Should Kevin Durant Really Consider Leaving Oklahoma City for Washington?
12.6 and 1,300. Those are possibly the two most important numbers to consider when answering this question. Why? That's how far (in miles) it is from Montrose Christian School, where Kevin Durant attended high school, to Washington, D.C. and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, respectively.
The only thing that might prevent him from doing just that is this:
It might be hard to sit alongside The Polish Hammer after making him look like the Polish Stepladder. But, with all the talent, money, and success Durant could bring to Washington, I think Gortat could get over it with a hug and welcome KD with open arms.
But, if Durant really wants to do what's best for his professional career and his future in the NBA, he would be smart to do further research. Actually, I've done some for him. So, without further ado, let's take a look at the numbers like we do here at numberFire.
It's not hard to agree objectively that the Thunder, as a whole, have more talent on their roster compared to the Wizards.
At the cornerstone of the team, there's Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. But, OKC also has the right type of role and bench players -- and a lot of them are really just starting their NBA careers. From Steven Adams and Dion Waiters to Anthony Morrow and Reggie Jackson, there's a lot of supporting talent in place. All but Waiters possess a nERD of -0.1 or better.
For those of you foreign to our in-house metric, nERD, it is a player ranking that measures a player's total contribution throughout the course of a season, based on his efficiency. nERD indicates how many wins above or below .500 a player would contribute to an NBA team as a starter.
However, as good as the Thunder's current roster is, the Wizards' is better so far this season. As a team, the Wizards have earned a nERD of 60.1 -- good enough for 10th in the league -- while the Thunder have earned a nERD of 54.0 -- 13th in the league. This discrepancy might be due to the fact that both Durant and Westbrook have missed several games this season. Nonetheless, the Wizards have won seven more games than the Thunder and have proven themselves as contenders in the East after losing in the Eastern Conference Finals just a year ago.
The mainstays of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Nene and Marcin Gortat have built up some really good chemistry together, allowing veteran free agent Paul Pierce to step in and contribute in his first (and maybe only) year with Wizards. Therefore, it's not stunning at all to see the Wizards thriving. Of the five, Beal (-0.9) is the lonely starter not to have a nERD of 1.4 or better.
So, while Oklahoma City may be the more talented team (considering the injuries), especially with its youth, Washington is a proven commodity in the East and is a stable environment for incoming players. However, KD doesn't hit free agency until 2016, so he won't be looking at the rosters as they are today when it comes time for him to choose.
Before jumping into the possible rosters, I must preface them with an explanation of the projected jump in salary cap. Currently, the salary cap is roughly $63 million. But, with the current $930 million dollar TV deal set to expire after next season, a new TV deal is projected at about $2 billion. If that's the case, the cap should jump from about $66 million in 2015-16 to about $80 million in 2016-17. For the sake of this article, we're going to assume the round figure of $80 million.
With that being said, both the Thunder and Wizards should expect to have a lot of cap space to go around in 2016. Oklahoma City, as their payroll stands now (via basketball-reference.com), would have only two current players, Westbrook and Ibaka, and one former player, on the books without any kind of option. That total would stand at about $31.1 million. If they would pick up team options on four other players, that would bring the total to about $41.5 million. But, let's assume they don't and they want to have as much cap space as possible to keep KD around. That would leave them (with the cap at $80 million) with roughly $48.9 million in cap space.
As for the Wizards, with their current payroll, they would have only four players under contract without picking up any options. Those four players are Wall, Gortat, Martell Webster, and Kris Humphries. The total of their four salaries is about $39.4 million. They also have team options on two bench players, but again, we're going to assume they let those players go to have as much cap space as possible to lure KD into our nation's capital. That leaves them with roughly $40.6 to play with in free agency.
What the individual teams do to surround those players, and possibly KD, could be a gigantic factor come decision-time. Will the Thunder sign Adams to a contract extension? Will Waiters develop to the point where they could sign him up for another two to three years? Will they work the free agent and trade markets in search of better supporting talent?
Will the Wizards do more? Are they going to sign Beal to an extension for a lot more money than his current deal? Will they look to acquire players through free agency or via trades? Amid all the questions, one thing is for certain. Nene won't be the same player he has been. He'll be 34 in two years with a lot of international wear and tear on his body. So, they may be in the market for a floor-spacing big man.
Both teams should have the space to make a huge offer to Durant, but the general managers may prove the deciding factors. Talent could likely dictate where KD will end up. But are there other factors yet?
Conference is another thing to consider. The Wizards gain advantage here, based on recent history and this current season. The East has been consistently weaker than the Western Conference, and it has been much harder for teams to get to, let alone win, an NBA Finals. It would be easier to get that opportunity in the East. It's a big factor to consider since KD is still absent a ring. Would he choose the easier path though?
Another possible consideration is the market size. Washington, D.C. is a much bigger sports market than Oklahoma City. Unlike Oklahoma City, Washington has three other major professional sports teams. But, according to Forbes' most recent valuations, both teams are valued around $900 million. Surprisingly, however, Oklahoma City has the edge by $30 million with a value of $930 million.
So, would D.C. really be the smarter choice financially? Probably. Durant would surely raise that value with his own arrival while OKC would likely see a decrease. When it comes to salary, it's just a matter of who will be paying KD the maximum he can get.
But even with all the numbers and money signs floating around his head, two numbers -- 12.6 and 1,300 -- might be the deciding factor for KD come 2016.