Moore: How Will the NBA Finals Affect Kevin Durant’s Free Agency Decision?

Moore: How Will the NBA Finals Affect Kevin Durant’s Free Agency Decision? article feature image

Photo credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kevin Durant

  • All eyes will be on Kevin Durant this July during NBA free agency, waiting to see whether he'll stay with the Warriors or leave.
  • How will the NBA Finals affect that decision, especially given the uncertainty of when he'll return from injury and the resulting narratives?

I will go ahead and get this out of the way, right from the top…

No one knows how the NBA Finals will or won’t affect Kevin Durant’s free agency decision. League executives commonly remarked when queried on how they think it impacts things that it’s a stupid question to begin with because it reflects the very thing Kevin Durant has railed on so many times: no one is inside his head.

However, Durant’s decision is so spectacularly impactful on the league, it could shape so many things, that it’s only natural given everything that has gone on with him and the Warriors to wonder how the Finals will shape it.

Durant has been the best player in the playoffs at one point and then saw his team win six straight without him. He has fought with Draymond Green, made up, railed at the media, responded more on social media, opened his own media offices in New York and been linked to a half dozen teams.

The odds are out on KD’s next landing spot:

New York Knicks: +120
LA Clippers: +170
Golden State Warriors: +200
LA Lakers: +600
Brooklyn Nets: +600
Oklahoma City Thunder: +4000

But how do the Finals factor in? Let’s look at the possibilities and then try and figure out, at least from the outside, what the decision looks like, with the understanding that Durant’s going to do what Durant’s going to do.

Possibility #1: Durant plays, Warriors win

He leaves because… Durant has accomplished what he can with Golden State. He gets to leave on a high note as a three-peat champion and has proven his value (as the Warriors likely win with him playing). He departs, leaving on good terms.

He stays because… Durant recognizes how special this group is, what he’s a part of and the opportunity to truly create the first six-plus championship dynasty since the Bulls — and maybe the longest stretch of sustained championship success since the 60’s Celtics. He stays and they continue to try and find the balance between KD and what makes the Warriors great.

I lean towards the former, given how things have felt they’re unfolding. There’s no real indication that more sustained winning will satisfy him and whatever it is he’s looking for in his life. Doing so would limit his ability to market himself as a top-level athlete in terms of brand exposure, which seems to be his next goal, having checked “NBA champion” off his list.

Possibility #2: Durant doesn’t play, Warriors win

He stays because… Durant’s overriding pettiness towards the media and its attempt at what he feels is an effort to determine his life prompts him to return just to prove a point. This seems possible — that Durant would recognize how it seems if he leaves after they win without him: it in part invalidates the two they won with him. That’s patently ridiculous, but it wouldn’t be the first time Durant let ridiculous criticism get under his skin.

He leaves because… they don’t need him. They don’t. It would be patently obvious. If the Warriors went, at worst, 10-3 without Durant to finish the playoffs and secure the title, there’s no way to say that Durant, arguably the world’s best player, is actually needed. Curry would move ahead of him in many people’s minds. The narrative becomes concrete that the Warriors are just fine without him, and Durant can start over with two titles anyway.

I lean towards the latter. Even for Durant, petulantly signing on for another stressful one-and-one situation with the constant media conjecture would be a miserable decision — not just for him, but for everyone involved. He realizes the next step in his career has to be to win a title as the main guy and prove that the Warriors were not better without him, because of how good he is on his own.

Possibility #3: Durant plays, Warriors lose

He stays because… it would be an unsatisfying and heartbreaking end to a time in which he finally became the best player on a championship team. Losses in the Finals for teams that have been there can bring them together, like the 2013 Finals brought the Spurs together. Maybe losing to the Raptors is the moment that brings out a togetherness that’s been missing in the Warriors and reminds Durant of why he joined in the first place.

He leaves because… it just might be time. Remember the 2004 Lakers? Kobe and Shaq simmering on the edge of a breakup, Phil Jackson ready to walk away, a bench worn down over time? The comparison isn’t 1:1, but there are elements there. The Warriors lose, it’s time to start over.

I lean towards the latter, given all the signals of Durant leaving. If you can’t win together, then there’s no point dealing with all the narratives about the superteam or how Durant isn’t necessary. Winning is supposed to be the balm that soothes everything. If that balm isn’t there, then all you have is the itch.

Possibility #4: Durant doesn’t play, Warriors lose

He stays because… unfinished business. The Warriors, angry at how things turned and how everyone counted them out, buy in 100 percent on the idea that “if Kevin played, we win that series in five.” It motivated them against the Rockets this year with Andre Iguodala (and was proven correct), and it could motivate them next year. Revenge is one of the best motivators.

He leaves because… the run is over and it’s time to admit when it’s at its end. Durant gets to have the last word in the “we don’t need you” debate by saying “yes, you did, and that’s why you lost” and then bolt. He gets to go start somewhere else with the knowledge that Golden State lost the last two championships without him. That’s a pretty good resume builder for best player in the world — a title he’s wanted for a long time.

I lean towards the former. “We can’t go out like that” seems very much like what they would all say. Draymond Green straightened things out with Durant mid-season after their early-season blowup, and if they lose it could be a moment for Green to go even further and get Durant back on board with whatever the face-to-face version of a crying parking lot call is. He’s likely back for revenge if they lose without him, so no one ever questions that group’s dominance.