Kevin Durant isn’t going to talk about the rumors swirling around his free agency, and he doesn’t want you to believe what “sources” say about his plans. That’s fair, Durant doesn’t know for sure what he will do next summer yet, why would anyone else?
But if you’re the GM of a team, especially one that has a semi-legitimate shot to land him, you have to plan for taking a run at Durant. There are only a handful of true franchise changing players in the league and when they become free agents — even if it is most likely they don’t move — you have to be ready. The reward is too great not to take the risk.
Enter Pat Riley and the Miami Heat.
They may be a long shot to land KD — would he want to follow LeBron James’ path? — but there is no better big game hunter in the league than Pat Riley. Zach Lowe at Grantland says expect Riley to at least take his best shot at Durant.
One star changes everything, and Riley gets stars. Next summer, Miami could open up nearly $40 million in cap room, and as much as $45 million if it moves McRoberts for extra cap space. That’s a ton, but if Whiteside has even a solid season, it’s not enough to bring back both Whiteside and Wade while signing an outside star; the Heat will not have full Bird rights on Whiteside, meaning they will have to dip into cap space to re-sign him.
Consider one example: Durant’s max salary for 2016-17 will be about $25 million, leaving $15 million or $20 million to split between Wade and Whiteside. That won’t do it, unless Wade takes a massive hometown discount. (By the way: Rail against the Durant rumor mill if you want, but you’re kidding yourselves if you don’t think Riley will set Miami up to make a run at him.)
Miami will be a fascinating team this season — they could be the second best team in the East, they could be sixth, they are hard to read — but they are not ready to compete with Cleveland. They need more talent. Obviously, Durant would be that guy.
Before the people from OKC start emailing/commenting, I’ll try to be clear once again — this does not mean Durant is going to the Heat, or even leaving the Thunder. It is just an example of how a number of teams — the Wizards, Lakers, Knicks, and the list goes on — are lining up to take a run at KD. That means some financial jockeying for some these squads.