Superofficial Subjective Gut Feelings about Kevin Durant’s Hypothetical Wizards Future | Truth About It.net

Superofficial Subjective Gut Feelings about Kevin Durant’s Hypothetical Wizards Future

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Updated: July 21, 2014

[Kevin Durant past John Wall in D.C. -- photo: K. Weidie]

The furor behind a fever pitch for Kevin Durant coming to play professional basketball in Washington, D.C., in 2016 is reaching a crescendo of discomfort.

This is the same Durant that many in the DMV area are rooting for to win an NBA championship.

I passionately wanted Durant’s Thunder to beat the Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals. Sure, part of that was rooting against Miami, but Durant was also the good guy, the humble superstar worth rooting for. He chose to return to Oklahoma City via tweet the summer prior; LeBron had his much-maligned, much-regretted made-for-television decision. While I pulled for the Spurs to beat the Thunder in this past season’s Western Conference Finals, I would’ve once again hoped for a Thunder victory had they had their own rematch against the Heat in 2014. And this time I think OKC would have won.

But here we now stand. Durant is championship-less in the Midwest and his team’s future, while bright in a capsule, has more questions than not in a cloudy West. Do Scott Brooks, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder brass have what it takes to make it? And by ‘it’, I mean making Oklahoma City a continued attractive destination where Durant thinks he can win a title.

Loyalty can be fleeting when the window for a professional athlete is closing. And team loyalty certainly means nothing to the thousands in the Washington metro area with No. 35 Thunder jerseys. If they had it their way, “Durant” would be on both the front and back. And yet, their individual fandom cannot always usurp location. Of course they would rather Durant play in their own backyard. But does this mean rooting for Durant to fail in the present? That’s the rub.

If Oklahoma City falters over the next two seasons leading up to Durant’s scheduled unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2016, well, fine. Splendid, in a sense.

If the Thunder somehow win a championship, or even two, or even simply make the NBA Finals two years in a row, and lose both times, happiness will be felt for Durant’s accomplishment (well, perhaps not so much if he comes up short twice in the Finals, which would make three Finals losses in his career … but I’m not so sure that kind of failure pushes Durant out of OKC and into the arms of another suitor).

We are only about 800 days removed from former All-Star Gilbert Arenas’ last NBA game, a less-than-three-minute appearance in the playoffs for Memphis back in May of 2012. We are about 712 days from the start of free agency in 2016. Groaning about LeBron’s first “Decision” had finally tapered off, just in time for the shoulder-rubbing after “Decision 2.0″ to begin. Things can change so fast.

Is the current summertime buzz about a potential Durant return to the District in the far off future just a bit too much? Yes.

Is it inevitable? Certainly. Especially when the Wizards hiring the guy who coached Durant in high school fuels the fire (and allows blogs to trip over themselves to let us know ‘what it means’). And also: pretty much every move Washington has made this summer has been to increase depth for a team that might suddenly contend in a re-landscaped Eastern Conference while allowing for flexibility exactly two years down the road.

The Wizards will most certainly have $45.9 million dedicated to paying John Wall, Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter in 2016-17. Bradley Beal could sign a four-year extension in the summer of 2015 that would kick in for the 2016-17 season and keep him a Wizard through 2019-20 (or the Wizards could wait to sign Beal to a new contract under restricted free agency in the summer of 2016). Washington will also likely be able to wipe over $12 million in contracts off the books via the non-guaranteed or team-optioned salaries of Martell Webster, DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries for 2016-17.

The flexibility is there; the Wizards are smartly hedging their bets within a two-year window—a seemingly righteous path under the new, still-being-discovered CBA, especially with a new television deal likely to kick in for 2016. Positioning for Durant sounds nice … almost too good to be true. Have we mentioned that a lot can happen in two years? But if not Durant, then a Wizards team with increasing clout will be able to do something with that flexibility. There will be other free agents (Al Horford, Nic Batum, maybe Kevin Love or Thaddeus Young) and/or potential trades.

Hopes for Durant can never really be over-extended because there is no pressure for him to bring a championship to Washington, only pressure to bring a championship to himself and his current team. And unlike LeBron, there is not a scorned District just waiting for Durant to make it up to them while they hold a lighter in their other hand, ready to send his jersey up in flames.

The real story here is not Kevin Durant at all. The real story is the patient cultivation of relevance that’s going on in D.C. and the fact that the team isn’t mortgaging the future to accomplish it. If the franchise gets a little smarter each year, Washington won’t need Kevin Durant, but Kevin Durant might need a new town. And as LeBron just showed us, a homecoming makes a hell of a story.

Four TAI staffers—Dan Diamond, Conor Dirks, Rashad Mobley, and John Converse Townsend—were polled about Kevin Durant, the Wizards, and the recent hubbub over much ado about much ado. Let’s pixelate… –Kyle W.

 


#1) What do you make of the building Kevin Durant-to-D.C. hype, especially in light of Stephen A. Smith’s recent “report”?

Dan Diamond (@DDiamond):

The story itself is totally justified.

Players study players. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh teamed up in Miami, so other stars tried to replicate the model. Carmelo forced a trade to New York; Dwight did the same with L.A.

Now LeBron’s going home. So does mega-star Durant want to come to D.C. in two years?

I don’t know how much “hype” that question is getting, but I know it’s legitimate to ask.

Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):

LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the two best basketball players on the planet. LeBron James has a hometown. He recently decided to play professional basketball in a city near his hometown. Kevin Durant also has a hometown. The professional basketball team he would play for, were he to return to his hometown, would be the Washington Wizards. That’s pretty much it.

The Stephen A. Smith “report” is as cautious as Stephen A. Smith reports come, a surprising bit of circumspection from a media member some would expect to willfully stir a pot long before the requisite ingredients are in place.

That fans in and around the District are excited by the mere mention of such is not surprising. The area isn’t exactly known for its loyalty to the local team, but many individuals do own televisions, and are willing to watch the “big games.” Big games might be more commonplace with Kevin Durant in town.

Some folks just love a story, too, and life is unequivocally hard, so don’t begrudge anyone an escape as long as it doesn’t hurt other people. Does adding @KDTrey5 to your tweet of Durant in a Wizards jersey hurt anyone? Maybe Mr. Durant’s ability to use his iPhone’s Twitter application and individuals who pray at the church of #FactsOnly. Otherwise, it’s not like fans are sacrificing virgins on prom night in front of their kittens.

Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20):

It is certainly expected. First, as Jeff Pearlman recently observed, in today’s journalistic landscape, all that’s needed is a scintilla of evidence or a slight innuendo that something may be true to concoct a semi-believable story. With all due respect for Dan Steinberg and Stephen A., that story seems to follow that blueprint.

But in fairness to them both, it isn’t just hype, it is real. Don’t believe me? Read this introduction to David Aldridge’s NBA.com “Morning Tip” piece, where he personalizes his reaction to LeBron James’ return to the Cleveland Cavaliers by mentioning his hesitation to leave D.C. in a professional capacity. Here’s an excerpt:

After ESPN decided it was time for me to move on, I got a job with the Philadelphia Inquirer covering the NFL. They asked if I would move up to Philly. I said no. I live in Washington. They graciously offered me the job anyway. I drove up to Philly two or three days a week to write, then drove or took the train back to D.C.

Thankfully, Turner Sports has never asked me to move to Atlanta, its base of operations. It would be difficult. Washington, D.C. is my home. I grew up here. I went to college here. I met my wife here. My children were born here. I live here, and so does most of my immediate family.

So, LeBron James does not have to explain Decision 2.0 to me.

You don’t get to choose when you’re born, or where. But most people have the choice of where to live when they’re adults. There are people who love seeing the world, who move from place to place without a care, happy for the next adventure, wherever it is.

I am not one of those people.

A story like Stephen A. Smith’s plays on the emotions of those who feel like D.C. may have that same type of gravitational pull on Durant. After all, we’re talking about a man who has a Maryland tattoo, and one who has dazzled hundreds if not thousands of fans at Barry Farms in Southeast Washington, D.C.

But the most important part of this hyped story is the month it was written and reported: July. The World Cup is over; the big free agent names have committed to their respective teams; the NBA Summer League is OK, but 80 percent of the players won’t be on NBA rosters; and football has yet to start. Sports fans—and in this case, D.C. sports fans—are so hungry for a story to chew on, that the good folks here at TAI could start a Gilbert Arenas-is-coming-back-to-D.C.-again rumor and it would have legs.

John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend):

It’s entertaining, but it isn’t all that interesting that Smith reported D.C. is “a place that [Durant] would consider.” … Especially given Smith made sure to add that there are no indications that Durant plans to leave Oklahoma City.

 


#2) A lot can happen in two years… Is the current hype warranted or overboard? (And is this like rooting for a divorce while the couple is still in counseling?)

Dan Diamond (@DDiamond):

Define “overboard.” From my vantage point, KD’s future free agency is like the 40th most important story in the NBA the past two weeks, if that. And at best, the fifth or sixth biggest Wizards story after the Gortat, Ariza, and Pierce moves and all the summer league happenings with Porter and Rice.

So is it getting the proportionate amount of coverage? Sure, people are talking about it, but not on the level of Gortat’s signing, say.

Ultimately it’s warranted, I think.

Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):

It’s overboard. But then again, acting completely insane and shamelessly groveling in supplication at the proverbial feet of a basketball player who happens to have grown up in your neck of the woods is the only proven way to land a top 2 basketball player in this day and age. You might think that LeBron James was annoyed by the guy who ran up to him on the basketball court with a custom T-shirt saying “We miss you” when Miami played in Cleveland. You’d be wrong. He loves that guy, followed him on Twitter, and they still run into each other sometimes. It’s unclear whether Durant has the same kind of baggage, but complete lunacy has documented results. That is, of course, if you discount all the other reasons Lebron “went home.”

Still, I’m pleased and surprised that the Wizards seem to be preparing for the moment. It’s all you can do, and I’m glad the team is moving in that direction by limiting deals (like those of Pierce, Humphries, and Blair) to two years of guaranteed money.

Losing Ariza was a blessing in disguise, as his four-year contract would have made it much more difficult for the Wizards to pivot and clear space in 2016, which may have resulted in the loss of a key asset like Beal due to cap constraints if the Wizards wanted a shot at Durant. As of now, the Wizards will have $34.8 million committed in the summer of Durant’s free agency, leaving enough money and maneuverability under the CBA to offer Durant a max contract while still retaining Beal.

And listen, it’s very possible that Kevin Durant has no interest in leaving Oklahoma City, ever. The Thunder’s core of Westbrook and Ibaka will still be very young, and OKC will have even more money than Washington available to pay Durant and other free agents that summer. That’s fine. There are other targets in 2016, like Al Horford, who could elevate the franchise in a significant (if less dramatic) way.

Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20):

It is slightly warranted considering LeBron James just won over the Internet, the basketball world, and even the casual fans (my mother sent me four emails about LeBron after “The Decision 2.0″), by choosing to return to the Cavaliers. It is only logical that those same collection of folks would bet on the second-best player following suit. And given the Thunder’s inability to replace James Harden and advance back to the NBA Finals, it isn’t at all a stretch to think that two more years of disappointment would lead Durant right into the waiting arms of the Wizards with John Wall, Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat.

The flip-side to that argument—and the reason this hype is weighted toward the overboard side—is that Durant is fiercely loyal. He had a chance to bolt the Thunder via free agency in 2010, and he tweeted his decision to do otherwise. He’s had opportunities to throw his seemingly overwhelmed coach (Scott Brooks) and his exceedingly confident, shot-happy teammate (Russell Westbrook) under the bus, and he’s never done so publicly. Even during his MVP speech, when Durant had every right to be selfish, he made a point to thank Brooks and Westbrook. That’s not exactly the profile a man who would be inclined to bail for home. LeBron’s departure in 2010 made his recent return home a possibility, Durant’s path has been different thus far.

And who knows, Durant and Westbrook could take THAT leap, slay the West, then the East in the NBA Finals, and find themselves defending champions, for not one but two years in a row. Not even the allure of representing Suitland at the Verizon Center would be enough to tear Durant and his championship squad away from OKC.

John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend):

The hype is a bit much…

Surely other NBA players also want to live a LeBron James “moment”? Carmelo Anthony just signed a five-year deal in New York, so he won’t be “coming home” to the DMV any time soon. But what about Rudy Gay? Or Greivis Vasquez, another local product, who’ll be a free agent in 2016?

I’m not missing the point. Durant is the second-best player in the league, so when a talking head says he may be changing teams in a couple years, of course pixels will fly like golf-ball-sized hail in Russia. But Durant doing just fine in the land of Thunderball.

#Pray4KD if you must, but realize it’s like rooting for a happily married couple to divorce.

 


#3) While we’re pixeling and irrationally prognosticating, might as well consider the unscientific chances. What say you? The chances that Durant ends up a Wizard in 2016 are ___ percent?

Dan Diamond (@DDiamond):

Thirty percent—which is a lot, when you step back and think about where the ‘Zards were just a year ago.

It seems like nearly everything rests on how OKC and the Wizards perform the next two years, and who’s on their rosters when KD’s making his decision.

But I bet these three factors will play a role, too:

(1) How the LeBron return to Cleveland goes. If LBJ brings the Cavs an improbable championship, if he becomes a folk hero, that can’t be a bad model to follow.

(2) How Westbrook holds up. He used to seem indestructible; now he’s coming off three knee surgeries in eight months. And look to Miami to see how chronic knee problems can limit a player once known for his ridiculous athleticism and attacking the rim—and contribute to the early break-up of a championship contender.

(3) How the West playoffs specifically shake out. If OKC advances to the Finals in the next two years, perhaps this won’t be an issue.

But the sheer volume of awesome teams in the West means that a star like Durant faces a street fight to even get out of the first or second round. To wit: The Grizzlies were OKC’s first-round opponent this year—and they conceivably could’ve been the No. 1 seed in the East, if they switched conferences!

A soft landing in D.C., much like James’s move to Miami four years ago, might be his best shot at a ring.

Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):

Feeling like a regular Chris Sheridan here. I’m going with 20 percent. In other words, a good enough chance to go for it. It’s going to be a rough two years on the internet.

Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20):

The chances are 30 percent, and here’s why: Durant has to not win a title, become disgruntled with OKC, ignore the elaborate wooing from other teams from now until 2016, and then pick the Wizards. It isn’t out of the question, but a lot has to fall in line.

John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend):

Twenty percent.

“It’s about winning championships, and the first thing I got to get out of my head is ‘I’,” Durant told The Oklahoman last year. “It’s like, ‘I want to win a championship.’ It’s not about that because one guy doesn’t win it, two guys don’t win it, three guys don’t win it. So it’s about the whole team, the whole organization winning a championship.”

For Durant to suit up in red, white and blue, the Thunder will have to do everything but win when it matters most over the next two seasons. And the gangly gunner will have to be convinced that the Washington Wizards, from top to bottom, are a better-run franchise than his Thunder.

Tough sell.


 

[Kevin Durant from the DMV -- photo: K. Weidie]