All eyes will be on current Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant this July, as he’s set to hit the open market for the first time since signing a five-year, $89 million deal prior to the 2011-12 season. Players of Durant’s stature don’t become available often, so his ‘decision’ will be a spectacle whether he wants it to be or not.
Naturally, Durant is oftentimes linked to high-profile teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors. But if he indeed decides to leave Oklahoma City for a new opportunity, the best fit for him from a purely on-the-court perspective is clearly with the Orlando Magic.
The Magic went 35-47 during the 2015-16 campaign, and subsequently parted ways with head coach Scott Skiles after just a single season. While this isn’t typically indicative of a team that’s on the up-and-up, the Magic clearly possess plenty of talent and a brilliant head coach in the newly-hired Frank Vogel, formerly of the Indiana Pacers.
With Elfrid Payton running the point, Victor Oladipo at the two, slam dunk extraordinaire Aaron Gordon at power forward and underrated center Nikola Vucevic likely to start next season, small forward is up for grabs. Evan Fournier has been solid at times and is still very young (23), but he’s widely thought of as a fringe starter whose offensive game is limited to spot shooting.
The Magic spent their No. 5 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft on Mario Hezonja, but he’s going to need a plethora of seasoning before he’s thought of as a starting caliber wing in the association.
Thus, adding the highest-scoring forward in the league would instantly make the Magic a perennial top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. I mean, there isn’t a team in the NBA that would be able to handle defending two overwhelmingly athletic forwards like Durant and Gordon, especially with Vucevic commanding an abundance of attention down low.
It’s clear with teams like the aforementioned Warriors and powerhouse San Antonio Spurs clogging up the Western Conference, Durant is going to have an especially difficult road to the NBA Finals in the coming years if he stays with the Thunder. Sure, the Cleveland Cavaliers will always be in contention in the East with LeBron James on their roster, but the Magic would be as good as (if not better than) any other team in the conference aside from Cleveland if they were able to land Durant.
Another thing that makes the Magic attractive is the fact that their core is young. Payton is 22, Oladipo is 24, Gordon is 20 and Vucevic is the grizzled veteran of the group at 25. With Durant (27), Orlando would be primed to compete for multiple championships, whereas Oklahoma City’s window is beginning to close.
Money remains the biggest issue for any team that hopes to lure Durant away from the Thunder. Orlando undoubtedly has the cap space to offer him a max deal. However, if he were to sign a two-year deal (with an opt out) to stay with the Thunder this summer and ultimately head back to the bargaining table in July of 2017, Durant could make nearly $100 million more than he would by signing a four-year deal with the Magic now.
All in all, if Durant plans on leaving Oklahoma City, Orlando appears to be the ideal landing spot if he wants to win a ring without being thought of as a player who had to join a juggernaut in order to do so.