The defending champion Golden State Warriors are having more drama than they bargained for this early in the season. Kevin Durant has been at the center of the turmoil surrounding the Dubs after a heated altercation with teammate Draymond Green a couple of weeks ago. It has led to speculations that Durant will head off to another team once his contract is up in the summer.
After re-signing with the Warriors on a one-year deal last July, many believe that Durant wants to move to another team next season. With so many teams looking to recruit the 2014 MVP in the offseason, could he potentially consider a reunion with Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder?
It’s a reunion that was unlikely to happen down the line when you remember what happened in 2016. KD received so much hate from OKC fans when he signed with “the enemy.” The departure stung the fans so badly because of the “betrayal” by one of their own of going to the team that beat them just a few months earlier. It was not an unexpected response from the fans considering the circumstances.
But this was two years ago and, as they say, time heals all wounds. By now, some of the hatred has died down. Westbrook, who was antagonistic at first in his approach to Durant, has mellowed down and the two were seen buddying up during USA Team practice last July.
By the start of free agency next July, it will be three years already since Durant’s exodus from the team that drafted him. Before that time arrives, it’s almost a guarantee that Durant has thought carefully about his options as to where he will spend his next few years in the league. According to ESPN’s Chris Mannix during an appearance on The Herd with Colin Cowheard, he believes that the nine-time NBA All-Star will ponder a future with Oklahoma City given the chance.
Mannix sounds quite convincing given the options ahead of Durant and how all the other teams aren’t as attractive compared to a return to the Thunder.
In Durant’s Own Words
After his first championship last season, Durant spoke with much appreciation about his time in OKC and how wrong he was about his approach to the hatred he received when he left the team.
In an interview with Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher, the Warriors star forward spoke apologetically and with much love toward the organization and the people that comprise it:
“Those people really mean a lot to me to this day,” Kevin Durant says. “No matter if they talk to me or they’re mad at me. Whether it’s Sam Presti or Troy Weaver or Russell Westbrook or Nick Collison. Whether it’s Wilson Taylor or Clay Bennett and his family, I love them from the bottom of my heart. We’re not talking, but eventually we will.
“I didn’t have that perspective at first. I didn’t have it when I went back to OKC. I was like, ‘F–k all of them.’ I didn’t have it when they gave my number away. I was, ‘F–k all of them.’ My best friend works for the team, I told him, ‘F–k all y’all. That’s f–ked up.’ Then I had to get out of my head, tell myself, ‘It’s not that serious, it is what it is.’ I understand it’s not my number anymore, they can do whatever they want with it, but you hand that number to a two-way player, you’ve got to be, like, ‘Nah, we’ve got too many good memories with this number, man.’ But at some point, that thing’s going to be in the rafters anyway; it’s all good. I did something they didn’t like. They did something I didn’t like. S–t happens. If I was on my death bed, I guarantee you Sam Presti and Russell Westbrook would come check on me. So I’m going to look at it that way rather than the other way.”
More than that, Durant boldly declared that, “I am OKC. I’m still OKC. That blue is going to be in my blood forever.”
No matter which angle you look at that statement, there’s no way that anyone will think that he’s done with OKC. It sounds as if his love story with the city and the franchise has endured despite the painful divorce between player and team. This is why many believe that Durant will be returning perhaps as early as next season.
Speaking of next year, there is a huge obstacle in getting Durant back in the blue and orange jersey in the 2018-19 season.
Salary Cap Issues
Next season, the Thunder have $149,681,043 in total cap allocations via Sportrac. That’s $40,681,043 over the projected $109 million 2019-20 NBA maximum salary cap. If there is anything that can prevent a Durant reunion with the Thunder, it’s the team’s salary situation.
Among the biggest contracts that OKC has committed to its players are those of Westbrook, who will be receiving $38,506,482, Paul George with $33,005,556, and Steven Adams with $25,842,697. These three players alone total $97,354,735 already and that amount is just less than $12 million below next year’s salary cap restriction. This accounts for a whopping 65 percent of the team’s total salary already and I haven’t even included Dennis Schröder’s $15.5 million salary yet.
General manager Sam Presti has his work cut out for him if he wants Durant back. He will have to be very creative in how he makes trades and signings. The sad part about this is that in order to get Durant, he may have to cut ties with Adams or ask him, and maybe Westbrook and George, to take a pay cut which they may or may not be agreeable to.
Going to the Thunder is going to be quite tricky depending on what happens in the playoffs as well.
If the Thunder and Warriors face each other in the postseason and Golden State wins, going back to Oklahoma City isn’t much of a risk. But if the Thunder win, then that complicates matters for Durant who doesn’t want to be labeled as a bandwagoner again. He jumped ship to the Warriors in 2016 after losing to them and he wouldn’t want his résumé to show that he went to the winner of this series again. It would declare to everyone within earshot that he doesn’t have a competitive backbone in his body if he makes the exact same move for the second time in his career. No one in OKC will want him, too.
Should this latter scenario play out, Kevin Durant will either stay with Golden State or he will have to go to another team not named Oklahoma City Thunder.
Can Thunder fans hope that their former superstar wants to make a comeback next season? Sure but I wouldn’t want them to hold their breaths and keep their hopes up. There are too many things that need to fall into place before Durant can make a triumphant return to OKC for the 2018-19 season.
However, I wouldn’t rule out a return sometime in the future before his career is over. It’s almost a guarantee that he will want to do right by the city that he left two years ago. Most likely, if the Thunder haven’t won a title by then, he will want to have a hand in making that happen if it’s the last thing he does in his career.
After all, he is OKC, remember?