After finishing the season 50-38 (including playoffs), the Boston Celtics are in prime position to make the jump from middle-of-the-road playoff team to championship contender. With enough cap room to add two max-free agents and the assets to trade for a star if needed, the Celtics will be extremely active in the free agent market, and it won't be to sign players like Amir Johnson, it will be to sign guys like Kevin Durant, DeMar DeRozan, Bradley Beal, etc... No disrespect to Johnson, but not being able to sign a game-altering free agent in the summer of 2015 put Boston in a tough position- good, but not good enough.
Boston has some talented players, no doubt about that, but they don't have a superstar that other teams simply can't guard. Isaiah Thomas is a great player, but his size is an issue in the playoffs because without any other options, teams just key on the 5'9 point guard, and if other players aren't hitting their shots, Boston is done. That is exactly what happened against the Cavaliers in 15' and the Hawks in '16. Boston needs a star, specifically a shooting guard or small forward that can score, and Durant is not only the best option in free agency, he's the best small forward in the NBA.
Durant, 28, who was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up just outside the capitol, was a sure-fire prospect after his one year at the University of Texas, averaging 25.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 1.9 blocks, and he shot an eye-popping 47% (40% from three). With his long 6'9 frame and beautiful shot, he was destined to become a great pro, and that is exactly what has happened. Durant was the second overall pick in 2007 for the Seattle Supersonics. He was named the 2007-08 NBA Rookie of the Year, averaging 20.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game. Durant took a franchise that was struggling and made them valid again. After one year in Seattle, the franchise moved to Oklahoma City.
Durant has averaged 27.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.2 steals, and one block per game throughout his nine year career. His first two years in the league, the Sonics/Thunder only won a combined 43 games, but in 09-10, Durant took his game and his team to the next level, winning 50 games before losing in the first round of the playoffs. The progression continued for Durant in 10-11, and the Thunder continued to reap the benefits. Oklahoma City lost in the Western Conference Finals, but to go from 23 win team to a 55-win team in the stacked Western Conference is a feat in itself.
The 2011-12 season was the peak of Durant's career to date; the Thunder made it all the way to the NBA Finals, where they lost to Lebron James and the Miami Heat. The 2012-13 season was Durant and the Thunder's best regular-season wise, as they finished 60-22 with Durant being named the league MVP, but the playoff frustrations started to grow as the Thunder lost another matchup in the Western Conference Finals.
Durant only played 27 games (averaging 25.4 points while clearly hobbled) in 2014-15 after he injured his foot and had season-ending surgery. The Thunder battled hard, but they just weren't the same and they failed to make the playoffs, regardless of the awesome effort put forth by Durant's sidekick, Russell Westbrook. Durant returned with a bang this season, averaging 28.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.2 blocks, and one steal per game while leading the Thunder to a 55-27 record. The Thunder are currently tied 1-1 with the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Boston has made it quite clear that they will actively pursue all avenues of free agency this summer, but they've also made it known that Durant is at the top of their list, and they think if they can meet with him, they can get him to commit. Adding Durant alone would make the Celtics a 57-62 win team, and if they sign him, he wouldn't be the only great player to land in Boston. The Thunder are a great franchise and they have an excellent core, but the Celtics have two things that Oklahoma City doesn't have- a chance to compete in a conference where he has a legitimate shot at making the Finals immediately, and an ownership/management team that has proven they know how to build a team that can win it all.
So the question is simple- does Durant believe that OKC can win a title in the loaded West, or does he take his unique talents to Boston where he will most certainly have a chance to get to the Finals? This is a question only Durant can answer, and the outcome could change the NBA for years to come.
Durant's 2015/16 highlights courtesy of The Crossover/YouTube
College Statistics Provided by Sports-Reference.com/College Basketball/Kevin Durant
NBA Statistics Provided by Basketball-Reference.com/Kevin Durant
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