When the Thunder came to the TD Garden on Wednesday night, rumors began to swirl that Kevin Durant could be coming to the Celtics this summer. When Durant and the Celtics are mentioned in the same sentence, we are likely to receive one of two reactions. The first comes from hopeful Celtics fans, who see Durant’s signing with Boston as a certainty and will be quick to crown the Celtics as the 2017 NBA Champions. The second reaction comes from just about everyone else, stemming from the media and branching out to fans of the NBA, including pessimistic Celtics fans, who scoff at the idea that Durant would ever consider Boston.
Hearing two opposite arguments on the same situation can leave fans confused, not knowing what to believe. Is Durant coming to Boston, or are Celtics fans delusional? In an argument that is so black and white, I am here to discuss the gray area.
To begin, lets look into the state of Durant’s current team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder are having a great season with both Durant and fellow superstar Russell Westbrook healthy this year. However, their season has been overshadowed by the historically great seasons of the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs. The Thunder are a combined 1-5 against the two teams this season. The Thunder made it to the NBA Finals in 2012, where they lost to the Miami Heat. However, they have failed to return to the NBA Finals since. There have been reports that Durant has an ultimatum with regards to his tenure with the Thunder, stating that the team must make the NBA Finals this season in order to keep him. Although Durant has denied these reports, it is food for thought. In order to make the NBA Finals, the Thunder would most likely have to defeat the Spurs in the Western Conference Semi-Finals, and then defeat the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. This is a daunting challenge to say the least.
Even if the Thunder fail to reach the Finals, they will remain the favorites to retain Durant this summer. the Thunder possess Durant’s Bird Right, meaning as his previous team, they can offer Durant more money per year than any other team, as well as one extra season. Also, Durant likes being in Oklahoma City, and leaving would mean leaving Russell Westbrook behind. Consider a return to the Thunder Durant’s most likely option.
However, there remains the possibility that the reports of an ultimatum are true, and if Durant does indeed plan to take his talents elsewhere, every team in the league will be interested in him, and because of a salary cap increase this summer, almost every team will have the cap room to make it happen. Among those will be his Western Conference competitors; the Warriors and the Spurs. The Warriors are seen as the favorite at this point to land Durant if he were to leave Oklahoma City. However, to fit Durant under the cap, Golden State would have to let go of almost all of their depth to make him fit, including Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, and Andre Iguodala. If the Warriors win the championship this year, they may think twice about altering the chemistry of a team that is a proven winner. The Spurs are sure to be interested in signing Durant, but could prove to be too difficult under their cap constraints.
The Los Angeles Clippers would have interest in Durant, and would be more than happy to trade Blake Griffin in a sign-and-trade deal with the Thunder in order to make the money work. The Houston Rockets will also be interested, giving Durant the opportunity to reunite with his former teammate James Harden. And you can’t rule out the Los Angeles Lakers, who hold the showtime appeal that has attracted so many star players in the past. However, going to any of these three teams would leave Durant in the same position he is in now; blocked from the Finals by the Warriors and the Spurs.
This leaves Durant with a very interesting option. Go East.
The Eastern Conference as of today has only one championship contender; the Cleveland Cavaliers led by Lebron James. Though there have been reports that teammates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are unhappy with their respective roles in Cleveland, the lack of a real threat among the remaining teams in the Eastern Conference make the Cavaliers a shoe-in for the Finals. However, adding Durant to one of the Eastern Conference would immediately make them a legitimate contender to dethrone Cleveland. The question is, which team would he join.
The Washington Wizards jump out as an obvious choice because Durant is from the Washington D.C. area. Choosing the Wizards would give him the opportunity to play with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The Miami Heat could be an option because we all know too well that Pat Riley has no problem attracting superstar talent. The Knicks could offer the chance to play in New York alongside Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. These options are all appealing for different reasons, but Durant could be looking in a different direction
The Celtic’s love for Kevin Durant reaches all the way back to his college days, when Danny Ainge was fined for sitting next to his mother at one of his games playing for the Texas Longhorns. It is widely believed throughout the league that the Celtics, given the opportunity, would have been the only team in the league to take Durant over Ohio State’s Greg Oden. And Durant knows that.
When asked about visiting Boston on Wednesday, Durant had some kind words for Boston and the Celtics organization, calling Boston a “family atmosphere” and the tradition of being a Celtic “second to none.”
Sure, Kevin Durant has respect for the Celtics and the city of Boston, but can they bring him the championship he has long coveted?
As of right now, the Celtics do not have a superstar for Durant to play with. To make it clear, without at least one superstar, the Celtics have zero chance of landing Durant. However, what they do have is an ability to add those superstars if they were to become available. Danny Ainge has spent the last three seasons hoarding young players and draft picks while maintaining cap flexibility, so when the time comes, they will be able to cash in. Danny Ainge has also been able to find the next great NBA coach in Brad Stevens, who has made a roster with no superstar talent into a top ten team in the NBA. So how do the Celtics sell this to Durant?
Assuming the Celtics decline to guarantee the contacts of Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko next year, the Celtics will have room to add two max contracts via free agency. One name to keep your eye on is Al Horford. You may recognize his name from trade rumors involving the Celtics this summer. It has been reported that the Celtics were reluctant to make a deal for Horford at the trade deadline because they were confident in landing Horford as a free agent this summer. Another interesting bit of information: Zach Lowe of ESPN says that Durant has a short list of players who really wants to play with. Among these players: Al Horford.
So the Celtics can meet with Durant and give him an opportunity to play with Horford, a player he has always wanted to play with, on an up and coming Celtics team, adding his name to the long Celtics tradition that is second to none in his mind. Not to mention, a much easier path to the NBA Finals, thanks to a weak Eastern Conference. So is this enough? Probably not, but the Celtics can make one last pitch.
Thanks to a trade with the Brooklyn Nets in 2013, the Celtics own Brooklyn’s draft pick each of the next three draft, including this years draft where the pick owed to Boston is projected to be a top five pick at least. The Celtics own two additional first rounders this season, as well as five second rounders. Along with young players like Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder, and more, the Celtics have the ability to overpay in a deal for a third superstar player. Among the names linked to the Celtics at the trade deadline are Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Jahlil Okafor, DeMarcus Cousins, Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler, and Paul George. The Celtics could attempt to overpay with an assortment of picks and prospects to pry one of these players from their respective teams.
The Celtics now go to Durant and offer him the opportunity to complete a new big three comprising of himself, Al Horford, and one of the superstars listed above, say Jimmy Butler, for example. If the trade for Butler was Smart, Crowder, and all three first rounders this draft. The Celtics could have a starting lineup of Isaiah Thomas, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, Al Horford, and Kelly Olynyk. Along with a strong bench and head coach Brad Stevens, this team would immediately become the superpower of the Eastern Conference, and most certainly a championship caliber team. Is this enough to get Durant to buy in?
More likely than not, it won’t be. Durant will have many different opportunities across the league, with almost every team in the NBA doing everything they can to convince him to chose them. He may very well decide to stay in Oklahoma City, where he has been for a long time and has grown accustomed too. Maybe he decides he likes what he has seen from the Warriors over the past two years and decides he wants to be a part of it. But maybe, just maybe, he decides to lead the next great Boston Celtics team to banner eighteen and beyond.
Am I crazy? Of course, I am.
Am I dreaming? Sure.
But, is it possible? You bet.