Ranking Kevin Durant’s six best options in free agency

In just a few short days, the NBA should be in for a heaping dose of chaos.

With the salary cap set to rise by over $20 million from 2015-16’s $70 million mark, there will be plenty of money flying all over the place when free agency officially begins at 12:01 AM ET on Friday morning. Above all the noise, though, one player stands out. Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant is the biggest piece on the market, and where he chooses to go will shape NBA history for the foreseeable future.

Durant has reportedly narrowed his list down to six teams with whom he will meet when free agency begins later this week. We can’t necessarily speak to where Durant will end up, but we can say which teams would be the best fit for the former MVP. If he’s looking to win rings, then there’s really only one answer. But first, let’s break down all of the options.

Neither of the league’s marquee franchises will reportedly be granted a meeting with Durant, but they still need to be mentioned. Carmelo Anthony has already told reporters that he’s trying to recruit KD to New York, which makes sense. When a player as good as Durant is a free agent, you don’t take "no" for an answer without asking, "But are you suuuuuuure?"

On paper, the Clippers make more sense than the Celtics. So why does Los Angeles fall behind Boston on this list?

Ownership, for one thing. The front office, for another. Oh, and coaching probably is an issue, as well. The Clippers have an extraordinary amount of talent with Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin (although it’s unclear if Griffin would need to be traded to make room for KD). But we have zero faith in Doc Rivers’ ability to put a championship squad around his stars, in part because owner Steve Ballmer is still feeling out what it means to own a team and how best to let his employees do their jobs.

As for Rivers as a coach? His reputation is built on the championship contenders he helmed in Boston. But that was almost a decade ago, and Rivers can no longer rely on the defensive prowess of Tom Thibodeau. Frankly, Rivers has fallen to the point of being a worse-than-average coach as the game has evolved.

The Celtics will have to sell KD on hope. Hope is a good thing, and worth fighting for, to be sure. It’s also probably not that appealing to Durant at this point in his career. He’s a nine-year veteran who’s looking to get back to the Finals and win a championship as soon as possible. While Boston has plenty of intriguing pieces, the Celtics have also been unable to turn those lesser assets into the kind of star you’d need to put next to KD to have a real shot at winning a championship in Boston.

And any deal the Celtics could make would strip of them of the depth and versatility that makes Boston such a formidable young team in the first place. Still, it’s wise for KD to take a meeting with Boston and hear what Danny Ainge & Co. have to say. At the very least, information-gathering is always valuable.

Pat Riley has put together a superteam before. We have no reason to doubt him this time.

Of course, the Heat don’t exactly have a championship-caliber roster, and adding Durant might not fix that. Dwyane Wade played well last season, sure; he’s also clearly on the downswing of his career, despite "proving the haters wrong" or whatever in 2015-16. Chris Bosh might never step foot on a basketball court again. Goran Dragic is a great point guard to team with Durant, and Justise Winslow is the kind of young, dynamic wing the Thunder would love to have alongside KD. And Hassan Whiteside, for all of his potential as a rim protector, is both unproven and a free agent. There’s no reason to count on Whiteside being a big part of the Heat next season if you’re Durant.

Miami would need at least one more piece to offer KD a spot on a true contender. Perhaps Miami will be in a better spot to woo Durant next offseason, should he return to the Thunder for one year.

With the three remaining teams on this list, including the Spurs, Durant really can’t go wrong. Each of these teams would offer him a solid shot at winning a title.

And San Antonio in particular could make Durant very comfortable, especially if Tim Duncan comes back for one more season. A lineup of Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Duncan would have the same kind of length OKC used to bother the Warriors in this season’s playoffs with a touch more shooting and a slightly more technical offensive system. Furthermore, if the Spurs wanted to go small for stretches, they could easily sit Duncan, have Aldrige play center and shift to a backcourt of Parker and Danny Green.

Actually, come to think of it, coach Gregg Popovich could go way outside the box and play Green/Leonard/Durant/Aldridge/Duncan, a lineup without a true point guard but with plenty of ball-handling from KD and Leonard. 

Unfortunately for the Spurs, the questions about whether Duncan (and Manu Ginobili) will return and how much Parker has left in the tank will probably mean Durant looks elsewhere. Heading into his 10th season, the Thunder forward can’t dabble in uncertainty without knowing for a fact that he’s increasing his chances of winning a title.

Returning to Oklahoma City isn’t a bad choice for Durant. Teaming with Russell Westbrook never is, and a return to OKC for one more year is the only way Durant can make the true maximum salary he’s earned.

Beyond that, the Thunder were on the cusp of a Finals appearance in 2016, and the move to swap Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo keeps Oklahoma City’s title window open for as long as possible. When you add up the psychological benefits of staying loyal and being comfortable with the Thunder, it would makes a lot of sense for Durant to return to OKC next season — and that’s before we get to the financial reasons for Durant to sign a two-year deal with a player option for the second season. In fact, a return to OKC is the likeliest move for Durant, at least this offseason. Next summer? Everything should be on the table.

But the Thunder still have to prove they can adapt to the modern NBA, where 3-point shooting is at a premium. That’s the one place OKC was lacking this season. And if they can’t fix that hole quickly, then Durant would be better off looking elsewhere in his pursuit of championships.

Sorry, Thunder fans. But if Durant truly wants to win a title, the Warriors are the best play.

Yes, Golden State would have to clear the decks in order to bring KD to the Bay Area. Even then, the Warriors would still have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. Combine those four players with Durant, and you have a core unlike any other. Add a big man off the bench, and you can play any style you want with some of the greatest offensive talent the league has ever seen.

Don’t gloss over the Warriors’ defense with Durant in the fold, however. As he showed for most of the Western Conference finals, KD is in the conversation for the league’s best wing defender, particularly when he can focus on a single opponent and not worry about the grind of an 82-game season.

Whether Golden State should make a run at Durant is a completely different question, and a hard one to answer at that. Continuity rules the day in the NBA. The Warriors already have a championship-caliber squad. Bringing KD in would undoubtedly make Golden State more talented, but they wouldn’t be a lock to win the title.

For KD, though? It’s a no-brainer. The Thunder will give him a chance to win a title next season. The Warriors, however, would give him the best chance.