless of how senseless it may (sound), in one breath I’m hearing that if Kevin Durant doesn’t stay in Oklahoma City, L.A. is his primary objective and landing spot as opposed to South Beach or even his home of Washington, D.C.,” Smith said.
That wasn’t the only seemingly far-fetched theory that Smith tossed out. He also said he has heard rumblings about Durant possibly teaming up with Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant with the New York Knicks. Smith thinks Phil Jackson may have been hinting at that when he recently said Kobe could play for a team other than the Lakers. “I heard Melo, Kevin Durant, Kobe,” Smith added. “And when you take into account that Phil Jackson is on the record saying it might be Kobe’s last year in L.A. — opening the door that there are possibilities for him to go elsewhere. All I’m saying is you just never know.”
All season, through chants and signs and social media posts and random public run-ins, Durant is sure to face pleas from every angle of the country. How will he handle it? "That's something I can't control," Durant said at Media Day on Monday. "I'm not one of those guys looking for praise or looking for people to lobby me or whatever it is. I never look for stuff like that. I just enjoy playing the game of basketball and I enjoy these wonderful (OKC) fans here and I just want to give them the best version of me I can. That's all I can do. I can't control everything else."
Washington Wizards point guard John Wall said he'd be happy to assist the franchise in its attempt to land future free agent Kevin Durant. The Oklahoma City Thunder star will be the most coveted free agent on the open market next summer and the Wizards, Durant's hometown team, expect to be in the running. "There's gonna be an opportunity to throw a pitch at him to try to get him to come back home," Wall told Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic.
Teams are prohibited from speaking to or about any future free agents, and at present the two stars can focus only on their current teams. "But I know one thing of just knowing him he's going to be very focused on taking care of Oklahoma City this season, and I'm going to be focused on taking care of the Washington Wizards," Wall said. "But when the time is right and he can get away from all that, yeah, we'll probably have some conversation and throw a pitch."
Why would Barnes do this? Perhaps because he can see the writing on the wall. He’s the obvious trade bait for Kevin Durant. He’s been hearing it for at least a year. So whatever Barnes gets from the Warriors, as long as it’s significantly less than the $30 million they’d sign Durant to, would be a deal. He already knows they are willing to pay max for his position. If Barnes gets $20 million a year, it’s still a tradable contract and would be a big savings for OKC if he’s sent there in a trade.
Durant is entering the final season of a five-year extension he signed with the Thunder in 2010. With his return to the floor, along with his pending free agency in 2016, there's a lot of attention and hype hovering over this Thunder season -- which is something Presti understands and hopes the team manages. "Here's the thing: We're not going to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that's not going to be in the air," Presti said. "Knowing that the future is coming, we're incredibly excited about that because it's an opportunity for us to keep him in Oklahoma City: a Hall of Fame player, a legacy player, I should say a legacy person, in Oklahoma. But those are conversations for another day. "He knows how we feel about him. The best way to serve the Thunder and put him in a position to be successful, those things are one in the same, and that's what we focus on."
Consider one example: Durant’s max salary for 2016-17 will be about $25 million, leaving $15 million or $20 million to split between Wade and Whiteside. That won’t do it, unless Wade takes a massive hometown discount. (By the way: Rail against the Durant rumor mill if you want, but you’re kidding yourselves if you don’t think Riley will set Miami up to make a run at him.)
Tim Kawakami: I've been skeptical about Warriors' ability to get $26M or so under the cap-line next July in any theoretical Kevin Durant pursuit, and And I'm still not sure they can do it. But league people emphasize: 1) Never under-estimate the aggressiveness of Lacob/Myers/West. And due to huge increases to cap # this year & next, there'll be many teams set up to absorb huge salary chunks if GSWs start maneuvering. That does NOT mean anybody thinks the Warriors are leaders in the Durant chase. Just means league people figure they'll be creative.
“I know it’s coming,” he said. “It’s the (free agency) year. I’m coming off of injury. A lot of people are expecting me to do this, and come back as a better player. A lot of people may be doubting me as well. But that’s a part of the game. I’m just trying to have fun playing the game again. I just want to smile on the court again and go through that whole season with joy and peace.”
Durant sounded as though he will be ready to play on opening night, but he would not address in any detail his upcoming free agency. There is a widespread belief around the NBA that Durant will leave Oklahoma City next summer if the Thunder do not win a championship, but Durant steered clear of any meaningful answers when those subjects were broached.
“Yeah, I think so,” Wall said Tuesday in Las Vegas when asked if Washington will be an attractive landing spot for Durant. “I think we’re one of those teams on the rise. You look at free agency, a lot of people want to come and play for us. The main thing is it’s going to be his decision. You got to sit back and let him make the best decision for him and his family. All we can do is sit back and just try to focus on us. Try to win as much as we can and if that can attract him to come play with us then so be it.”
And, as one source within the organization explained, there is no great expectation that the team will land Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant in 2016, when the former MVP is expected to become a free agent.
Most league execs informally polled here at Summer League expect Durant to stay in Oklahoma City when he hits the market next summer. There are only a handful of teams that can legitimately think they're an option. The Lakers, the Mavs and the Wizards (in Durant's hometown) are in the mix, for starters. The Knicks? I mean, I guess, in theory. The Thunder actually are a very good case study for how this summer's free-agent decisions affected the pursuit of Durant, LeBron and others a year from now. Let's start with the four-year, $70 million offer sheet that Oklahoma City matched for restricted free agent Enes Kanter on Sunday.
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