This Independence Day will mark the sixth anniversary of Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Warriors. Could this July also feature his return?
ESPN Andscape’s Marc Spears first mentioned the Warriors’ potential interest. The Warriors could arguably be one of the best packages for a Durant trade. And for a front office known for digging up every stone, they should look into adding Durant.
That said, according to multiple sources within the Warriors organization, a reunion is highly unlikely. Nothing from the past three years suggests the Warriors would be willing to pay the price for a KD comeback. That prize is probably (and apparently) an All-Star caliber player, some young talent, and a bunch of draft picks.
Golden State has all three, which is why it’s even a conversation. They have four coveted young talents: guard Jordan Poole, center James Wiseman and forwards Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody – all showing great potential, and of the four only Wiseman and Poole can legally buy alcohol. Andrew Wiggins, the player who would make the salaries work, has never been more valuable in the league. He was an All-Star starter in the Western Conference last year and proved in the playoffs that he’s one of the best two-way players in the league.
Of course, Wiggins’ trade is a major hurdle. Besides everyone in the organization loving him, Wiggins could only be included in a trade with Brooklyn if the Nets trade Ben Simmons first. CBA rules prohibit two players awarded the “Designated Rookie Max” on the same team.
Draft picks are where the Warriors fall short in a deal. They are positioned to be good for at least the next four years, which is how long Stephen Curry is under contract. So the pick bonus Brooklyn would demand would likely be late first-round picks, and those aren’t nearly as valuable as the draft compensation they might get elsewhere.
The bigger issue is whether the Warriors are willing to give it up. They have just won a title with this victory and development plan of associating their championship core with young people. But they also gave up on retaining key veterans in Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. in part to make room for the development side of that dichotomy. Poole, Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody – probably sure to throw Wiggins in there too – are the Warriors’ big plan for continued success after bounties from Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Cashing in those assets for Durant, who turns 34 at the start of next season, essentially undoes the Warriors’ plan for victory and development.
Is there a compromise? A scenario where a few young plays are kept and Durant acquired? A three-team deal that could assuage Brooklyn’s demands and keep the Warriors’ closet filled? Well, it’s in Brooklyn, really. It’s not impossible, but no one in the organization is banking on it or planning on it.
The other big question: if a trade is possible, would the locker room leaders welcome Durant? According to multiple sources, they would, for the same reason they kissed him in 2016.
“I mean,” said a source, “it’s freaking Kevin Durant.”
Warriors superstars have had conversations with Durant. In addition to catching up, the Hall of Fame-bound peers came up with the idea of a reunion. It was mostly about the amazing nature of its possibility. The idea of them playing together again must have seemed impossible when Durant left for free agency in 2019. They’re not lost on how much life has brought them full circle. They see it, like everyone else, and talk about it, like everyone else.
This is not a case of the Warriors stars pushing the front office to go and acquire Durant. Sources have made it clear they are defending their title well with Wiggins, Poole and the young players they groomed to win with them. But if the universe somehow sets it up for the legends to come together, they would be open to it.
The talent of the Curry-Durant-Green-Thompson quartet has never been in doubt. How the race ended is the source of uncertainty. But the vibes of their conversations this offseason suggest they might click again.
The memories of the 2017 championship are at the center of their desire to find each other. What a pleasure they had to play together at such a high level. How much they liked each other. One of the truths lost in years of rankings and comparisons is how, at best, they complemented each other so well on and off the pitch. The most idyllic vision of this quartet is that of a collection of good guys who love to hoop, are highly skilled and have great relationships with each other.
If that happened and they ended up together, the context would be very different, which is definitely a factor. Some of the outside narratives that added stress during Durant’s first stretch wouldn’t apply this time around.
The Warriors trio is coming off a championship, not a heartbreaking Game 7 loss. Curry, Green and Thompson proved they could win another title without having the best team by far, like they did with Durant. They are stamped now. And this time, Durant coming to the Warriors would be from Brooklyn. That’s slightly different from Durant’s choice to join the 73-win Warriors, who came under intense scrutiny in 2016. Can’t blame him (as much) for the Warriors having the best package for the Nets and cash in their tokens.
Durant reportedly listed Phoenix and Miami as his top picks. But on his podcast, The ETCs, Durant was adamant about his affinity for his former teammates and their race together.
“I felt like I contributed positively every second I was in that arena,” Durant said on his podcast. “Training, shootarounds, games. So you’re not taking that shit away from me. I will always hold him in high regard no matter how you try to put my former teammates against me, try to lie about my name and say I’m jealous and envious of these guys. … I was still with the band.
Romance of past greatness aside, it stands to reason that not everyone in the organization would be on board for a meeting.
Would Warriors management want to return to four superstars to manage? As smooth as 2017 was, 2019 was just as tough. Members of the organization, including coach Steve Kerr, spoke openly about how difficult the 2018-19 season was and how exhausted everyone was at the end of Durant’s three-year tenure. They have become the lightning rod of a team whose media beast has feasted. They also had their own internal problems. Would management sign up for another race?
One of the things that could ease some of the past tension is that Durant is on a four-year contract. The uncertainty that accompanied his one-year contracts, and everyone wondering if he would return, would be eased. Additionally, his contract aligns with Curry’s, both expiring after the 2025-26 season. Curry would then be 38 and Durant would be a few months away from 38.
As for Thompson and Green, their contracts expire after the 2023-24 season. They would therefore have to be extended to give this quartet more than two years. This represents an astronomical price for four players. Lacob has shown this offseason that there is a limit to what he is willing to spend. So to keep all those players, they would have to surround them with cheaper deals or commit to more historic luxury tax penalties.
But how many titles could these four win in four more years together?
The championship potential is what’s so alluring about a Durant comeback. As was the case in 2016, the lure of racking up titles at mythical levels is intoxicating and the Warriors championship core pride themselves in putting their egos aside to win. It would make sense for Durant to look favorably upon their past dominance and relationship as a foursome after the chaos and futility of his three seasons in Brooklyn.
A lot happened in their three years together and in the three years that followed. They are all older and more experienced, and more grateful. The noise would never go away completely, but they would, in the most utopian sense, be freer this time around to focus on basketball. If they’re ready to do it again, that would seem to suggest they all believe that, overall, their experience together was good and worth reviving — if the stars align.
But there are so many potential obstacles. Perhaps enough for it to remain a mere hypothesis. An interesting thought experiment to chew on. That’s all it seems at this point.
(Photo: Kyle Terada/USA Today)