It has been less than 24 hours since the Oklahoma City Thunder were eliminated from the playoffs, but it seems that everyone is talking about Kevin Durant’s future.
Durant will be one of the most sought-after free agents this summer, and there is no guarantee that he will stay in Oklahoma City. While the possibility of staying with the Thunder is there, Durant has offered no details on his thought process up until this point.
The fact that one of the bigger headlines following last night’s Game 7 defeat is Durant and his upcoming free agency, and not the fact that the Thunder blew a 3-1 series lead, speaks volumes to how important Durant is to the franchise.
Durant has been asked his thoughts on his free agency in one way or another all season long. Everything he has said on the subject has been heavily scrutinized, especially when asked about certain teams that are considered the favorites to land him.
Just minutes after the Thunder’s loss last night, Durant was again asked about this summer and what his plans are.
“To be honest, I promise you I haven’t thought about that,” Durant told USA Today. “It’s hard to think about that. Especially right now, especially when you’re battling every single day. It’s hard. Give me a couple weeks and talk to me then, but I just don’t know right know, man.”
Durant is expected to be courted this summer by several teams, including the Washington Wizards, Miami HEAT, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors among others.
The fact that teams are interested in signing Durant should come as no surprise. He was the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2014, and is one of the best players in the game today. It should also come as no surprise that Durant will meet with several teams this summer. As a free agent, it’s smart to do his due diligence – meeting with teams to hear their sales pitch.
Durant has maintained all season long the stance that he hasn’t thought about his plans this summer. There’s no question that he faces one of the most important decisions of his career. The Thunder organization (formerly the Seattle SuperSonics) is the only one that Durant has known and he will have to decide if the grass is really greener elsewhere.
Trying to predict where Durant might land has been challenging. One of the most-commonly asked questions NBA writers receive while speaking on sports talk shows across the country is, “Where will Durant ultimately land?” The answers are purely conjecture at this point, as Durant is likely the only one who knows what he wants to do. He said prior to the start of the season not to believe anyone except his close circle of advisers.
“I’ve got two people that I trust with my life: my agent and my manager, who’s my best friend as well,” Durant said back in October. “I trust them with my life. So if you hear sources or anything, don’t believe it if it didn’t come from them. I tell them everything. It’s not true if you didn’t hear it from Charlie Bell (Durant’s manager), Rich Kleiman (agent) or Kevin Durant.”
Durant’s message to fans regarding unnamed sources still hasn’t stopped some from publishing rumors regarding his free agency. Rumors have still surfaced, which has created even more buzz heading into this summer. While every team in the league has interest in signing Durant, the teams Durant will meet with will speak to where his mind is at.
We saw DeAndre Jordan nearly join the Dallas Mavericks last summer before he ultimately decided to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. Jordan’s change of heart at the last second proves just how hard these free agency decisions can be for a player. Jordan had grown comfortable living in Los Angeles and didn’t want to leave what he had created with the Clippers.
One player spoke to Basketball Insiders recently regarding his upcoming free agency and he still was unsure what he was going to do. Most players are often so focused on the regular season and the work that goes into playing that they avoid the off-of-the-court matters until the offseason. These free agents often don’t want to begin looking ahead because they feel like they’ll let their teammates down by not being 100 percent committed to the season.
Regardless of where Durant will ultimately land, he will have a number of different contract options to work with. He can re-sign with the Thunder this summer for another five years or he can sign elsewhere for four years. He just completed his ninth season in the league and is eligible to earn 30 percent of the expected $92 million cap number next season. A five-year max-contract offer from the Thunder would be worth $150.2 million, while every other team can only offer $110.9 million over four years.
Durant can also take the route that we’ve seen LeBron James take over the past couple of seasons and sign a two-year deal with the Thunder this summer (with an opt-out after the first season) in order to take advantage of the rising salary cap. If he waits until next summer when he will have 10 years in the league, he will be eligible for 35 percent of the salary cap that is estimated to be around $108 million. If Durant takes this route, a max-contract for him would be worth $208.1 million over five years.
Most players who are set to hit free agency consider all of their options when choosing where to sign. Variables like money, playing time, teammates, coaches and how good a team is are all factors that players must think about. Durant just signed a new contract with Nike that is reportedly going to pay him $300 million over 10 years, so it remains to be seen if money will be a factor in his decision this summer.
If Durant waits until next summer before signing a long-term deal, he’d also be able to time his free agency up with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. It’s clear at this point that Durant has a ton of options available to him, and won’t have to make a decision until free agency begins on July 1.
In his last press conference of the season last night, Durant spoke very highly of the Thunder organization and his teammates. He said he sees bright things ahead for the team and is excited to be apart of them. Although he has the option to leave this summer, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see him stay in Oklahoma City for the foreseeable future.
PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.
NBA Daily: The Cleveland Cavaliers Need Tyronn Lue
The Cleveland Cavaliers have faced injury adversity and a roster shakeup, and now face uncertainty regarding coach Tyronn Lue’s health.
The most enduring image of Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue came moments after his team sealed the 2016 NBA Finals with a third consecutive win after trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-1. As the team celebrated its historic comeback and readied to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, one camera focused on Lue, who sat on the bench with his face buried in his hands.
— Buddy Grizzard (@BuddyGrizzard) June 20, 2016
The image tells a thousand words about the pressure Lue was under as Cleveland teetered on the brink of elimination for three games. Rather than sharing the euphoria of his players, it seemed that Lue’s emotions centered around the massive weight that had been lifted from his shoulders. Almost two years later, it appears that burden has caught back up with Lue, whose leave of absence for health reasons complicates things for Cleveland with the playoffs just around the corner.
“It’s like losing one of your best players,” said Cavaliers forward LeBron James after Cleveland’s 124-117 win at home over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.
Kevin Love returned from a six-week injury absence to post 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Bucks. James likened Lue’s absence to the burden of trying to replace Love’s output while he was unavailable.
“We’ve got to have guys step up, just like guys trying to step up in Kev’s absence,” said James. “We have to do the same as a collective group as long as Ty needs to get himself back healthy.”
There’s optimism that Lue could return before the playoffs, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty given the seriousness of his symptoms, which reportedly included coughing up blood. Lead assistant Larry Drew, a former head coach with the Bucks and Hawks, will handle head coaching responsibilities until Lue is ready to return.
Kyle Korver played under Drew in Atlanta and said he’s confident in his ability to fill in.
“We’d love to have Ty here and healthy,” said Korver after the Bucks win. “Coach Drew has done this for a long time as well. He coached me for a full year in Atlanta. We know he’s fully capable.”
Korver also doubted Drew would introduce any major stylistic changes.
“I think LD’s been Ty’s top assistant for a reason,” said Korver. “They really think a lot alike. They coach very similarly. We miss Ty, but I think the style of what we do is going to be very similar.”
While style and approach should remain unchanged, what could an extended absence for Lue mean for the Cavaliers? Lue cemented his legacy as a leader by keeping the Cavaliers together as they fought back from a 3-1 deficit to the Warriors, but Drew hasn’t had that kind of success as a head coach.
In 2012, the Hawks had a real opportunity to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in Atlanta history. The Hawks faced an aging Boston Celtics squad in the first round. The eighth-seed Philadelphia 76ers awaited in the second round after defeating the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.
After splitting the first two games in Atlanta, the Hawks faced a pivotal Game 3 in Boston with the opportunity to retake home court advantage. Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer Michael Cunningham used Synergy Sports to break down every offensive possession for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. His conclusion? For three quarters, Rondo did not score a single basket while guarded by Hawks combo guard Kirk Hinrich.
The Hawks traded a package that included a former and a future first-round pick to obtain Hinrich from the Wizards in 2011. But in Game 3, Hinrich failed to score a point despite his effective defense. Apparently feeling the need for an offensive spark, Drew left Hinrich on the bench in the fourth quarter and turned to career journeyman Jannero Pargo.
With Hinrich out of the game, Rondo’s offense came to life as he slashed to the basket at will. Boston opened the fourth with a 13-7 run before Pargo went to the bench and Atlanta closed on a 15-7 run to force overtime. The NBA did not publish net rating data at the time, but we can now see via historical data that the Hawks were outscored by nearly 52 points per 100 possessions in Pargo’s minutes in Game 3. Rather than entrust Atlanta’s season and his own legacy to a player the Hawks traded two first-round picks to obtain, Drew went with Pargo, a career end-of-bench player.
What does this mean for the Cavaliers? It means the team needs to get Lue back. Drew and Lue are both former NBA players who have received mixed reviews as head coaches. But when his legacy was on the line, Lue pushed the right buttons.
For Drew’s part, in his first postgame press conference since Lue’s absence was announced, he remained publicly deferential.
“Coach Lue is the one who makes that decision,” said Drew when asked about lineup combinations. “That’s not my call. We look at a lot of different combinations — whether guys are starting or whether they are coming off the bench — and we assess everything.”
On the critical question of how lineups will be fine-tuned as the Cavaliers prepare for the playoffs, Drew once again emphasized Lue’s active role even as he steps away from the bench.
“I’ll talk to Ty,” said Drew. “He’s got the final say-so. Whatever he wants, then that’s what we’re going to go with. But if he tells me to make a decision, then I’ll have to make the decision.”
With Lue suffering acute symptoms, there’s no way of knowing when he will be ready to step back into the pressure cooker of a leading role for a team with championship aspirations. But the Cavaliers need him and need his steadying influence and instincts. Cleveland is a team that has battled through injuries and a major roster overhaul at the trade deadline. It also faces the pressure of James’ impending free agency decision this summer.
Now, with the playoffs just around the corner, the Cavaliers must endure uncertainty about Lue’s ability to return and lead the team. James has emphasized that Lue’s health overshadows any basketball concerns, but gave his most terse remark when asked about learning that Lue would step away on the same day Cleveland finally got Love back.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” said James. “That was my reaction.”
A Breakout Season for Joe Harris
Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.
The NBA is all about second chances. Sometimes players need a change of scenery, or a coach who believes in them, or just something different to reach their full potential. They may be cast aside by several teams, but eventually, they often find that right situation that allows them to flourish.
Such was the case for Joe Harris. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Harris rarely saw the court during his time in Cleveland. He averaged about 6.4 minutes per game over the course of about one and a half seasons with the Cavaliers.
During the 2015-16 season, his second in Cleveland, he underwent season-ending foot surgery. Almost immediately after, the Cavaliers traded him to the Orlando Magic in an attempt to cut payroll due to luxury tax penalties. He would never suit up for the Magic as they cut him as soon as they traded for him.
After using the rest of that season to recover from surgery, he would sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2016. He had a very strong first season in Brooklyn, but this season he’s truly broken out.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just the right situation in terms of circumstances. It’s a young team where you don’t really have anybody on the team that’s going out and getting 20 a night,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a collective effort most nights and it can be any given person depending on the situation. It’s one of those things where we’re real unselfish with the ball. A lot of guys get a lot of good looks, so your production is bound to go up just because of the system now that we’re playing.”
Known primarily as a sharpshooter in college at the University of Virginia as well as his first stop in Cleveland, Harris has started developing more of an all-around game. He’s improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as well as crashing the glass and playing strong defense.
In a relatively forgettable season record-wise for the Nets, Harris has been one of their bright spots. He’s putting up 10.1 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field while playing 25.4 minutes per game. He’s up to 40.3 percent from the three-point line and he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds. All of those numbers are career-highs.
“My role, I think, is very similar to the way I would be anywhere that I was playing. I’m a shooter, I help space the floor for guys to facilitate,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “I’m opportunistic offensively with drives and such. I’m out there to try and space the floor, knock down shots, and then play tough defensively and make sure I’m doing my part in getting defensive rebounds and that sort of stuff.”
Although Harris didn’t play much in Cleveland, he did show glimpses and flashes of the player he has blossomed into in Brooklyn. He saw action in 51 games his rookie year while knocking down 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
He also saw action in six playoff games during the Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 Finals. But more importantly, it was the off the court things that Harris kept with him after leaving Cleveland. The valuable guidance passed down to him from the Cavaliers veteran guys. It’s all helped mold him into the indispensable contributor he’s become for the Nets.
“Even though I wasn’t necessarily playing as much, the experience was invaluable just in terms of learning how to be a professional,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “The approach, the preparation, that sort of stuff. That’s why I learned a lot while I was there. All those good players that have had great, great, and long careers and just being able to kind of individually pick their brains and learn from them.”
When Harris came to Brooklyn two years ago, he initially signed a two-year deal with a team option after the first year. When he turned in a promising 2016-17 season, it was a no-brainer for the Nets to pick up his option. Set to make about $1.5 million this season, Harris’ contract is a steal.
However, he’s headed for unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer. Although he dealt with being a free agent before when he first signed with the Nets, it’s a different situation now. He’s likely going to be one of the most coveted wings on the market. While there’s still a bit more of the regular season left, and free agency still several months away, it’s something Harris has already thought about. If all goes well, Brooklyn is a place he can see himself staying long-term.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things that I’ll worry about that sort of decision when the time comes. But I have really enjoyed my time in Brooklyn,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great organization with a lot of good people, and they try and do stuff the right way. I enjoy being a part of that and trying to kind of rebuild and set a good foundation for where the future of the Brooklyn Nets is.”