Trade Durant?

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Players like John Stockton, Larry Bird, and David Robinson are rare in today’s NBA.

Why?

The aforementioned players played their entire NBA career with a single NBA franchise.

In today’s NBA, the shuffling of the deck and the movement of superstars has become commonplace. Players are often more concerned with chasing titles than remaining loyal to a certain city. Although there are certainly other examples, Karl Malone comes to my mind as one of the first players I can remember to skip town in a last-stitch effort to go title chasing. Rather than retire in the city that drafted him, Malone–along with Gary “The Glove” Payton–chose to join the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles to start the 2003-2004 campaign. However, the experiment failed, and Malone bumped heads with Kobe Bryant, which played a large part in the Lakers losing to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals.

Side note: Sure, Michael Jordan’s final NBA game wasn’t in a Bulls jersey, but Jordan’s time with the Wizards had far less to do with chasing titles and a lot more to do with MJ being unpredictable, while finding it difficult to leave the game for good. Michael had nothing left to prove by playing for the Wizards, so his situation was far different.

Sometimes, it’s front office personnel that plays a more significant role in the shuffling of the deck, however. For instance, Paul Pierce probably would have really liked to start and finish his career in Boston, but in order to expedite the rebuilding process, the Celtics opted to go young, move Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and start over.

Whether it’s the players or the front office personnel that promote the title-chasing attitude the most is a debate for another day, but the situation has clearly begun to manifest itself in Oklahoma City.

It almost seems irresponsible to talk about this early, but today began the serious speculation of whether or not the Oklahoma City Thunder would consider trading Kevin Durant at some point next season.

With Russell Westbrook playing out-of-his-mind basketball in Durant’s absence, many have speculated that the Thunder may benefit more from moving Durant and using the extra cap and roster space to deepen the roster. As a guest on Colin Cowherd’s show entitled The Herd, former NBA executive and current NBA analyst Tom Penn had this insight on the situation in Oklahoma City:

“I think this burst from Westbrook makes it likelier – much more likely – that Durant ultimately gets traded next year. 

Sam Presti has proven that he does not ever want to lose anybody for nothing. He traded James Harden a year early to avoid a potential luxury tax problem a year later.

The Kevin Durant drumbeat next year is going to be so loud … he will not commit early to OKC because the rules are against that.

If Sam Presti doesn’t that get that commitment, he’ll look to trade Kevin Durant. Looking at the performance of Westbrook and the team around Westbrook will make it easier for him to do that, potentially” (quote borrowed from/compiled by ESPN).

While trading Durant might make a certain amount of sense, it’s hard to forecast a plausible scenario that any type of trade goes down for a couple of reasons:

  1. It has been well-documented that Durant will likely explore free-agency in the summer of 2016, not only because it is the popular thing for superstars to do when their contract is up, but also because it makes the most sense for him financially. Even if Durant should choose to stay in OKC, his contract can be worth much more once the new collective bargaining agreement comes into effect, which won’t happen until the end of the 2015-2016 season. Bottom line: It’s in Durant’s best interests to wait until July 2016 to sign a contract, wherever that may be.
  2. Even if Oklahoma City decides to explore opportunities to trade Durant, it is very unlikely they’ll find a deal for him. Any team that would consider trading for Durant next season would be doing so with the understanding that Durant would be free to leave at season’s end. It would be a significant gamble for a team to take–similar to the gamble the Dallas Mavericks took acquiring Rajon Rondo (although Durant’s price would be much higher) from the Celtics with no indication that Rondo would re-sign in Dallas at season’s end. The best reassurance a team could get would be verbal, and we all know that verbal agreements don’t always hold a lot of weight in the NBA.
  3. Any team that trades for Durant would have to part with multiple players and draft picks, which, in turn, would decimate the team’s future. A team that acquires Durant would likely be left with Durant and not much talent to play alongside him, and we saw how this worked out long-term with Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks. This would make it all the more likely that Durant would get frustrated and bolt when the opportunity presented itself.
  4. Kevin Durant is smart. He knows how much bargaining power he has in the NBA, and he will use it to his advantage. As it is, Durant isn’t exactly in a bad situation in Oklahoma City, either. Durant knows that he is close to being able to compete for a title with the Thunder. That being said, there would be no reason for Durant to force a trade to a team like the Washington Wizards when he could just as easily join the team without decimating the roster in the following offseason. Carmelo Anthony knew there was no way he could compete for a title in Denver, resulting in him forcing a trade. The same is not true for Durant in Oklahoma City.

To sum it up, Kevin Durant has the power to basically hand pick the team he wants to play for next season, but he’s not going to jump the gun, force a trade, and decimate his future team by doing so. He’s also not going to tip his hand and commit to any team long-term, especially if he’s not particularly fond of playing there. Therefore, the likelihood of a team selling the farm to acquire Durant for half a season is low.

Furthermore, it is almost an absurd notion to think that a team with enough talent, when healthy, to compete for a title would trade arguably the second-best player in the NBA for some better-than-average role players and a few draft picks.

For most teams, the only significant benefit to acquiring Durant via trade next season is that, under NBA rules, the team that controls a player’s contract when that player enters free agency has the opportunity to offer the player a longer contract with more guaranteed money. However, Durant has indicated his desire to compete for a title. He is only 27 and still has many more years of max contract salary ahead of him, so it is doubtful that a less-than-elite team could persuade Durant to re-sign for the sake of money.

All signs point to the fact that Kevin Durant will finish 2016 in a Thunder jersey. After that, who knows?

However, the best way for Oklahoma City to keep Durant is to win a title. Fast.

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