Unless you've been buried under a rock for the last week or so, you know that tonight at midnight marks the start of free agency in the NBA. While the Nuggets aren't likely to be major players in free agency, they will have a rooting interest in where star players end up, including and especially the league's most coveted free agent, Kevin Durant.
Durant might be the league's best all-around player next year and where he chooses to play next season will have a major impact on the rest of the league. He can single handedly tilt the balance of power. For more than a decade, the western conference has been much more competitive than the eastern conference, due in large part to the amount of star power and super teams out west. While Durant going east wouldn't instantly make the east better than the west, it would certainly balance things out quite a bit.
The Nuggets, too, will be inpacted quite a bit by what KD decides over the next few days. There are a few options for him that would greatly improve the Nuggets chances in both the short term and long term. There are also a few catastrophic options for KD that would greatly hinder the Nuggets' chances at making the playoffs, earning a high seed, and advancing deep in the post season. Let's take a look at Durant's leading choices, ranked from best case scenario for the Nuggets, to least.
The New York Knicks
The Knicks are far and away the best option for the Nuggets. For starters, Durant would be in the east, far away from ever facing the Nuggets in a playoff series. He'd also be out of the division and sharing the court (and basketball) with Carmelo Anthony. And while Melo and KD could make a lethal one-two scoring punch, I'm not sure that alone makes for a legitimate contender. The Knicks are also among the league's most dysfunctional franchises. If anyone can screw up KD, Melo, and Kristaps Porzingis, it's the Knicks.
Like the Knicks, the Celtics are in the east. They also have a very incomplete roster and might not be able to build a contender on the fly. It's entirely possible that KD signs with the Celtics and is then disappointed as general manager Danny Ainge brings back a similar roster next season. However, the Celtics have a lot of assets and could almost certainly swing a trade or two that would provide them a solid foundation. There's also the Celtics ace in the hole, Brad Stevens. In his short career thus far, Stevens looks like the best up-and-coming coach in the league. He's managed to build a fairly successful team around a motley crew of misfits, imagine what he'd do with Durant, Jimmy Butler, and Al Horford.
The Heat are an intriguing option for KD. Dwyane Wade is already there, as is Eric Spoelstra, one of the most under rated coaches in the league. They are widely regaurded as one of the best run organizations in the league and there is little doubt that they could build a great roster around Durant and Wade very quickly. Fortunately, they too are in the eastern conference and far away from our beloved Nuggets. If KD signed in Miami tomorrow, the Cavs would still be the favorites in the east and the Nuggets would only face the Heat twice per year.
The Clippers are the Western Conference's step child franchise. Their roster has been pretty solid on paper since Chris Paul arrived yet not once have they been favored or even mentioned alongside teams like the Spurs, Warriors, and Thunder. They always wind up a step below the upper echelon when talking about the league's powerhouse teams. That would almost certainly change with KD in the fold but I'm not sure it'd be a perfect marriage. CP3 still dominates the basketball on offense and Blake Griffin plays Durant's most effective spot, power forward. Durant would also have to take a discount to play in L.A. which makes the Clippers a long shot to even get serious consideration from KD.
Then there is the issue that he would stay in the west. Paul, Durant, Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan are all young enough that they could form a mini dynasty if everything broke right and having another super team in the west is never a good thing. I personally don't think a Clippers team with KD would be as good as the Warriors or Cavs but it would certainly be better than the Nuggets project to be over the next couple of seasons.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have been on a 20 year streak of playing great basketball. Ever since Tim Duncan entered the league they've been one of the four or five best teams in the west. It would be painful for every other western conference team if, on Duncan's way out the door, the Spurs re-upped with Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Durant. Kawhi and KD could be the best defensive forward combo in the league, a straight jacket of length and athleticism. There is no doubt at all the Gregg Popovich would find new ways to maximize Durant's skill set, even if it somehow meant reducing his scoring load.
The Spurs are one of three teams on the list that could land Durant and immediately become title favorites. And not only favorites this year, it'd be hard to imagine that young core fading anytime soon. Aldridge is 30 and given the way he plays, could probably be productive well into his late 30's. The Spurs do everything right as an organization and with a big 3 like KD, LA, and Kawhi, it'd be so easy to build a solid supporting cast around them. This is, afterall, a franchise that turns castaways into 6th man of the year candidates. Give them loaded cards in the hole and they are certain to make the most of it.
The Golden State Warriors
This wouldn't just be a disaster for the Nuggets, it'd be a travesty for the league. The Warriors were 53 seconds away from repeating as NBA champions, even with their best player suffering two injuries in the playoffs, their 2nd best player getting a 1-game suspension, and their starting center missing the final two-and-a-half games of the series. Take nothing away from Lebron James and the Cavs, but there shouldn't be much doubt that the Warriors could've won it all this year with just a tiny bit more luck.
The only thing that keeps this option from being the absolute worst scenario is that it might set the Warriors up for a shorter window of opportunity than most. Steph Curry is set to receive a big pay increase when his next contract is up. The same can be said for Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. The Warriors were somewhat lucky (and equally as opportunistic) that they were able to sign Curry for such a cheap deal the first go-round, but adding superstar talent changes everything. Players can only play on discount for so long. Still, there is little doubt that a Warriors team with KD would steamroll the rest of the league next season, including the young Nuggets.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The worst option is also the most likely. The Thunder were thisclose to beating the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals just five weeks ago and they are likely to be even better next season. There are rumors swirling around that the Thunder would like to swap Enes Kanter out and bring Al Horford in, a fit that would imediately make them more versatile on both ends of the court. Somehow, Steven Adams is only 22 years old and already one of the best centers in the league, a perfect complimentary big to play alongside two dynamic scorers in Durant and Russell Westbrook.
But most important of all, the Thunder are in the Northwest division. The Nuggets will play the Thunder four times per year and will have to overcome the Thunder if they ever hope to win the division. Having Durant stay in OKC means the Nuggets are almost certainly going to finish no better than 2nd in the division for years to come. Even in two or three years when the Nuggets young players are all more seasoned and ready to compete with the league's best, Durant will still be in the tail end of his prime. And if the Nuggets somehow do manage to win the division, they'd still have to face the Thunder in a playoff series, and NO ONE wants to play Durant and Westbrook in a playoff series. The Spurs won 63 games and still got spanked by Durant and Westbrook.
KD is meeting with teams over the next few days and will likely announce his decision very soon. For Nuggets fans, it'd be much better if he falls in love with the warm Miami air, or the busy streets of New York City.