By Mike Civiello
So the Thunder just got eliminated. Blowing, choking (choice of words not great back to back), or whatever you want to call it. A 3-1 lead vanished faster than those crying jordan faces getting put up after the loss. I for one lean towards it being a choke job, especially Game 6, where KD didn’t really show up and Russell committed 4 turnovers in the final two minutes.
Now KD, who is an impending free agent, has a big big big decision to make. I pose the question: How much better can the Thunder get? This seemed like their best shot, again bringing up the fact they were ONE win away from a rematch against LeBron James in the NBA Finals. (Ohhhh the flop contest between James and Westbrook would have been epic). Durant has to be frustrated, and nine seasons with one organization with no rings can wear on a player, especially as competitive as Durant. The dynamic with Russell Westbrook just does not seem to work. Two isolation players that have not seemed to figure it out in the clutch. Not to suck up to Durant, but I want him taking the important shots down the stretch. Russell should use his athletic abilities to get KD open looks when it matters.
Just logically thinking about it: Why on earth would he stay in the Western Conference? I mean if he decides to stay in OKC, that is fine, I guess. But, anywhere he goes he still has to go through a gauntlet of teams to get to the Finals, most likely against Mr. LeBron himself. With that said, I pose another question: If he goes East, what teams make the most since? Well, that is a tricky one, but I still hold hope the District of Columbia has a chance. I will now give the reasons why:
1. LeBron Example
Let us go back to 2014. The Cavaliers finished 33-49. That is not very good. They had a young scoring PG in Kyrie Irving, a wink wink deal in place for Kevin Love, but their roster was not anything to write home about. Also Irving and Love had zero playoff experience, being in chronic losing environments. They went on the make some major trades to assemble a more contending roster, on top of taking advantage of a poor Eastern Conference.
With that said, if LeBron ditched a good situation to go, on the surface, to a less attractive destination, why can’t KD? No one knows what he is actually going to do, but to write off the Wizards because they had a down year and severely underachieved, cannot be the main reason. I refuse to allow someone to mainly argue that. What can be argued is incompetent coaching and management. Well, with coaching, the Wizards just hired his former coach Scott Brooks, so there is one bird down. But, Ernie Grunfeld is still at the helm of General Manager.
OKC can offer Kevin Durant the most money technically, but my overall theory is that Ernie Grunfeld still has a job because he knows something. Whether be from Durant’s agent, mother, brother, 2nd cousin who’s “on the inside,” I don’t know who, but no GM keeps a job with the incompetency he has manifested over his way too long tenure (I could literally write a novel on his overall ineptitude). He says the down season was a “speed bump” in his plan (the most transparent plan to get KD of all time). We will see how this unfolds. Like I asked, how in the world does he still have a job? Just to see his plan fail? I can’t see the reason Ted not firing him is solely based on “ehh maybe we can get KD still.”
2. West vs. East: Come on…
I referenced this earlier, but the disparity between the Western and Eastern conferences is still vast. The East, record wise, had an increase, but when it came to the playoffs, it showed how it still leans towards embarrassing. No challenge at all was presented to the Cavs. The Raptors had a small spark of life. It was cute, but diffused.
If Kevin Durant wants to stay in the West, so be it. You are not beating Golden State. With that said, I do not see him joining Golden State either. Why would the Warriors sink money into that and tinker with their roster when they have a good thing going? On the other hand I don’t see KD joining an already super team. San Antonio is another option, but then you still are dealing with the Warriors, Clippers, Blazers on the rise, Houston, Dallas (who gave them fits), Memphis will always be a grind you out team. A Thunder team you leave that will be good with Russ taking 30 shots a game. It is a tough road no matter what.
If he goes East, it is clear: get through LeBron and you will make the finals. That is easier said than done, but LeBron has faced no challenge for some time now. A Durant-led team in the East would easily be his toughest challenge yet.
Now let us move on to the reasons more centralized around the home team: The Washington Wizards.
3. John Wall as Your Point Guard
Like I said, the Russell Westbrook dynamic is just not working with Kevin Durant. Yes, they can play well together, but in a lot of situations where the Thunder need points, Westbrook forgets who, in my opinion, is the 1B best pure scorer on the planet (I go back and forth between him and Steph). I am not saying that John Wall is better than Russell Westbrook. I am saying however, John Wall would be a better compliment to Kevin Durant and what he does best: scoring the damn ball. John Wall is elite at setting up others, constantly passing up open layups for teammates to have an opportunity at wide open three pointers. It is no coincidence when a competent shooter comes to Washington their shooting percentages skyrocket. He also has a great pick and pop/roll feel for whoever he is playing with. Gortat usually with the roll, and Morris late in the season with the pop. His feel from the PG has improved dramatically over the years, changing pace, and controlling the game. He still has flaws and regressed a little bit this past season, but the man still gave the Wizards 20 and 10 and 5 (no All-NBA team? Okay).
With Kevin Durant, John Wall would be in heaven, and so would Kevin Durant. No more would KD have to worry about ill advised being taken from the point guard spot. For John Wall, he would finally have a consistent elite scorer. He has never had anything remotely close to Kevin Durant as a running mate. Bradley Beal has shown flashes of scoring ability (see early last season), but injuries have really hampered his consistent development in that area. John Wall and Kevin Durant would be a combination better than cold pizza and ranch dressing (if you don’t like that…what is wrong with you?!).
4. Relegate Bradley Beal to Elite Spot-up Shooter
The caveat here is health and him being resigned, reluctantly to the max deal. As mentioned above, Brad has shown flashes of being more than just a shooter. But, while developing more as a scorer, more stress was put on his, what now can officially be called “fragile legs.” Now that you have John running the point setting up KD for his 25 shots, let us slide Brad to more of a spot up shooter. It is a bit of a demotion, but imagine the open looks he would get? He also has thrived in any situation being able to spot up. I know he desperately tried to add that step back, but it just seemed so forced. Paying the max for a spot up shooter is not what I am advocating. I think he would be mainly a spot up shooter with the ability to do more when called upon. Think a poorer Klay Thompson (who has exploded). I think the core of Beal, Wall, and Durant would be a nice start. But I am not done going through the roster.
5. A Front Court of Morris and Gortat
When Morris was brought in, it was a familiar sight to see Gortat. They were teammates in Phoenix a short while back. So this is not the first time they teamed up in a front court.
I was not a fan of the trade to get Morris, but we have him, so lets acknowledge he is not horrible. Worth a 1st? No, but he is on a decent contract and brings some good qualities. He surprisingly shot close to 40% from beyond the arc and formed a nice rapport with John Wall with lobs and pick-and-pops. I hate preferencing defense this way, but when he wanted to, showed ability to disrupt and played extremely tough. He was not consistent, but I would not label him as a generally bad defender. Sliding him in at the four spot would be great in a lineup with the already mentioned KD, Wall, and Beal. I fully expect him to try to become more of a consistent stretch four with that three point shot.
Moving to the five spot now, which Marcin Gortat occupies, and he’s done a damn good job in it I might say. Marcin can be frustrating, randomly rising up and dunking all over a defender one catch, and the next softly going up and getting swatted. Overall he has great hands that allow him to be an asset in the pick-and-roll game with Wall. They have developed great chemistry together. He also sprinkles in a nice mid range jumper and average defense. He is a very good center, who in my opinion, is under appreciated in the nations capital. I could say that about a lot of the Wizards players, but I don’t want to go down that route.
So recapping, we would have a lineup of:
I like that lineup in the East. Someone tell me that is not a really good lineup. Go ahead. Durant is a smart man and should see that. Obviously there are other players that need to fill out the roster. This isn’t a video game where you can turn off the fatigue and go five guys for 48 minutes.
6. Finally: Bench Players and Scott Brooks
Now it still has to be determined how much money can really be spent outside of theoretically signing Beal and Durant, but there are guaranteed role players that are pretty serviceable….at least one is. The other is young and has great potential as a scorer in this league. The two players I am referring to are Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre. Porter can play in this league. It would be ideal for him to eat a few cheeseburgers and pack on the pounds, but he has shown the ability to hit the 3, defend, and knock down the midrange. His off ball movement is also fantastic. Add in the potential options you can have if you went “small” and played KD at the four.
Oubre, if nurtured by Brooks could become a valuable commodity off the bench. The kid can score the rock, and has the ability to become an elite on ball defender with his length and athleticism. Also a bonus KD knows him from the DMV area. But that is more of a joking bonus.
The rest of the roster would have to be filled out with veterans on discounts, mainly in the front court. I already admit those are holes that can be punched in this overall view of bringing KD home, but look at what Cleveland and Miami did. Veterans seeing a potential contender will take less.
The last point to be made intertwines with some of the young existing talent. Some of that talent has not been tapped into properly (Oubre/Otto – thanks Randy). Scott Brook was hired as the Wizards’ new head coach. He has shown ability to raise the young pups in OKC (Durant, Russ, the Beard), and teach them winning. Otto and Oubre are still ultra young, and so is Beal for that matter. Wall still has plenty of room to grow as well. Oh and did I mention he was Durant’s former coach, one of which he thought fondly of? I think that can only help.
The main bonus to all of this, Kevin Durant will be able to come home (real home, not Cleveland where your real home is 40 miles away in Akron). He can go to as many Redskins games as he wants. Speaking of the Redskins, can the Wizards just hire Scot McCloughan for the day and send him on a recon mission? Seriously him Wale, Wall, a couple Redskins, the whole ordeal.
On a more serious note I feel like the above reasons, for the most part, are pretty valid. Throwing advanced stats at me won’t really budge me. Sorry, but I am still more of an eye test guy. Call me old fashioned at my young age. The Wizards have talent, looked down upon in a seriously pessimistic way, mainly due to underachieving and well, let’s be honest, the whole #DCSports thing. I totally get it, I have lived through only disappointment and have been beat down like the rest of DC fans, but you cannot just completely rule out him coming here. NO ONE knows what he is thinking. Hell he could not want anything to do with coming home. We don’t know.
Call me a blind homer, a reacher, or my favorite one: ask me what I am smoking. I think you have not given the whole thing much thought if you are so quick to dismiss this thought.
Also Really quick: The Celtics seem like the only real threat in the East. They have assets on top of assets. They are set up to make a splash similar to landing KG and Ray Allen back in 2007. If they pull off something of that magnitude, KD could be lured there. Miami will probably lose Bosh (health/heart), Wade is aging, and Whiteside may leave. I don’t see KD taking his talents to South Beach. I also don’t think he would want to follow LeBron in that way.
So if he is leaving OKC and going East, I think the Wizards are more formidable destination than they are given credit for. Let the rumors fly until July 1st, a potential landscape changer in the East.
Don’t F it up Ernie….if indeed it is a legit option.