Kevin Durant's free agency is a very good example of how much better sports used to be when they weren't all about business. If things were only about basketball then Durant would choose where he had the best chance to win, and he would proceed to turn the NBA upside down for the next four or five years. That could still happen, but doing so now could cost him as much as $130 million. Between his contracts and his shoe deals Durant will make more than his great grandkids will ever be able to spend, but it's still tough to believe that he'll give up that much money. We can only dare to dream.
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The biggest issue is the looming jump in the salary cap. If he signs a long-term deal now he is still under the current salary cap. A huge injection of money from the new TV deal kicks on next year, though, so his potential salary will leap dramatically as the salary pool grows in leaps and bounds. There is naturally a financial advantage to staying with your current team than joining a new one - he can sign for an extra year and for slightly more each year after the first year. Now there is another advantage to signing a short-term deal - a year plus a player option that will never get exercised - so he can go through all of this again.
So, Durant says he is going to make a basketball decision. My heart wants to believe him, but my brain tells me that he will sign for a year with the Thunder and make his real decision next year. Let's pretend, though, that that isn't the likely result - that he is indeed going to go where it makes the most sense. There are seven options that seem most likely. Let's take a look.
Keep in mind, of course, that Durant is really exceptionally good, and whichever team he joined would be no worse than the third betting choice to win the NBA title - and more than one would become the instant favorites. Also, BetOnline has set odds for each team as a potential destination, and those follow the team name in brackets:
Oklahoma City (-350): This just makes too much sense from a business perspective, sadly. He can make several million dollars more this year from the Thunder in a short-term deal than elsewhere, and then he is set to cash in and control his destiny next year. He's more likely to sign short than long here - not only does he stand to make much more next year by going short, but Russell Westbrook is a free agent next year, and I can't imagine Durant would be keen to commit without knowing what Westbrook is doing. The only reason he might not be willing to go short is because he does have a history of injuries, and a big problem this year could cost him tens of millions of dollars. There could also be pressure for him to go elsewhere for the sake of the companies he endorses, but they certainly haven't struggled to date with him in the relative obscurity of Oklahoma City. This is not the most interesting place for him to wind up, but it is the most likely.
Golden State (+400): Just think about this for a second. A foursome of Durant, Curry, Green and Thompson - assuming chemistry - would win multiple titles unless they did something very wrong. They would be stunningly good. They would have issues at center in all likelihood, but those four could probably play 4-on-5 and win well over half their games. This is absolutely where he would go if he cared only about basketball. Even if he signs there for one year this year and then resigns for a max deal next year, though, he would make about $60 million less over the term of the deal than he would be staying at home. The deck is really stacked against him doing something interesting here.
San Antonio (+1000): I would love to see this happen just because I would love to see Durant in the incredible system they run in San Antonio. The problem, though, is the realities of time. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli are ancient. They might have a year or two left. When they are gone it would be very tough to replace them with equivalent players at the price. He'd risk being on a declining team just when he wants to shine. He could win a title there next year, but is that enough? Texas doesn't have a state tax, which could make a difference financially.
Boston (+1600): The Celtics have an outstanding coach, and they won 48 games last year. They could add Durant without having to make any real changes. He'd be joining a whole lot of potential, and they are young and could grow. Does Durant want to be a mentor and babysitter, though? And is the rest of the core here good enough with him to be any better than what he has now? I'm doubtful.
New York (+1200): The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony - a close friend of Durant. They are in the most exciting city in the country. And that's literally all they have going for them. The roster is a mess. They change coaches yearly. Phil Jackson is a brilliant coach who is a horrific manager. They have an identity crisis that has been raging for a decade now. There is no good reason for Durant to make this choice.
Miami (+1400): If he likes South Beach a lot then this would make sense. Otherwise I don't see it. They will have to dismantle the team, shipping out guys like Whiteside and Deng, to pay Durant. That means that Durant would be betting everything on Bosh's health, Wade's knees, and Goran Dragic. That doesn't sound like a good bet to me.
L.A. Clippers (+2500): The Clippers can't afford him under the cap. The scenario that gets the most attention is a sign and trade involving Blake Griffin, who could go back home to Oklahoma. The Clippers with Griffin have not been good enough to be a viable contender. Are they dramatically better with Durant? Chris Paul can also opt out next summer, so Durant would be taking a big risk here. This won't happen.
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