Mid-Atlantic basketball fans have this fantasy that since LeBron James, a completely different player and home town kid, came home to Cleveland, that Kevin Durant will do the same this time next year. However, is that really a possibility?
Handicapping The Return
There are a lot of factors at play here, but starting with the most important one, the Thunder trended down last season because of injury, and those who place NBA picks saw that the Wizards were probably one John Wall hand injury away from beating the Hawks and going into the Eastern Conference Finals. Would they have beaten Cleveland? Absolutely not. However, they would have probably given more of a fight, and with a talented back court and solid depth around their stars, the Washington Wizards are looking more and more like a team that is one superstar away from being a legitimate title contender.
However with the trades and moves that the Thunder made, they too are looking like a title contender if they can stay healthy all season, which was their biggest issue in 2014. This is going to be an important year for the Thunder, because if they don’t come together to make one last Finals run, the odds of Durant jumping ship become higher.
Personally I think Durant still hasn’t made up his mind, (nor do we know if he is going to be healthy) but the trade of James Harden still probably looms in his head a little, as well as all of the other bone-headed moves the Thunder have made. It’s probably more management’s fault than GM Sam Presti's, but either way, the Thunder aren’t going to be title contenders by selling off their stars for pennies on the dollar.
Another factor in all of this is the all to important distinction that the Thunder are still in the West, and the Wizards play in the East. All Washington would have to do is get past LeBron James and maybe the Bulls, instead of a gauntlet of talented teams with super star players. NBA odds makers know that if Durant ever came to the East, it would shift the balance of power in the NBA a lot, and it would move the Wizards into title contenders.
Will It Actually Happen?
The firing of Scott Brooks sends a message to the rest of the league that like the Cavs, the front office of the Thunder is consulting Durant about the coach. This doesn’t help the situation for Wizards fans who want Durant to jump ship, but it doesn’t hurt as bad as say, another Western Conference or NBA Finals trip this season for the Thunder.
If you compare their talent levels from this past season, the Thunder still have the better team to put around Durant, but the gap is closing fast, and it may be completely closed after another season. John Wall is much more of a facilitating point guard than Russell Westbrook, and he is also still a legitimate scoring threat along with Bradley Beal. Plus, the Wizards aren’t going to be afraid of spending money to put/keep a championship team together, unlike the utter cheapskates in the owner's box in Oklahoma City. It’s still a little less than a 50/50 chance that Durant won’t sign an extension and enter free agency next summer, but if he doesn’t, one has to think that the Wizards would be one of the front runners to sign the former Montrose Christian Academy prospect.