Oh, the Teams To Which You Could Go!

“Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!

There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.

And the magical things you can do with that ball

will make you the winning-est winner of all.”

– Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go!

Oh, Canada!

I was having a conversation the other day with a fellow basketball enthusiast, and it went like this:

Prophet: “You know those really smart things that you learn and can tell people and they’re impressed because you’re so right, but they didn’t even realize it?”

Fellow: “Yeah, okay.”

Prophet: “Kevin Durant isn’t going to the Wizards.  He won’t stay with the Thunder.  Not the Lakers or the Celtics.”

Fellow: “So where is he going then?”

Prophet: “The Raptors.”

Then I went in to detail.  The conversation ended with this:

Fellow: “Holy Shit.  You’re totally right.”

Prophet: “I know right?!”

In retrospect I wish I had said, “They don’t call me the prophet for nothing,” and then floated out of the bar on a cloud.

Maybe he woke up and came to his senses.  Or maybe he got drunk enough that night that he forgot about the whole conversation.  Or maybe I’ve changed his life more than I could ever know.  I only had a beer flight, in which the last beer had a unique pomegranate undertone with subtle, but sharp, accents of ginger and mint.  9/10.  Wish I could remember the name of the beer.

I maintain that Kevin Durant will be a Raptor in 2016.  The concept doesn’t get nearly the level of credibility it deserves.  My impression is that half of fans believe he will stay in OKC, while the other half believes that he will go to the Wizards.  There are a few fans who believe that Durant is headed to their hometown team, but fans like that are just deluding themselves to avoid confronting the sobering reality that their team will most likely not win the next 10 championships.

If you are skeptical at this point, I understand.  You should believe everything I say because I’m divinely informed by the Almighty Baller himself, but I am willing to explain myself to those of you who are doubters.  Let’s examine each team considered to be legitimate contenders for his services.

Oklahoma City

okc-thunder-2012

“I love it here, man. I love my teammates, I love the city, I don’t really think about anywhere else.  I hear it all the time, don’t get me wrong, and once you hear it you’re kind of like [looks up, thinking]. But for me, I love staying in the moment, and I’m one of those guys that would love to stick it out with one team my whole career.”

This one’s Kevin.

“It was a tough decision, because I know how loyal I am.”

This one’s Lebron.

Did we all forget that Lebron insisted that he would never leave Cleveland?  He was born and raised there, was drafter there, played his professional career there, and his entire family was there. Nobody expected Lebron to leave.  Most importantly, Lebron never expected to leave Cleveland.

I don’t mean to single out Lebron, though his case was particularly egregious.  The wounds are still fresh, the ashes of burnt jerseys still hang in the Cleveland air, and despite his return, many fans will never forget the Decision.  There will always be tension about him leaving, even though it is almost guaranteed that he will not.

To those of you who arent in the know, Lebron left to chase rings.  He left to go to South Beach, a beautiful city full of beautiful people, with beautiful weather.  He left because of a poor relationship with the ownership (allegedly.)  He left because he was immature and wanted to chase the title of ‘best ever.’

Bullshit.   He really left because the Cavaliers weren’t winning.  He wanted to win.

What happens when Kevin Durant watches his team approach the finals year after year, before watching them crumble?  What happens when Kevin Durant realizes that a core of Himself, James Harden, Russel Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and a toaster could have won multiple titles, but ownership wasn’t willing to cough up the dough?  What happens when he realizes that a small market team will desperately avoid going over the luxury tax, but bigger markets won’t be concerned?

Staying in OKC would be a terrible career decision for Durant.

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Financially, he won’t be able to establish a brand of the same scale in OKC as he would in a city like LA.

Oklahoma city is a pretty lame city (sorry OKC fans).  How could it possibly compete with sprawling metropolises like LA, NYC, or Miami?  Oklahoma is just not a city for a player who wants to go down as one of the best players in history.  And as a small market team, it doesn’t have the money to provide the personnel Durant deserves.  He won’t have nearly as talented staff around him in OKC, or players for that matter.

I’m not convinced that Scott Brooks can get the job done.  He was always a cautious player, and he’s been a cautious coach.  He makes the careful plays rather than the clutch ones.  He relies too heavily on the astronomical talent of his players, and he still hasn’t coaxed a championship out of any Thunder team he’s coached.  His hands-off coaching style is fantastic for a team with the Thunder’s talent – but not all the time.  When play-calling can make or break a game, particularly during the final minutes, Brooks needs to call effective plays and I just haven’t seen it.  He is particularly lacking in his ability to employ creative lineups and exploit match-ups.  It’s actually very sad to watch a team with that much diverse talent be so poorly utilized.

Is There Room for 2 Most Valuable Players?

For a 2 years I’ve held the prophetic opinion that Westbrook was the more talented of the two superstars.  Durant is an incredibly talented guy, easily a top 5 in the NBA; Russel just happens to be a top 3.   Per ESPN.com, Russel’s per month stats have been monstrous since he was given the reigns:

February: 9.1 rebounds per game, 10.3 assists per game, 31.2 points per game

March: 8.5 rebounds per game, 10.2 assists per game, 30.9 points per game

April (3 games in):9.7 rebound per game, 10.3 assists per game, 29.7 points per game

These stats speak for themselves.

Imagine if Westbrook had been ball dominant all these years.  Imagine if Durant had been out all season and Russel had done this all year.  If he was used to being the #1.  

I’m the last person to suggest that the pair don’t go well together, or that there is current tension over the pecking order; but things change.  Would Kevin Durant be so willing to play second fiddle on a team that can’t win a ring?

Assuming my prophecy is true, Durant will recognize all of this, and the Oklahoma grass will not seem nearly as green once he does.  He doesn’t want to be one of the sad few who never win a championship; in fact, he will refuse to let that happen.

Durant has 2 years on his contract left.  Plenty of time for a honeymoon to turn into a divorce.

Washington Wizards

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Washington D.C. is Durant’s home town until he went to the University of Texas out of college.  Washington D.C. as a city has a strange dynamic between it’s politically/ economically gifted denizens and the locals.

If by interesting you mean that it has the most disparate wealth inequality in the entire United States.

Durant may return to his city of origin at some point in his career, but not now.  Not in his prime.  Not with the Wizards looking the way they do.

The exasperated man you see above is Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman.  In this particular picture, I’m not sure what he’s upset about, but in general, he is upset because he’s not a good coach and his team is underperforming because of it.

In terms of Xs and Os, Wittman’s plays consist of pointless dribbling and then a contested mid-range jumpshot.

On defense, he starts Nenê.

I feel like I don’t need to say more.

By the way, that’s his entire name.  Just Nenê.  He isn’t just missing a surname: he’s missing rebounding savvy, effort, the ability to stay healthy, and any sort of defense.

The Wizards, for reasons beyond my comprehension, were considered a team that could be in contention.  Does anyone remember why?

I’ll keep this short since my OKC analysis was so in depth:

1.  The team lacks talent, and they keep screwing up their drafting.

2. The Wizards are not a team with good chemistry right now.

3. John Wall and Kevin Durant would create an identical situation to the OKC team he (hypothetically) just left.

4. Washington D.C. is kind of a sad place to live.

5. Their coach is one of the bottom 5 coaches in the league.

Let’s sweep this under the rug.  The Wizards are not ready.

The Lakers/ The Knicks

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I wrote an article a couple days ago about the concept of sacrificing money for one’s team, using Dirk’s most recent contract as the as the defining example.  Interestingly enough, Kevin has cited Dirk as his favorite player and inspiration for his own ‘unblockable’ fading mid-range jumper, as seen above.  You can read more on Kevin’s comments at ESPN.com.

But that’s besides the point.  For info on why the Lakers and Knicks are not really in the position to offer Durant enough money, read the article.

In the Knicks case, that money is tied up in basketball trash like Andrei Bargnani, who is being paid $11,500,000 to do shit like this:

BargnaniAirballdunk

Also mentioned in said article is Carmelo’s gluttonous paycheck.

The Lakers are a slightly different story.  Next year will be Kobe’s last year in the NBA, and the Lakers ownership is going to do whatever they can to give him what he wants to be happy.  What this means, however, is the Lakers will be throwing millions at any half-decent player they think will join.  They’ll probably snag Rajon Rondo from the Mavericks, because Kobe and Rondo are BFFs.

Yeah, this is a thing:

“When asked about the breakfast and his new found friendship with Bryant after the game, Rondo kept it simple and funny.

“I think in his interview [last year] he called me an [expletive]. I thought the same thing of him. Just two [expletives] having breakfast,” Rondo quipped.”

Kobe has pushed hard for Rondo, so when the Lakers make an offer that the Mavericks will not even consider matching, off he will go, the first in a chain of over-priced free agents to play second-fiddle to Kobe’s last hurrah.

Count the Knicks and Lakers out of the running because of their mindless front offices.

Started from the Bottom, Now We’re Here

drake lol

The Raptors

In case you weren’t aware, Drake is a Toronto Raptors fan.

He’s also the Toronto Raptors’ Global Ambassador.

He’s also a Toronto Raptors’ Executive.

He’s also the Toronto Raptors’ clothing designer and stylist.

Before you think this is another sad Drake song about being left behind by your girl, The love affair isn’t just one way: the Raptors hosted ‘Drake Night’ on January 11th, 2014.  It was exactly what it sounds like it was.

So was the second ‘Drake Night.

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Drake has called Toronto home for his entire life, except for his brief time on Degrassi street.  I feel like the two have a lot in common, particularly in their public identities.  Taking the time to read articles from Deadspin is always worth it, and the article “Kevin Durant is turning into Drake Right Before Our Eyes” does not disappoint.  Here’s a quick preview:

DrakeandDurant

Catchin’ feels.   Sensitivity, you the real MVP.

Drake knows what’s at stake, and he knows better than anyone that you only live once.  He has already made an attempt to reach out to Kevin about his future with the Raptors: we know that because he was fined $25,000 for it.  During a concert in Toronto, he had the following choice words for his guest, KD, and for the crowd:

“Before we leave, I just want to show one of my brothers something.  You know, my brother Kevin Durant was kind enough to come to the show tonight and watch us. I just want him to see what would happen if he came to play in Toronto. Let him know what would happen.”

The plot thickens!

Crank that Sojourn Boy

Kevin Durant grew up in Washington DC, went to University of Texas for College, got drafted by the Seattle Supersonics, and was relocated to Oklahoma City as the Sonics became the Thunder.  But with so many potential allegiances all lining up for a slice of the MVP, what NBA team does he most identify with?

“Believe it or not, I wanted to play for the Toronto Raptors, that was my favorite team. […] They were a new team when I was growing up, so I wanted to be a part of that,” Durant said.

Another reason Durant cheered for the Raptors was because he was a big fan of Vince Carter, Toronto’s former franchise player.

“His enthusiasm he showed, just his athleticism, and how he brought Toronto from being one of the newer teams in the league to almost going to the finals. He changed the culture there in Toronto.”

After this interview was published by Mike Johnston of Sportsnet, the basketball world finally knew which team a young Kevin Durant watched at night while he ate fruit roll-ups and dreamed of an NBA career.  Underestimating the impact that has on a player’s choice of team is not wise, and Toronto is a good place to ball right now.

The last two first picks of the draft have come from Canada, even though one of said players is a hamburger.  I’ll let you guess which is which:

Anthony Bennett

wiggins

Figured it out yet?

The point remains that basketball has a new emerging market: get your pancakes ready, cause the league is about to get maple’d.

The North Will Rise Again

Ladies and gentlemen, coming in at 6’0,” the bull dog himself, Kyle Lowry!

At shooting guard, the Double D, Dunks and Defense, the guard you love to love, it’s Demar Derozan!

At Power forward, he’s high intensity, he’s rough and tough, he’s the big dog himself, it’s Amir Johnson!  or maybe not, maybe it’s Patrick Patterson.  He’s good too!

At Center, from the far-off country of Lithuania, he’s not a guy you would want to mess with, it’s the indomitable Jonas Valanciunas!

Oh yeah, small forward.  I don’t really know.  It’s Jones something?  I’m pretty sure there’s a Jones there.  Whatever.

Kevin Durant should be in that spot.

The Raptors are grooming the position for him.

KD? Yes please!

In the back-court, Both guards have defensive chops and can drive the lane, which leads to Durant kick-outs.  Lowry’s game is not dependent on blazing speed or offensive capability.  It’s dependent on effort, a surprising level of density for a compact 6′ 0″ guard, and fire.

He won’t blow your socks off offensively, but check out the starting point guards on the championship teams since the 1989-1990 season, courtesy of the Washington Post.    Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 3.04.20 AM

Recent years have been hailed as ‘The Golden Age of Point Guards in the NBA,” but that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.  There is only one point guard on this list who was an all-star the same year that their team won the NBA championship: Tony Parker (on 2 separate occasions.)

The fast-paced, all inclusive style that has been adopted by the league recently doesn’t blend well with ball dominant point guards.

Lowry provides grit, veteran leadership, and a steady hand.  That’s what you want from a supporting pg on a Championship team.

At the 2, Demar Derozen is a fantastic wingman for Durant.  He plays defense, opens up the floor for shots, is quickly developing as a shooter, and has demonstrated a predilection to playing second fiddle.  He’s a lot like Westbrook in many ways, but this tendency to embrace the Pippen role is perfect for a team that features a scorer like Kevin Durant.

The current 4 position is shared between Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson.  It remains to be seen how committed the Raptors are to either player, but the two are good fits at least in principle.  Amir is a prototypical energy player, but he also has an acceptable outside shot, a big plus.  Patterson has much more developed range, which contributes significantly to this hypothetical team on the offensive end.  Either player works at the 4, but are not essential pieces of this puzzle.  The Raptors could use a player with range and energy, but it’s more important to avoid coughing up too much dough for a player that won’t need to contribute more than a handful of points and 7 or 8 rebounds per game.  They should be thinking Ibaka lite.

Finally, Valanciunas rounds up the team nicely by being a competent post player to dump the ball off to; He’s got great hands, great maneuverability for his size, He’s a competent rebounder, solid scorer – he’s everything you would want in a center.  Unfortunately, Dwayne Casey is not a good coach.  He’s criminally underutilized his Lithuanian post-man, and this NumberFire.com article does a good job of explaining why that is the case:

Valanciunas has started 56 games for the Raptors this year but plays only 26.3 minutes per game. In terms of per-36 numbers, Valanciunas has been incredible, averaging 16.4 points per game, 12.0 rebounds per game (both career highs), while shooting 55.6% from the floor.

Valanciunas’ Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 20.3, Win Shares per 48 minutes of .192, and Defensive Rating of 104 are all the best on the team and personal career-highs. Lastly, his Offensive-Rating of 121 is a career-high and third-best on the team.

So why is Jonas Valanciunas playing just the fifth-most minutes on a team where he is a leader in some of the most important categories?

The decision to resign Casey to a 3 year contract was a bit of a head scratcher coming out of the Toronto front office.  He has somehow managed to turn an incredibly talented young squad into a bit of a shit show, particularly in the final minutes of games.  The Raptors have lost a whopping 19 games by 5 points or less, and almost all of the blame lies with Casey.  In the following clip, Lowry just ignores Casey’s directions, and ends up assisting on a DeRozan 3-point play:

His players don’t respect his decision making, and for good reason.  Luckily, his lack of coaching ability will be glaringly obvious well before Durant becomes available.

More Money, Less Problems

The Raptors have only $27,550,000 on the books for the 2016/2017 season, and considering the imminent salary cap expansion, that sum is even more paltry.  The defining contracts for the season of Durant’s free agency are those of Valanciunas and DeRozan.  They will both be due for significant raises considering their projected output.  Even at max contracts, the Raptors would most likely be capable of absorbing the massive contract that Durant will expect from the team, but even if this wasn’t the case, both players would almost certainly be willing to relatively insignificant pay cuts to ensure the arrival of Durant.

What the Raptors Could Be

A squad with this absurd level of inter-connecting chemistry would instantly become one of the best teams ever assembled.  The Raptors are already a very capable squad with a lot of promise: the addition of Durant would be monumental.  Every decade or so a team pops up that just has too much talent to be denied; the Raptors could be that team for a long time.

Given their playoff status, it’s easy to forget that they are one of the youngest teams in the league.  Valanciunas is only 22 and Derozan is only 25.  As Lowry gets into his early 30s, he will just become more suited to his projected Derek Fisher-esque role.

I want to see this happen.  This Raptors team could potentially rule the NBA with an iron fist for over a decade.  So many different things could happen by the year of Durant’s free agency, and as always, the crystal ball is a bit hazy.

I choose to believe.

The NBA is turning over a new maple leaf.

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