Kevin Durant shocked the NBA world in the summer of 2016 after he made the rather unconventional decision to join a title-contender in the hopes of earning championships. Before KD did that, we have never seen a superstar player move so openly to an already-established squad before. For decades, we have seen the best players willingly compete against each other to prove they are the best players without having thoughts of teaming up.
What LeBron James did in 2011 was ground-breaking in the sense that the best player in the world opted to join two other superstars in their prime in one destination. But Kevin Durant did the unthinkable by literally joining a championship side that defeated Durant’s team one year prior in the Western Conference Finals. Of course, criticism was far and wide once the decision was made.
Like it or not, Kevin Durant ended up winning 2 NBA titles and 2 Finals MVPs because of that decision. It was reported that the Oklahoma City Thunder star met with 6 teams during free agency before his decision was made: Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, and Golden State Warriors.
While Durant’s decision to join the Warriors was widely criticized and still is to this day, it still resulted in NBA championship glory. It would also be interesting to imagine what each team’s lineup would have been if KD decided to join them instead. Would Durant have won championships with the other teams he met up with? A player of Kevin Durant’s skills would fit in almost any team, and without further ado, here are the starting lineups of all the teams Durant would have fit in with had he altered his free-agency decision in the summer of 2016.
Starting Lineup: Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Josh Richardson, Kevin Durant, Hassan Whiteside
The Miami Heat were certainly not the same team they used to be. LeBron James was gone to Cleveland and Chris Bosh was forced to retire with blood clot issues. Veteran Dwyane Wade was also mulling his future (signed with the Chicago Bulls in reality), and the franchise decided to build around Hassan Whiteside by offering him a max contract.
Had KD joined the Heat, he would have probably convinced Wade to re-sign in Miami and the lineup would have been completed with offensive star Goran Dragic and two-way wing Josh Richardson. Dragic ended up averaging 20.3 PPG and 5.8 APG in 2017, and Whiteside put up 17.0 PPG and a league-leading 14.1 RPG.
Even if Wade was 35 years older, the Miami Heat would have been a force in the East with Kevin Durant on the roster. While they will not automatically usurp the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in the East, they would have made it interesting.
Starting Lineup: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Kevin Durant, Jae Crowder, Al Horford
The Boston Celtics in 2017 ended up making the Eastern Conference Finals on the back of MVP candidate Isaiah Thomas. The 5’9” offensive star was unstoppable on the Celtics' offense because he was surrounded by excellent perimeter defenders who brought size and defense.
With Kevin Durant, Thomas probably does not earn as much MVP consideration but he certainly gets the help he needs to possibly lead the franchise to the NBA Finals. With Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Al Horford spearheading the defense, the Celtics had Thomas and Durant on the roster to take over the offense.
This lineup is very complete on both ends of the floor, but still, would it have been enough to take on the Cavaliers? In reality, the Celtics fell in 5 games in the ECF, but with Durant, it could have realistically been a 7-game-series with the NBA Finals appearance up for grabs.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Starting Lineup: Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Kevin Durant, Domantas Sabonis, Steven Adams
Had Kevin Durant re-signed, we probably would have witnessed the same old, same old. In 2017, without Durant by his side, Russell Westbrook won MVP by averaging a triple-double for the first time since Oscar Robertson. Of course, Russ took the bulk of the shots and also led the league in scoring by carrying the depleted squad into the playoffs.
Had Durant re-signed, Westbrook does not win MVP, a scoring title, or likely average a triple-double. That could have altered Russ’ legacy because the triple-double obsession probably would not have happened. But with the arrival of two-way shooting guard Victor Oladipo, the OKC Thunder would have had a better squad than the previous year.
But was Kevin Durant fed up with the play of his point guard? There were also rumors of Durant having issues with head coach Billy Donovan. On paper, the Thunder would have been title contenders, but Durant probably left because of his inability to mesh with Westbrook and Billy Donovan.
Los Angeles Clippers
Starting Lineup: Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
The Los Angeles Clippers only dreamed of acquiring Kevin Durant. They were sorely missing a swingman throughout the years of contention in the West because they always had to fill the spot with decent but unspectacular talent. That meant the pressure was always on Chris Paul to create on the offensive end.
Durant would have been a gift from the heavens because he can play on or off the ball to create offense. With J.J. Redick spotting up for open shots, the Clippers' offense would have been complete with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan catching lobs inside. Chris Paul and Kevin Durant would be unstoppable on the break, and the team would likely challenge the Warriors as the best team in the West.
In reality, the Clippers lost in the first round in 2017 because Blake Griffin missed 4 games in the first round due to injury. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin’s injury history probably would not have helped Durant that much, a very real possibility that things might not have worked out as expected.
San Antonio Spurs
Starting Lineup: Tony Parker, Patty Mills, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge
With the San Antonio Spurs, Kevin Durant would have formed one of the best duos in NBA history. Both Durant and Leonard provide height, skill, and defensive ability on the wings. The San Antonio Spurs did well in 2017 without Durant, holding a 61-21 record and making it to the Western Conference Finals.
Of course, the Spurs lost to the Warriors squad that had Kevin Durant in a 4-0 sweep. With Durant on the other side, San Antonio likely makes the NBA Finals in an expected showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Durant and Kawhi would be too much for the Warriors.
But would the Spurs go back-to-back? LaMarcus Aldridge did not have his best seasons with San Antonio, Tony Parker would average a career-low 19.5 MPG at age 35 the following year, and Kawhi Leonard is known to miss time here and there with injury. It is not certain that the Spurs would win more than one title, but they would have been the best team in the West in the first season for sure.
Golden State Warriors
Starting Lineup: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia
The Golden State Warriors superteam completed by Kevin Durant is one of the best teams of all time. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, known as the Splash Brothers, are the best shooting backcourt of all time. The addition of Kevin Durant created the Splash Brothers 2.0, an unstoppable trio of elite perimeter stars.
Durant also had the chance to play alongside Draymond Green, one of the most underrated and impactful defensive stars in the NBA. Zaza Pachulia was not a star player by any means, but he was one of the most physically imposing players in the league and was certainly an enforcer.
Kevin Durant fit with the Warriors like a glove, and the consistency of his teammates made the Golden State Warriors one of the best dynasties ever. Unlike his chances with the older Spurs and the injury-prone Clippers, Durant knew what he would get every night with his teammates in Golden State.
Kevin Durant Made The Right Decision Joining The Golden State Warriors
Obviously, Kevin Durant made the correct decision to join the Golden State Warriors rather than sign with the other 5 teams he interviewed with. Even if social media and the fans still come down hard on Durant’s decision, people living 20-30 years from now will only see Finals MVPs and NBA championships next to Kevin Durant’s name. Even if current critics believe KD’s rings have massive asterisks next to them, it does not remove them from his resume.
That is what Durant understood in the summer of 2016, and he made a decision that would change his legacy forever. Of course, KD’s decision has brought a ton of haters out of the woodwork and the player has become more of a “villain” rather than a “babyface”. Many people want to see Kevin Durant fail with the Brooklyn Nets, and his decision stemming 5 years ago is a big part of that. While it is obvious that Durant would have made any of the above teams “superteam-quality”, he does not fit better with any squad than he did with the Warriors.
With the Miami Heat, Dwyane Wade signed with the Chicago Bulls and would have probably re-signed with Miami had Durant joined. But the shooting guard was also older (35) and averaged his lowest-scoring output since his rookie year (18.3 PPG). As talented as Dragic and Whiteside are, they are not on the level of Steph, Klay, and Draymond and a championship victory was not guaranteed for KD.
Had Durant joined Boston to team up with fan-favorite Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics would have been a very talented team. With a host of defenders (Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, Al Horford) under a bright head coach in Brad Stevens, the Celtics would have been a team to beat in the Eastern Conference. But in reality, did they have enough to get over the hump against a LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love superteam? Probably not.
What if KD re-signed with the OKC Thunder? Durant and Westbrook made the NBA Finals in 2012...but they had James Harden and a prime Serge Ibaka as well. Their best shot to return to the Finals came in 2016 when they were up 3-1 against the Warriors. Their collapse probably meant that the duo of Russ and KD was never going to work, mainly because one player preferred isolation ball while the other wanted to share the ball equally.
Probably the most exciting team to watch would have been the Los Angeles Clippers with Kevin Durant on the side. Chris Paul and company needed an elite swingman because Blake Griffin needed a player to create for him and so did DeAndre Jordan who was more of defensive threat. With Durant, the Clippers would have had 4 All-Star performers on the court with a sharpshooter of JJ Redick’s status. Paul and Griffin’s injury history could have been a negative factor in Durant’s decision to overlook the Clippers in free agency.
With San Antonio, Durant would have formed arguably the best perimeter duo in NBA history with Kawhi Leonard. San Antonio certainly shared the ball on offense, but a Tony Parker past his prime (34) and an inconsistent Aldridge might have not been enough. There was no Tim Duncan on the team after his retirement, and the likes of Manu Ginobili (39) and Pau Gasol (36) off the bench were also aging. It is likely that Durant would have won at least one NBA title, but certainly not made the Finals three straight times.
Therefore, Kevin Durant made the right decision to team up with the Golden State Warriors. Of course, the forward still has to deal with the backlash until this very day and is often defensive when discussing his NBA career. That type of mental stress has proven to be manageable by the 4-time scoring champion, but it might be something he has to deal with for the rest of his career. KD did not fit better with any team than he did with the Golden State Warriors, which means he made a pure basketball decision.
Durant just wants to hoop and is not concerned with any of the external factors for deciding where to sign in free agency. Unlike most other superstars, legacy and narratives mean very little to Durant’s decisions, and by joining an already-established superteam, he gave himself the easiest path to earning 2 NBA titles and 2 Finals MVPs in a resume that already includes a regular-season MVP and 4 scoring titles.
Credit for an idea: NBA Debates/Instagram