A Los Angeles team has landed a pitch meeting with Kevin Durant, but it’s not the one that desperately needs help and is flush with financial resources.
The Clippers, not the Lakers, are among the handful of teams that will get a chance to try and lure the summer’s top NBA free agent, according to a person close to the situation not authorized to comment publicly.
The other teams that reportedly will be granted an audience with the longtime Oklahoma City All-Star forward after free agency starts at 9:01 p.m. Thursday are the Thunder, the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, with the recently retooled New York Knicks still a possibility.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are still hoping to get a meeting with Durant.
Durant is expected to meet with the Clippers in New York. Among those scheduled to be part of the Clippers’ contingent are team owner Steve Ballmer, Doc Rivers, coach and president of basketball operations, plus other basketball executives. No Clippers players were expected to attend the meeting, as of Monday, though that could change.
Free agents can agree to terms with teams immediately after the start of free agency but cannot officially sign until July 7.
All of the teams Durant is expected to meet with would offer him an immediate chance at advancing deep into the playoffs, something the Lakers presumably could not match coming off two of the worst seasons in franchise history.
Landing Durant would come with a heavy cost for the Clippers. It would likely entail trading one of the team’s top three players — Blake Griffin, Chris Paul or DeAndre Jordan — and some other maneuvering with their own free agents to create enough salary-cap space to offer Durant something close to a maximum contract. Another possibility would be executing a sign-and-trade agreement with the Thunder should Durant decide the Clippers are team he wants to join.
That would seem unlikely since it would involve Durant joining what amounts to a lesser roster, though his arrival would immediately elevate a franchise that has never made it past the second round of the playoffs into title contenders. The Clippers also could offer vastly superior marketing opportunities compared to other smaller markets, as evidenced by renowned advertising pitchmen Paul and Griffin.
Durant, who will turn 28 in September, is a seven-time All-Star and four-time scoring champion who averaged 28.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists last season while leading the Thunder to within one victory of the NBA Finals.
The Thunder are widely considered the front-runners to retain Durant, who has long professed being proud of what his presence has done to help transform Oklahoma City since his arrival when the franchise moved from Seattle before the 2008-09 season.
The team traded longtime teammate Serge Ibaka on draft night, but the move provided quality depth and made the Thunder more financially flexible. There is some expectation that Durant, like many other free agents, will sign a short-term contract to capitalize on the continued rise in the salary cap in the wake of an infusion of cash from the NBA’s new television deal.
A sign-and-trade agreement involving Griffin would make some sense for Oklahoma City should Durant decide to play for the Clippers because it would net the Thunder an All-Star power forward in his prime, not to mention a native of Oklahoma City. The Thunder need a front-line power forward in the wake of Ibaka’s departure.