This Independence Day marks the sixth anniversary of Kevin Durant’s league-changing decision to join the Warriors. Could his return also come this July?
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 digging up every rock, they’d have to consider the chance to add Durant.
That being said, according to multiple sources within the Warriors organization, a reunion is highly unlikely. Nothing about the past three years suggests the Warriors would be willing to pay the price for a KD return. That price is likely (and supposedly) an all-star caliber player, young talent, and a bunch 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 exude great potential and of the four only Wiseman and Poole are legally allowed to buy alcohol. Andrew Wiggins, the player who would make salaries work, has never been more valuable in the league. He was an All-Star starter in the Western Conference last year and has proven in the postseason that he’s one of the best two-way players in the league.
Of course, trading Wiggins is a big hurdle. Aside from the fact that everyone in the organization loves him, Wiggins could only be included in a deal with Brooklyn if the Nets trade Ben Simmons first. CBA rules prohibit two players who received Designated Rookie Max on the same team.
When it comes to draft picks, the Warriors fail to make a deal. They are positioned to be good for at least the next four years, that’s how long Stephen Curry is under contract. So the plethora of picks Brooklyn would ask for are likely late first-round picks, and those are nowhere near as valuable as the draft compensation they might get elsewhere.
The bigger question is whether the warriors are willing to give up any of that. They’ve just won a title with that win-and-development plan that pairs championship core with youngsters. But they’ve also refrained from keeping key veterans in Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr., in part to make room for the developmental side of that dichotomy. Poole, Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody – you can probably throw Wiggins in there too – are the Warriors’ grand plan for continued success after the best times of Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Cashing in those assets for Durant, who will be 34 by the start of next season, essentially throws away the Warriors’ winning and development plan.
Is there a compromise? A scenario where some of the young plays are kept and Durant is acquired? A three-team deal that could satisfy Brooklyn’s demands and stock the Warriors’ closet? Well, that’s really up to Brooklyn. It’s not impossible, but nobody in the organization counts on it or plans for it.
The other big question: If a trade is possible, would dressing room leaders welcome Durant? According to multiple sources, they would for the same reason they hugged him in 2016.
“I mean,” said a source, “it’s friggin’ Kevin Durant.”
The Warriors superstars have held talks with Durant. In addition to catching up, the Hall of Fame-bound peers had the idea of a reunion. It was mainly about the breathtaking nature that it is even possible. The idea of them playing together again had to seem impossible when Durant left free agency in 2019. It hasn’t escaped them how life has created an opportunity for them to come full circle. They see it like everyone else and have spoken about it like everyone else.
This isn’t a case of the Warriors stars pressuring the front office to take on Durant. Sources made it clear they are doing well defending their title with Wiggins, Poole and the young players they have nurtured to win with them. But if the universe somehow arranges for the legends to reunite, they would be open to it.
The talent of the Curry-Durant-Green-Thompson quartet was never in doubt. How the run ended is the source of the uncertainty. But the mood of their talks this offseason suggests they could be clicking again.
Memories of the 2017 championship are at the heart of their readiness for reunion. How much fun they had playing together at such a high level. How much they enjoyed each other. One of the truths that’s been lost over the years of rankings and comparisons is how they complemented each other so well on and off the pitch during their prime. The most idyllic view of this quartet is a collection of good guys who love to mature, are highly skilled and have a great relationship with each other.
If this happened and they ended up together, the context would be very different, which is certainly a factor. Some of the outside narratives that caused stress during Durant’s first stretch would not be applicable this time.
The Warriors trio are one championship behind them and not a heartbreaking loss in Game 7. Curry, Green and Thompson proved they can win another title without having by far the best team like they did with Durant. You are now stamped. And this time, Durant joining the Warriors would be Brooklyn’s doing. That’s a little different than Durant, who chose to join the 73 Siegen Warriors that came under massive scrutiny in 2016. He can’t be blamed (so much) for the Warriors having the best package for the Nets and cashing in their chips.
Durant reportedly listed Phoenix and Miami as his top picks. But on his podcast, The ETCs, Durant has been adamant about his affinity for his former teammates and their run together.
“I felt like I contributed positively to every single second that I was in that arena,” Durant said on his podcast. “From practice, shootarounds, games. So you don’t take this shit away from me. I will always appreciate it no matter how you try to turn my old teammates against me, try to lie to my name and say I’m jealous and envious of those guys. … It was always about the group for me.”
Romance of past greatness aside, it also stands to reason that not everyone in the organization would be on board at a reunion.
Would Warriors management want to manage four superstars again? As harmonious as 2017 was, 2019 was exhausting. Members of the organization, including coach Steve Kerr, have spoken candidly about the difficulties of the 2018-19 season and how exhausted everyone was at the end of Durant’s three-year tenure. They became the lightning rod of a team that the media beast feasted on. They also had their own issues internally. Would management sign up for another run?
One of the elements that could ease some of the past tensions is that Durant has a four-year contract. The uncertainty that came with his one-year contracts and anyone wondering if he was coming back would be soothed. Also, his contract matches Curry’s contract, both of which expire after the 2025-26 season. Curry would then be 38 years old and Durant would be a few months away from 38.
Thompson and Green’s contracts expire after the 2023-24 season. So they would have to be extended to give this quartet more than two years. That’s an astronomical price point for four players. Lacob has shown this offseason that there’s a limit to how much he’s willing to spend. So to keep all of these 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 together in four more years?
Championship potential is what is alluring about a Durant return. As in 2016, the thrill of racking up mythical-level titles is intoxicating, and the Warriors’ championship core prides itself on putting its ego aside in favor of winning. It would make sense for Durant, following the chaos and futility of his three seasons in Brooklyn, to look positively at their past dominance and relationship as a quartet.
A lot has happened in their three years together and in the three years that followed. They are all older and more experienced and appreciative. The noise would never go away entirely, but they would focus more freely on basketball this time, in the most utopian sense. If they’re willing to do it again, it seems to indicate that they all believe their shared experience was overall good and worth a revival — if the stars are right.
But there are so many potential hurdles. Maybe enough to keep it purely hypothetical. An interesting thought experiment to chew on. That’s all it seems at this point.
(Photo: Kyle Terada / USA Today)