This Independence Day will be the sixth anniversary of Kevin Durant’s league-altering 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 undoubtedly put together one of the best packages for a Durant trade. And for a front office known for unearthing every stone, they’d have to vet the chance to add Durant.
With that said, according to multiple sources in the Warriors organization, a reunion is highly unlikely. Nothing about the last three years suggests the Warriors would be willing to pay the price for a KD return. That price is likely (and reportedly) an All-Star-caliber player, young talent and a heap of draft picks.
Golden State has all three, which is why this is even a conversation. They have four coveted young talents: guard Jordan Poole, center James Wiseman and forwards Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody — all of them flashing 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 had more value in the league. He was an All-Star starter in the Western Conference last year and proved during the postseason he is one of the best two-way players in the league.
Of course, trading Wiggins is a major hurdle. Besides the fact everyone in the organization loves him, Wiggins could only be included in a trade with Brooklyn if the Nets trade Ben Simmons first. CBA rules prohibit two players who received the “Designated Rookie Max” on the same team.
The 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 bounty of picks Brooklyn would demand is likely to be late first-round picks, and those aren’t nearly as valuable as the draft compensation they could get elsewhere.
The bigger issue is whether the Warriors are willing to give any of it up. They just won a title with this win-and-develop plan of pairing its championship core with youngsters. But they also passed 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 safe to throw Wiggins in there, too — are the Warriors’ grand plan for continued success after the primes of Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. To cash those assets in for Durant, who will be 34 when the next season begins, essentially scraps the Warriors’ win-and-development plan.
Is there a compromise? A scenario where a couple of the young pieces are kept and Durant acquired? A three-team deal that could appease Brooklyn’s demands and keep the Warriors’ cupboard stocked? Well, that’s up to Brooklyn, really. It isn’t impossible, but no one in the organization is banking on it or planning on it.
The other major question: If a trade is possible, would the leaders of the locker room welcome Durant? According to multiple sources, they would, for the same reason they embraced him in 2016.
“I mean,” one source said, “it’s freaking Kevin Durant.”
The Warriors superstars have been in conversations with Durant. In addition to catching up, the Hall of Fame-bound peers did entertain the idea of a reunion. It was mostly about the stunning nature of it even being possible. The idea of them playing together again had to seem impossible when Durant left in free agency in 2019. It isn’t lost on them how life has contrived an opportunity for them to come full circle. They see it, like everyone else, and talked about it, like everyone else.
This isn’t a case where the Warriors stars are pressing the front office to go acquire Durant. Sources made it clear they are fine defending their title with Wiggins, Poole and the young players they’ve been grooming to win with them. But if the universe somehow sets it up so legends reunite, they’d be open to it.
The talent of the Curry-Durant-Green-Thompson quartet was never in question. How the run ended is the source of uncertainty. But the vibes of their conversations this offseason suggest they could click again.
The memories of the 2017 championship are at the center of their willingness to reunite. How much fun they had playing at such a high level together. How much they enjoyed each other. One of the truths lost in the years of rankings and comparisons is how, at their best, they complemented each other so well on and off the court. The most idyllic view of this quartet is as a collection of good dudes who love to hoop, are highly skilled and have a great rapport with each other.
If this did happen, and they ended up together, the context would be much different, which assuredly is a factor. Some of the outside narratives that added stress during Durant’s first stretch wouldn’t be applicable this time.
The Warriors’ trio is coming off a championship and not a heart-breaking Game 7 loss. Curry, Green and Thompson proved they could win another title without having the far-and-away best team, like they did with Durant. They are stamped now. And this time, Durant coming to the Warriors would be Brooklyn’s doing. That’s slightly different than Durant choosing to join the 73-win Warriors, which drew massive scrutiny back in 2016. He can’t be blamed (as much) for the Warriors having the best package for the Nets and cashing in their chips.
Durant has reportedly listed Phoenix and Miami as his top choices. But on his podcast, The ETCs, Durant was adamant about his affinity for his former teammates and their run together.
“I felt like I contributed in a positive way every single second I was inside that arena,” Durant said on his podcast. “From practice, shootarounds, games. So you’re not taking away this shit from me. I’ma always hold it in high regard no matter how you try to put my old teammates against me, try to lie on my name and say I’m jealous and envious of these dudes. … I was about the group always.”
The romanticism of past greatness aside, it also stands to reason not everyone in the organization would be on board for a reunion.
Would Warriors management want to go back to having four superstars to manage? As harmonious as 2017 was, 2019 was that strenuous. Members of the organization, including coach Steve Kerr, have talked openly about the difficulty of the 2018-19 season and how everyone was exhausted by the end of the three-year Durant tenure. They became a lightning rod of a team on which the media beast feasted. They also had their own issues internally. Would management sign up for another run?
One of the elements that might alleviate some of the past tensions is Durant being under a four-year contract. The uncertainty that came with his one-year deals, and everyone wondering if he is coming back, would be appeased. Plus, his contract lines up with Curry’s deal, both expiring after the 2025-26 season. Curry would be 38 years old then and Durant would be a few months from 38.
As far as Thompson and Green, their contracts expire after the 2023-24 season. So they would have to be extended to give this quartet more than two years. That figures to be an astronomical price point for four players. Lacob showed this offseason there is a limit to how much he’s willing to spend. So in order to keep all of those players, they’d have to surround them with cheaper deals or commit to more historic luxury tax penalties.
But how many titles could those four win in four more years together?
The championship potential is what’s so seductive about a Durant return. As was the case back in 2016, the allure of racking up titles at mythical levels is intoxicating and the Warriors’ championship core prides itself on putting its ego aside for the sake of winning. It would make sense for Durant to look favorably upon their past dominance and rapport as a quartet after the chaos and futility of his three seasons in Brooklyn.
A lot happened in their three years together and in the three years since. They’re all older and more experienced, and more appreciative. The noise would never completely go away, but they’d be, in the most utopic sense, freer this time around to focus on basketball. If they are willing to do it again, that would seem to suggest they all believe, overall, their experience together was good and worth rekindling — if the stars align.
But so many potential hurdles exist. Perhaps enough to keep it a mere hypothetical. An interesting thought experiment to chew on. That’s all it seems to be at this point.
(Photo: Kyle Terada / USA Today)