Kevin Durant is done for this season thanks to the broken foot that had already limited him to just 27 games, leaving just one season for Durant to help the Thunder to a title before his contract expires. There’s little clarity on whether he’s leaning toward re-signing with the team or not, so uncertainty clouds the summer of 2016, when the salary cap is projected to jump to near $90MM, with most teams possessing enough cap flexibility to lure Durant with a max offer.
What is clear is that the Thunder aren’t trading Durant out of fear that he’ll leave them, with GM Sam Presti having recently referred to the idea as “ludicrous.” That signals that the Thunder will keep trying to build around him, as they’ve done for the past several years to mixed results. The Thunder made it to the Finals in 2012 with a core of Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka, but the decision to trade Harden before the next season began has turned out poorly, and Oklahoma City hasn’t been back to the Finals since.
Harden has developed into an MVP candidate, but so has Westbrook, and Durant won the MVP last season. The Thunder went over the tax threshold to acquire Dion Waiters in January, and while that move hasn’t exactly been a revolutionary upgrade, Presti kept tinkering, sending out Reggie Jackson for fellow soon-to-be restricted free agent Enes Kanter and bench help at the deadline. Kanter’s performed well offensively and on the boards, having put up 17.6 points and 10.8 rebounds in 16 games as a member of the Thunder. Oklahoma City will have to pay to keep the young big man, who turns 23 in May, and with more than $78MM in guaranteed salary already committed for next season, as Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders shows, the cost of keeping the Thunder together is high.
So, too, would be the psychological and historical cost to the franchise if Durant leaves without having delivered a Larry O’Brien trophy. The Thunder have 13 players on guaranteed contracts for next season, an unusually large number. It would be easy to re-sign Kanter or match another team’s offer sheet for him, bring back everyone else and make a run at the 2016 title with a healthy Durant. But the Thunder probably wouldn’t be the favorites to win it all if they did that, not with LeBron James leading another supercharged Cavs team and the Warriors well-positioned to keep on winning.
So, perhaps Presti should get aggressive this summer. There are trade rumors surrounding DeMarcus Cousins, so maybe the Thunder should see what it would take to shake him loose from Sacramento. The past two No. 1 overall picks and the reigning Rookie of the Year have all been traded with the past seven months, so elite young talent could be available. The Warriors were similarly capped out in 2013 when they worked a sign-and-trade that netted Andre Iguodala, who’s one of the keys to a roster that’s the best in the Western Conference this season. So, the Thunder aren’t necessarily out of the mix for this summer’s top free agents.
Tell us what you think. Should Presti bring back Kanter, keep the rest of the team intact and prepare for one more run with a largely unchanged cast? Or should he be bold and make a play for a better complement to Durant before the star forward’s contract runs out? Let us know, and elaborate on your choice in the comments.