The 2016 NBA free agent class is headlined by a handful of players coveted, at some point in the recent past, by every franchise in the league.
Kobe Bryant’s mega-contract with the Los Angeles Lakers expired; Dirk Nowitzki opted out of his deal, 18 years into his tenure with Dallas, and is also an unrestricted free agent; 15 year veteran Joe Johnson is available; Dwight Howard is on the market; Andre Drummond is a restricted free agent, as is Bradley Beal; Bismack Biyombo is available, unrestricted. And LeBron James and Kevin Durant are both unrestricted free agents.
Arguably the best two players in the league over the past decade hitting free agency at the same time is rare, and indeed is unlikely to come to pass this time around. James is expected to sign another, increasingly lucrative, deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers. It is somewhere on the possible-probably scale that he signs another 1+1 deal, with a second year player option for him to exercise or opt out of to allow himself maximum flexibility should he remain in the likely position of still being the best player in the world.
Durant, however, is more interesting. He has arranged six meetings with NBA teams. On Thursday, he will meet with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team that moved him from Seattle where the Supersonics drafted him nine years ago. Then he will move on to New York to hold meetings with the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. His much rumored move back to his hometown of Washington appears not likely to take place this summer.
Durant cannot sign a contract until July 8, a full week after free agency opens. The desire teams have to meet with free agents as soon as possible allows them to lock in their guys as quickly as possible, but also opens teams up to the risk of the indecisiveness of someone like DeAndre Jordan, who reneged on his deal with the Dallas Mavericks last year to return to the Clippers.
Each of the teams that Durant will meet with has clear title aspirations, with only Miami looking like the addition of Durant would still leave them a piece or two short of a legitimate contender. Golden State would be abandoning their “drafted not acquired” core to add the marquee free agent of this summer; San Antonio long ago abandoned that philosophy in the name of staying relevant as their stars they drafted began to age but will hope that Durant’s affinity for Texas, where he spent a year at the University of Texas only 90 miles away from San Antonio, can lure him much as it did for LaMarcus Aldridge last summer. The Clippers have flattered to deceive of late and could definitely use Durant to attempt push them over the edge and still have $34m to spend whilst remaining under the luxury tax threshold, though there are several roster spots that will need filled. Meanwhile, the eastern teams will look upon Durant as the key piece of their roster that could push them to contend with the newly-minted champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers, in the otherwise weaker conference that they share.
Many suggest that Durant will re-sign with Oklahoma, a team that came so close to the NBA finals this year and a roster that, despite another significant facelift (in the form of the Serge Ibaka trade) retains much potential. Others will point to his last bout of free agency, which ended with the whimper of him quietly signing a new deal and announcing it on social media, and ask why the high profile meetings this time around?
It promises to be an interesting weekend in the NBA.