Time may be running out on the Oklahoma City Thunder, and I am not just talking about the tick-tock of the clock on the 2014-2015 NBA season. The Thunder are tied with the New Orleans Pelicans for the eighth and final spot for the NBA Playoffs, but they may have to play game No. 81 without Russell Westbrook, who picked up his 16th technical foul of the season in a heartbreaking loss on Sunday. That warrants an automatic one-game suspension, unless the league rescinds the foul call. With Kevin Durant already sidelined for the rest of the season, regardless of whether or not the Thunder qualifies for the postseason, the team is certainly facing an uphill battle. Already facing a cloudy future due to Durant’s recent injury issues, is it time that Oklahoma City really looks to the future? And, if so, is it a future without Durant and Westbrook playing side-by-side for years to come? Despite the fact that this team is still a perennial contender when healthy, the Thunder must consider all options going forward. The biggest move that the team could make – albeit one that would be unpopular – would be to move, perhaps, the most popular player in franchise history. With that being said, should the Thunder trade Durant to the Washington Wizards, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks or Cleveland Cavaliers?
Now, before you all go flying off the handle, at least admit that some of these teams are an outside possibility. The Wizards and Knicks, however, may not be as far-fetched as the rest. In fact, they may actually be very realistic.
It is no secret that Durant has ties to the Wizards. David Adkins who coached Durant in high school, works for the Wizards as a player development guy. Durant also said that playing with the likes of John Wall and Bradley Beal is “not a bad idea at all.” This is a move that makes a lot of sense.
The Thunder have to at least consider trading Durant if they can get a proper haul in return. This sort of stuff happens in the NBA, especially when a star player is in his final year of a big contract, and even more so when that said player is at least considering exploring all options once his free agency period hits. The Minnesota Timberwolves have done it often, most recently dealing Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a package centered around Andrew Wiggins. Right now, it is a move that appears to heavily favor the Timberwolves. Love was going to leave anyway, and Minnesota was able to acquire a player who can lead them for many years.
The Wizards will not have the No. 1 pick like the Cavs did, so that deal would have to involve more young players than draft picks. The Knicks, however, are a much different story.
The Knicks will have a very high pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. What if the Thunder decide to trade Durant to the Knicks – another place that would definitely make sense for his future – for a top pick and select a player such as Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns? Scoff if you want, but it may not be a horrible deal, provided the Thunder can also steal a few of the Knicks’ higher-rated, yet lower-paid younger players.
When it comes to rumored NBA trades, you can never rule out the Mavericks. Mark Cuban loves to roll the dice on making roster upgrades. Durant is a Texas kid, so expect the Mavs to do everything possible to make a pitch to land the former Texas Longhorns standout.
The Lakers are another team that could turn things around in an instant, much like the Cavs did last season. First, they would need to acquire Durant. Next, Kobe Bryant would finally have to come back healthy. After that, the Lakers could go after Rajon Rondo and some other solid role players who could become impact players. It may be a long-shot, but it is one that makes perfect sense.
Finally, the Cavs would only make sense if Love opts out of his deal and leaves Cleveland. He may even go to the Lakers, but that would probably prevent the team from having enough room to acquire Durant as well. The Celtics may have more draft picks over the next few years than any other NBA team, meaning they could make a run at some elite players whose teams are looking to get younger. Again, a long-shot, but one that would make a lot of sense.
In the end, I honestly don’t know if the Thunder could pull the trigger on trading Durant in the final year of his contract. Then again, a foot injury can turn into a nagging problem that some great players just can never truly shake. If Oklahoma City fears that Durant may not be the player he has been throughout most of his career, or they begin to really fear a possible exit for Durant after the 2015-2016 season, the Thunder would be foolish to not at least consider making a move.