Earlier today, Matt Moore of CBS Sports described the Oklahoma City Thunder's second round series against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2016 NBA Playoffs as "the most important series in franchise history."
There's certainly room to debate whether that's true, but he makes a compelling argument and it all leads to, through and back to one major topic of discussion: will Kevin Durant leave Oklahoma City as a free agent this summer?
If Game 1 was an indication of what's to come, if the Thunder are to not only lose to the Spurs, but lose in humiliating fashion, then Durant may simply not be able to stand that reality. That can lead to rash decisions. Durant has always had a good head on his shoulders, but he's a competitor. That's a blessing ... and a curse...There's been a feeling from some that Durant is certain to stay, at least for a year. Not only does it make the most financial sense, but it's hard to imagine him leaving Westbrook. However, we tend to overlook the fact that players are human, and therefore emotional. The frustration of not only losing, but being totally dominated has to weigh heavy on Durant as a competitor. Free agency comes in two months. That's not a lot of time to process and get perspective. That's dangerous.
We haven't really discussed that nearly as much as we could have this season because the Golden State Warriors were in the midst of making history and all, but Old Faithful (but not that old!) raised the question in the comments of Andy Liu's recap of last night's game, which is all the more interesting with the possibility of a) the Warriors facing the Thunder or b) the Thunder being forced to watch the Spurs or Warriors return to the Finals while they've been fishing. I just thought it might be an interesting topic to discuss during tonight's game if things get out of hand again.
The question: If GSW is fortunate enough to win it all, should they still go after Durant?
I have my feelings about this — I don't think Durant is going to leave Oklahoma City for all the reasons noted by both Moore and NBA.com's Shaun Moore — but the question is interesting nonetheless. And I don't have to propose answers because I think the pros and cons have already been well-articulated in today's comments.
You trade away some quality in 2016-17 (when we'd have major depth issues) in favor of having younger, better players in 2017-18, 18-19, and 19-20.
The idea is that holding on to some version of the current roster results in a pretty mediocre team a few years down the road when Iguodala and Bogut decline and you have no money to replace them with, and are consistently drafting at the end of the first round. Once Curry signs a new deal (in summer of '17) the team is capped out for the foreseeable future.
There's not an obvious right choice here. We're historically good now, so you could just roll out the same, slowly-declining team and feel like you had a good shot at the next couple of titles. That's not "wrong." But it probably does mean that, in three years, you're no longer a clear favorite for the title - you're probably just another high-50s win team, hoping to catch the right breaks in the postseason.
So instead you take a half step back now to allow you to reload. Your title chances in 17 go way down (although not to zero - no team with Steph, Durant, Draymond, and Klay has no shot at a title) but you use the cap jump and the MLE to add the supporting pieces you need, and you hope that you're a lock for multiple titles from 17-18 on.
Either of those is options is pretty good. If Durant signs a one-and-one, there's a way to halve the baby and do both of them, too, for the small cost of letting Barnes walk this year. (You hope you get 80% of Barnes with Rush and Looney, bring everybody else back, re-sign Bogut and Iguodala to cheap deals to finish out their careers here, as Bogut has already suggested he's open to, sign Durant into the cap space that frees up, then resign Curry - although Ezeli offers could muck up that plan and you might have to let him walk, too).
The only thing I'd add to that is that if the goal of assembling a team is to win titles and winning two in a row is extremely difficult, as Apricot described at the beginning of this season — breaking up a team capable of that therefore feels like a massive risk in the short-term even if it works out long-term.
But I shall say no more: what say you?
Vote in the poll below and continue the discussion throughout tonight's game.