LAS VEGAS -- The Kevin Durant-to-D.C. watch is in full-effect, first talked about this weekend by CSNWashington.com here when the Wizards refused to match a salary demand from Trevor Ariza and let him go via trade to the Houston Rockets. Now, ESPN's NBA analyst Stephen A. Smith offered this perspective on Durant during an interview with ESPN 980:
"There are folks that I’ve spoken to that are relatively close to Kevin Durant that tell me if he were to decide to leave Oklahoma City, it would be for the nation’s capital. That’s the kind of dude he is. That’s a place that he would consider. I certainly don’t want to sit here as a reporter and insider and try to give indications that he’s planning on leaving Oklahoma City,” Smith said. “I don’t know that to be sure. I don’t know that to be the case. But I was told that if there is a team that would be strongly considered, it is the Washington Wizards, and him returning home.”
It's true that the Wizards are trying to balance a lot of priorities at once: Keep salary cap flexibility for 2016 when Durant becomes a free agent, remain competitive by keeping core players John Wall (done) and Bradley Beal (eligible for extension after 2014-15) and having a low-post presence with Marcin Gortat (done).
The rest of the pieces, such as Paul Pierce who was brought in to fill the void left by Ariza, are complementary. He'd come off the books in two seasons, possibly just one if he bypasses his player option, along with Nene who will free up $13 million in cap space. Otto Porter, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, could be the ideal sixth man in this scenario. Or the Wizards could go with Porter in the starting lineup, too, to spread the floor and give Gortat the paint all to himself.
Smith, who correctly predicted LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in 2010 and returning this summer, is probably onto something.
The same goes here in regards to the Wizards' long-term plans. The Wizards didn't chase James in free agency because they had no indication (usually this would be communicated by the player's agent to a team) or chance at landing him. But they're positioning their pieces on the chess board for two years from now.
What does that tell you? The Wizards' front office likely knows something that those who call this baseless speculation do not -- as they should. Though none of this means Durant to D.C. is a certainty, they do have a legitimate chance. Probably the best chance of any franchise to lure him away from Oklahoma City.
Just like they knew if they allowed Ariza to leave for Houston by not submitting to his $10 million per year demand, they had Pierce. Decisions such as these aren't made blindly or solely on hope. It's being made because Durant to D.C. has legs.