In the summer of 2014, the Washington Wizards were dreaming of signing Kevin Durant two years before he was to become a free agent. LeBron had just gone “home” to Cleveland, and the Wizards hired one of Durant’s high school assistant coaches.
We’re a little over four months away from Durant becoming a free agent, and the Wizards are struggling (25-28, 10th in the East). Meanwhile, the NBA’s glamour franchise is teeming with young talent. The Lakers boast D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson – all 23 or younger – plus Kobe will be retiring, and coach Byron Scott will almost certainly be replaced. With the 2nd worst record in the NBA, the Lakers could win the draft lottery and land LSU star Ben Simmons.
Are the Lakers more attractive to Durant than the Wizards? Who has the inside track on Durant at this moment? Neither, according to The Vertical’s NBA insider, Adrian Wojnarowski. He joined me on my Fox Sports Radio show Saturday morning and had this to say when asked about Durant’s free agency (the Lakers/Durant/Warriors talk begins at 42:30):
Q: Let’s just say the Lakers win the lottery – right now, they have the 2nd worst record – what are the chances that influences Kevin Durant’s offseason decision? I know it’s early, but we’ve seen the Wizards struggle. They’re not a playoff team in the East. Will getting the #1 pick …
Woj: Washington and the Lakers, they are not frontrunners for Kevin Durant. He wants to win a championship. If he leaves Oklahoma – he may end up staying there – Golden State is the team that is worrisome for Oklahoma City. That’s the team that has Kevin Durant’s attention … Kevin Durant wants to win a Championship right away. Either he wants to do that in Oklahoma City, with the group they have, or he’s going to go somewhere he can win a title right away.
Kevin Durant doesn’t care if they have the 1st pick, 2nd pick, 3rd pick … no free agent cares. No free agent of his stature cares what draft pick the team has, because that guy’s not going to help them win a Championship in the next 2-3 years. If Kevin Durant leaves Oklahoma – if he leaves – he wants to be ready to win a Championship right away. He’s at a point in his career [where] he can’t wait 2-3 years or wait for a team to build or hope that it happens.
Part of his criteria, sources tell me: Is that team good enough to beat Golden State with me on it? Or is it Golden State? Or can I stay in Oklahoma and continue to compete for a Championship? The thing with the Thunder is, you never know how close you might be to a title. It’s very true … Are they good enough defensively?
[A few sentences later] I just don’t think the Lakers are a real significant factor for Kevin Durant.”
That’s the harsh reality, Lakers fans. Durant turns 28 in September. It’s easy to forget how bad the Sonics/Thunder were for his first two years as the team was building.
Durant led the league in scoring for three of four years in his early 20s, went to the Finals, suffered the trade of James Harden, and his 2014-2015 season was ruined by injuries.
The years add up quickly. Just ask LeBron, who went through something similar: Those first two losing seasons, then a trip to the Finals, doesn’t return as the Cavs couldn’t build around him, led the league in scoring, and at 25 years old realized it was time to chase a title with better players, so he left for Miami. He won two rings in four years with the Heat and now he’s back in Cleveland.
So let’s not get angry at Durant if he bolts for the Warriors – Woj wrote earlier this month about the possibility – because who wouldn’t want to play with the two-time defending champs?