Why Durant and Stevens deserve each other
It is no secret that Kevin Durant’s free agency decision is the single most important move of this NBA off-season. Where Durant decides to set up shop has a huge influence on the direction many teams around the league go in and the types of contracts that other free agents are awarded. For these reasons, the league awaits the seven time All Star’s next move with baited breath.
The forward has made it clear that wherever he chooses to play next year, it will be purely for basketball reasons. For many people, ‘basketball reasons’ means moving to the team that make it easiest to win and that may be the case. The Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are teams that had spectacular regular seasons this year and are looking to offer Durant the opportunity to play with their already star-studded line-ups when they pitch to him this coming week.
For the last couple of years, the likely narrative for many has been that Durant will return to Oklahoma for one more year, with the view of becoming a free agent again next summer. This makes a lot of sense for Durant, as he will be able to make another run in the playoffs with the ever-growing unit that the Thunder have found themselves with and it allows him to sync his free agency movement with that of his elite team mate – Russell Westbrook.
If Durant wants to find a team that can offer him both a solid group of teammates and an ideal living situation for an elite athlete with unlimited marketing potential, there are two other teams ready to pitch him just that. Miami Heat have a history of signing big name players in free agency and boast a roster that includes skilled veterans such as Dwayne Wade alongside young talent in the form of Hassan Whiteside (should they manage to resign him) and Justise Winslow. The LA Clippers hope that they can bring Durant to Tinseltown to play alongside Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Deandre Jordan but would need to perform some impressive roster reshuffling, perhaps trading away one of the stars.
Whilst Durant’s hometown organization, the Washington Wizards have pinned their hope on signing him over the last few years, they have not been allowed a look in as the free agency period draws closer.
Another organization that previously seemed like an outsider for Durant’s services are the Boston Celtics. The Celtics have recently attempted to acquire top tier talent by trading their abundance of draft picks but some fans were left frustrated by the outcome, as they drafted a plethora of young talent, including the #3 pick – Jaylen Brown. Despite the recent frustration, Durant could do much worse than pulling on the famous green jersey.
Boston won forty eight games last year with a roster that included only one consistent scorer by the name of Isaiah Thomas, who had an incredible season but is believed to be an unrealistic leader for a contending team. Durant’s Thunder only won seven more than the Celtics, albeit in a much stronger Western Conference.
The Celtics offer Durant the chance to choose a fellow free agent for the team to chase, as they have the cap space to stretch to two max contract signings. They also wouldn’t need to completely gut their team in an attempt to make room for Durant, keeping their already solid unit intact. Celtics will continue to improve in the next few years without breaking the bank, reaping the benefits from the Brooklyn trade as they continue to gather top assets.
Whilst the Celtics have accumulated a lot of defensively aware guards that make them very difficult to play against and various players had spectacular performances throughout the year, it is generally believed that a large majority of their victories have come from a team cohesion and spirit created by their head coach – Brad Stevens. As well as their illustrious past and passionate fan-base, the Boston Celtics have to be sure to make it clear that Stevens is the ace up their sleeve if they are to have any chance of signing Durant when they pitch to him.
Under the reign of Scott Brooks, Durant was often seen to be lacking the opportunity to play under an adept head coach. Many in the media were critical of Brooks, claiming that he would prevent Durant and Westbrook from realizing their potential. Since the hiring of Billy Donovan, the feeling towards Thunder coaching staff has moved in a more positive direction. Donovan seemed to gain the trust of the players heading into the playoffs, where they managed to reach the Western Conference Finals and just lose out to the Warriors. Durant loved Scott Brooks and seemingly respects Donovan but he has to see playing under the much lauded Stevens as an incentive.
The former Butler head coach is only thirty nine years old and has already garnered praise from important figures of the game, which speaks for the way he demands respect without necessarily being the loudest in the room. Gregg Popovich has previously stated that he ‘respects the hell’ out of Stevens, while Steve Kerr has called his work ‘incredible’. Celtics management have recently secured Stevens with a long term agreement due to this incredible work, providing the team with ongoing stability and an opportunity to develop under Stevens for at least the next six years.
A source of much frustration for many watching OKC since Durant and Westbrook’s arrival has been the way in which the league developed around them, while they continued to play an outdated style. Thunder have been known to depend too much on isolation plays, ordering players to clear out whilst one of the stars attempts to create a shot for themselves. Towards the end of Brooks’ tenure and certainly since Donovan has taken over, they have started to play a more frenetic style and pushed the ball more effectively but can often find themselves slipping back into their old ways.
Stevens has gained a reputation as a coach that can create something from nothing. He is systematically sound and extremely creative when drawing up plays. Stevens takes a methodical approach to his job, whilst staying open to new ideas. He is believed to have won many games for the team, designing plays to get scorers open when it matters. It is clear that he is never out of ideas when the team needs him.
Durant was put on this earth to make big shots. He is so physically gifted that he has the ability to match up against almost any kind of player, big or small. Whilst carrying the offensive burden alongside Westbrook, Durant has been the embodiment of efficiency during his time in Oklahoma and has hit countless important shots in the stretch. Stevens’ ability to create from the side-line deserves a player like Durant to execute consistently and Durant deserves someone to be able to put him in the position to do so.
Jordan Crawford, Evan Turner and Jonas Jerebko will attest to Stevens’ ability to bring the best out of players that may not have been given opportunities elsewhere. The former DePauw man led Crawford to the Eastern Conference Player Of The Week, has galvanized the #2 pick Turner, who many had written off and brought Jerebko from the Detroit bench into a strong Boston second unit, occasionally drawing up plays for him. If Stevens can inspire those players to play at a high level due to his personable nature and knowledge of the game, what could he do with a natural talent and elite athlete like Durant?
On July 1st, the free agency period begins and the basketball world awaits Durant’s monumentally important decision. The Boston Celtics will just be holding out hope that the idea of playing for Stevens is as appealing to Durant as the idea of Durant coming to Boston is to their fans.
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