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Durant’s Dilemma: Will He Go to DC or Stay in OKC?

July 18th, 2014 at 12:45 PM
By Matt Graber

                                                                                           

The idea of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant signing with the Washington Wizards in 2016 is an idea that has been gathering steam for the past week or so. What began as a pipe dream among Wizards fans has slowly become a realistic, if still unlikely, scenario thanks to the recent rise of Washington as a strong free-agent destination. With players like Paul Pierce recognizing the Wizards as a talented young team with a chance to seriously compete, the franchise is rapidly moving away from the Gilbert Arenas-Javaris Crittenton days and is finally on the verge of becoming a legitimate NBA power again. But whether this is enough to woo Durant away from the Thunder remains to be seen. 

Come 2016, the Wizards will have as good a chance as any team to win the Durant sweepstakes. Nene's massive salary will come off the books in  2016, and recent shrewd moves such as the Pierce signing have given the Wizards the financial flexibility and future cap space to make signing Durant financially feasible. In addition, the Wizards will have a team option on coach Randy Wittman's contract going into the 2016 season. Wittman has done a solid job as coach, but if they are seeking an upgrade or want to offer Durant some input as to who he wants as coach, they have that option. The Wizards have already added Durant's high school coach, Dave Adkins, as a player development assistant, demonstrating that they are more than willing to make coaching changes to accommodate Durant. 

More importantly, the Wizards could very well be title-ready by that time. If the dynamic young back court of John Wall and Bradley Beal continue on the upward trajectory they've been on and the team can continue to make cheap upgrades, the Wizards will be one of the best teams in the East in 2016, even without Durant. Adding the best scorer of the league would put them over the top.  By the time he reaches free agency the Wizards may very well be ready to give him the best chance to win a title of all his potential suitors. 

Of course, Washington's biggest draw will be the chance for Durant to return home. As a DC native, Durant would have the opportunity to triumphantly return to his hometown team and win a title, ending a long championship drought and becoming a local legend. Sound familiar? LeBron's decision to return to Cleveland demonstrates the allure of returning home, and Durant has to be influenced by the widespread positive reaction to his return home. 

Of course, returning home could have it's drawbacks. Durant could be seen as simply following in LeBron's footsteps and trying to mimic his success rather than carving his own path. If LeBron can win a championship in Cleveland before 2016, the narrative of Durant leading his hometown team to the title will lose some of it's luster. In addition to that, Durant would then likely have to face LeBron's Cavs in the Eastern Conference playoffs year after year. While this would create a compelling rivalry, it would make it that much harder to even make the Finals, let alone win a title. 

Still, the biggest obstacle to Durant joining the Wizards would simply be the difficulty of leaving the Thunder. Durant's classy, heartfelt MVP acceptance speech demonstrated the love and respect Durant has for his teammates, especially Russell Westbrook. Severing that bond would be emotionally difficult for Durant and would make the words of his speech seem a bit hollow. And if Durant manages to win a title in OKC, the narrative would be different than LeBron's victories. Rather than be perceived as chasing titles or forming a 'superteam', Durant would be seen as remaining loyal to his team and to Westbrook and finally winning through perseverance, continuing to build on a foundation laid in 2008. Many of the all-time greats, such as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Tim Duncan, won their titles with one team. If Durant can do the same, he'll have an achievement that LeBron can never match. As loved as Durant would be if he went to Washington, even that may not eclipse the love he would receive from Thunder fans if he stays the course and finally brings them a title.

Regardless of the outcome, the fact that it's even viewed as a legitimate possibility that Durant comes to DC in 2016 speaks volumes of how far the Washington Wizards franchise has come in recent years and is a prospect that should have Wizards fans excited. Whether the team's reversal of fortunes is enough to draw Durant away from the Thunder remains to be seen, but it's clear that this is a team trending in the right direction. 

Photo credit: Keith Allison / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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