Eastern Conference: Where Is Kevin Durant Going In Free Agency?

By Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen)

Kevin Durant will in all likelihood opt out of his current deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason to become an unrestricted free agent. Unless you’ve been living under a rock/and or don’t follow the NBA, this news will not come as a surprise to you.

But with nearly every team able to generate enough space to sign Durant, which of his long line of suitors should catch his eye? Let’s take a look at the case for and against all 30 teams in the NBA.

All projected max cap space is the max each team would be able to create, per the invaluable Basketball Insiders. Some teams will, in reality, have much less.

Eastern Conference

Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Atlantic Division

Toronto Raptors
Projected Cap Space: $20.8 million

Pros: Were already the second-best team in an Eastern Conference that is really shaky outside of the Cleveland Cavaliers without him last season, Masai Ujiri has proven to be one of the league’s best general managers, Toronto is a wonderful city, all the Drake music video appearances he wants.

Cons: Would have to take less than the max even if the team let DeMar DeRozan walk, Toronto is really cold during the winter, Drake asking him to be in music videos too much.

Chances of Durant signing: The money issue makes this a bit of a long shot, but if Durant wants to head East for a much clearer route to the finals, it’s hard to find a better destination that is still somewhat realistic (i.e. not teaming up with LeBron in Cleveland). Durant would instantly be the best player in the history of the Raptors franchise and a basketball deity for our neighbors to the North. Another theoretically interesting fit that most likely isn’t happening.

Boston Celtics
Projected Cap Space: $55 million

Pros: Brad Stevens, a roster that is competitive right now that also has assets coming in from Brooklyn over the next few years, and financial flexibility to add other new pieces.

Cons: Danny Ainge’s questionable recent draft record and having to live in Boston.

Chances of Durant signing: The Celtics have an attractive group of role players led by a great coach, and as a fit it does make some sense. But until a free agent of note signs with them, any reports of it happening should be taken with a giant grain of salt. Their chances of signing Durant aren’t as large as Bill Simmons and their fans would have you believe, even if they did make the list of six teams Durant will meet with first.

Brooklyn Nets
Projected Cap Space: $55.2 million

Pros: Getting to live in New York, proximity to Jay-Z

Cons: An organization attempting to rebuild its reputation and roster from the ground up with little to no assets.

Chances of Durant signing: Given that the salary cap doesn’t allow Mikhail Prokhorov to offer Durant $1 billion and as many jet skis as his heart desires, not high. I guess it’s possible he could have heard some really good things about Kenny Atkinson and/or Sean Marks? Maybe he really wants to form a big three with Brook Lopez and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson? Jay-Z is his agent, and used to own like 0.0000000000001% more of the Nets than you do, so maybe he wants to steer him there and make Brooklyn great again?

This seems to be legitimately a zero percent chance, so I turned it over to Twitter:

New York Knicks
Projected Cap Space: $35.1 million

Pros: New York is an awesome city, Phil Jackson’s zen wisdom, a chance to play with Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis is a unicorn.

Cons: James Dolan, it’s not totally clear Phil knows what he’s doing and/or is committed to staying, an uncertain path forward, unknown how many good years Melo has left, wait for Kristaps to develop.

Chances of Durant signing: There are reasons Durant could sign with the Knicks. New York would be a great place to live, Kristaps Porzingis appears to be a superstar in waiting, Durant signing with the Knicks would allow Carmelo to preserve himself going forward, and it would be legitimately shocking if Phil Jackson left after signing him. Still, the team doesn’t offer a ton on the court outside of those two players right now, and there are better options for Durant than this that would take less time to reach their ceiling.

Melo might be recruiting Durant hard and he seems to be at the very least intrigued by the team’s acquisition of Derrick Rose, but the team still doesn’t have a ton to offer on the court just yet, and there are better options for Durant than this that would take less time to reach their ceiling.

Philadelphia 76ers
Projected Cap Space: $59.9 million

Pros: Enough space to add another max free agent, Ben Simmons seems cool, and Sam Hinkie is no longer there to continue his attempts to lose as many games as possible, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Cons: The team does not appear to be in a position to contend any time soon, Philadelphia did not have a history of attracting major free agents before becoming a national laughingstock over the last several years.

Chances of Durant signing: Marginally better than their chances of an in-his-prime Michael Jordan showing up in a time machine to sign with them.

NBAE via Getty Images
NBAE via Getty Images

Central Division

Cleveland Cavaliers
Projected Cap Space: $16.2 million

Pros: Teaming up with LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, and the rest of the defending champions.

Cons: Having to play for either a) far less than the max or b) the team having to gut itself to create enough space to sign him.

Chances of Durant signing: This one truly feels like a zero percent chance. The amount of cap gymnastics the Cavaliers would have to do just to sign him make this one the longest of long shots.

Detroit Pistons 
Projected Cap Space: $26.1 million

Pros: Andre Drummond might be the best center in the NBA as soon as next season, Stan Van Gundy could teach him how to “build a f**king wall.”

Cons: Leftover Reggie Jackson beef, Detroit is not exactly a destination city.

Chances of Durant signing: Low. Between Jackson’s presence on the roster and the Pistons’ surplus of wings, as well as their lack of the ability to offer Durant the max outright, it’s unlikely they would be able to make the moves required to create a compelling case for Durant in time for free agency.

Indiana Pacers
Projected Cap Space: $20.9 million

Pros: Team with Paul George to form quite possibly the longest and most dangerous wing combination in NBA history, Monta have it all.

Cons: Either he or George would have to play at power forward for the majority of the time to make this work, something neither of them have shown the inclination to do. Indiana has no history of attracting major free agents.

Chances of Durant signing: Those cons are major ones, as whether or not Durant and George even possess the durability to play the four full-time is unknown. That lineup would be a ton of fun to watch with Myles Turner continuing to develop and wreak havoc inside using the spacing available, but highly unlikely to ever become a reality.

Chicago Bulls
Projected Cap Space: $25.7 million

Pros: Team up with Jimmy Butler to form the most dynamic and terrifying wing combination in the NBA, a chance to be the greatest Bull since Jordan, Chicago is a wonderful city.

Cons: Can’t offer the max, Jerry Reinsdorf is arguably cheaper than Thunder ownership, management seems to be kind of a mess in recent years.

Chances of Durant signing: Another extreme unlikelihood, unless Durant desperately wants to play there for some reason. With Derrick Rose gone and veterans like Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah almost out the door, Chicago is primed for a rebuilding year, a situation unlikely to appeal to Durant. Don’t hold your breath, Bulls fans.

Milwaukee Bucks
Projected Cap Space: $28.4 million

Pros: An incredibly rangy, dynamic roster gets more rangy and dynamic, assets to make trades to add around him. The chance to be mentored by Thon Maker.

Cons: A few strange front office moves in recent seasons, no cap space to add much else.

Chances of Durant signing: The Bucks could clear enough space to sign Durant rather easily, but without any obvious ties to the city or organization it’s hard to see him signing there. No offense intended to Milwaukee, but even with a new arena on the way, there is a reason nearly every anonymous, forgettable road trip is described as “a Tuesday night in Milwaukee.” The team has some nice pieces, but enticing Durant is probably too much to ask.

NBAE via Getty Images
NBAE via Getty Images

Southeast Division

Miami Heat
Projected Cap Space: $41.3 million

Pros: Getting to live in Miami, Pat Riley and Mickey Arison’s committment to building a contender every year and the time-tested ability to do so. The opportunity to team up with some combination of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, and Hassan Whiteside. No state income tax.

Cons: Don’t have as much cap space as they appear to have, unclear who would be playing with him in the short term.

Chances of Durant signing: The Heat have been angling for this for a while now, which is why Dwyane Wade is playing on a huge one-year deal this season. Once he works out his contract, it’s not clear how much cap space the Heat will have left. Will it be enough to sign Durant and re-sign Whiteside or add another marquee free agent? No, unless Wade takes far below market value.

Chris Bosh’s situation is obviously much bigger than basketball, but he may never play again. This Heat team has a lot of question marks, so Durant signing there would signal an extraordinary faith that the Miami front office would be far better than the group he is leaving in Oklahoma City. It could happen, especially with Durant putting them on the list of six teams he’ll consider first, but isn’t the odds on favorite by any stretch.

Charlotte Hornets
Projected Cap Space: $39 million

Pros: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could save him from ever having to guard another team’s best player, the chance to play for the greatest player ever, a solid head coach, some pretty sweet uniforms, and the chance to be the best Hornets player ever by a significant margin.

Cons: Management has never shown the ability to put a contender together, Charlotte has no history of attracting elite talent.

Chances of Durant signing: Unless Durant has an incredible desire to hang out with Michael Jordan on a daily basis (we can’t rule it out!), it’s difficult to view this as a possibility. The only way it really makes sense is if Durant is so competitive that rather than teaming up with Stephen Curry after losing to him in the Western Conference Finals, he wants to take his revenge by becoming Steph’s home state’s favorite son. In short, this isn’t happening.

Atlanta Hawks
Projected Cap Space: $45.5 million

Pros: Most NBA players love Atlanta by all accounts, a top coach in Mike Budenholzer, some talented pieces locked in.

Cons: Al Horford and Kent Bazemore are both free agents that could leave, Atlanta’s front office moves haven’t been the strongest post-Danny Ferry, team regressed this year.

Chances of Durant signing: Depending on one’s definition of “major,” Atlanta hasn’t really ever signed a major free agent outside of Joe Johnson. Like the other destinations mentioned that have yet to do so, that’s a factor to consider. So is the Hawks’ lack of cap space unless they let one or both of their big outgoing free agents walk for nothing or get them back at significant discounts.

Unless Durant loves the city of Atlanta, Sir Foster, and/or the Hawks’ must-follow Twitter feed, this one isn’t going to happen.

Washington Wizards
Projected Cap Space: $45.1 million

Pros: John Wall, Bradley Beal, playing for Scott Brooks again, and a goosebump-inducing Skylar Grey “I’m Coming Home” montage on opening night.

Cons: Roster doesn’t appear to be better than the team he would be leaving behind in Oklahoma City and ownership and management’s competence is a question mark.

Chances of Durant signing: The Wizards season was basically the basketball equivalent of a crying MJ, and now it doesn’t even appear they will get a meeting with their hometown hero, completing one hell of a turnaround for Washington’s chances.

As recently as last year, the Wizards were the next hot young playoff team looking to make moves in an Eastern Conference that looked decidedly mortal outside of LeBron’s Cavaliers. Now? Washington is coming off of a season in which they missed the playoffs while Beal was unable to stay healthy. Recent reports have also painted Durant as reluctant to return “home,” wary of the off-the-court burdens and requests that would come with that. Oklahoma City’s management has to be popping bottles of champagne while watching how Washington’s season turned out.

Orlando Magic
Projected Cap Space: $50.1 million

Pros: A young talented roster with enough cap space to add talent around Durant, living near Disney World, no state income tax, and a chance to rejoin former teammate Serge Ibaka.

Cons: That young talent was unable to make the playoffs again this season, and Durant may not want to play with Serge Ibaka.

Chances of Durant signing: Orlando is kind of an interesting case. They’ve been able to sign big name free agents in the past (Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill, almost Tim Duncan), but they’ve also lost them (Shaquille O’Neal, basically Dwight Howard). Orlando’s young core has a few promising young players, but none that appear destined for superstardom.

Durant would turn this team into a contender in the East, but he would do that for most teams. If this is the place he and another max free agent decided they want to team up it’s possible he goes here, but it’s doubtful at best.

[Editor's Note: Part 2 of this series, which will cover the entirety of the Western Conference, will be published tomorrow.]

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