Disclaimer: This is 100% speculation. It’s impossible to tell what would actually happen, but I decided to take a really unrealistic jab at it.
After the conclusion of the 2015-2016 NBA season, six-time All-Star and former MVP Kevin Durant became one of the most coveted players to appear in free agency in a long time. A player with such natural superstar talent hadn’t been available like this since Dwight Howard became a free agent in 2013. Teams swarmed Durant and his agent at the beginning of the summer in pursuit to acquire one of the best players in the NBA. The early front-runners were the super team Golden State Warriors, the superstar-starved Boston Celtics, and Durant’s former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
On July 4th, 2016, Kevin Durant announced in The Players’ Tribune that he intended to sign with the Warriors. His decision came down between Boston and Golden State, and he chose to join the team that already possessed championship talent. But what if Durant chose the latter and went to Boston?
Durant Becomes a Celtic
In an alternate universe, Durant chose to don Celtic green rather than staying in the Western Conference. Boston gives Durant his promised max contract deal worth around $26 million, but he only accepts a one year deal with a player option, similar to the one he took with GSW. He joins newly signed Al Horford, who accepted a four-year deal worth $113 million two days earlier, as the highest cap hits on the team. Boston does not exercise Amir Johnson’s contract option to reallocate $12 million in cap for Durant.
The Celtics still had the third pick in the 2016 NBA Draft earlier in the summer and still selected Jaylen Brown, Guerschon Yabusele, Ante Zizic, Demetruis Jackson, and Ben Bentil. All of those draft picks except Brown still play elsewhere for the 2016-2017 season. When it’s all said and done, Boston’s starting five is as follows: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Kevin Durant, and Al Horford.
Boston easily locks up the first seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs with an offense led by IT and Durant. Isaiah Thomas has his Renaissance season, but not to the same degree. Instead of averaging 28.9 points a night, he only drops closer to 20. It’s Durant’s world and the rest of the Celtics are just living in it. Him and Horford become the leaders that Brad Stevens and the Celtics craved for since Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded. Durant becomes the offensive workhorse of the Celtics, dropping close to 30 a game like his younger days in OKC.
The Celtics slide by the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Durant exploits his match-up with Otto Porter in the second round against the Wizards instead of Porter lighting up Boston’s defense. Without his production early into the series, the Wizards fall to the Celtics in six games instead of seven.
The Celtics do not get eliminated in five games against the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Because Isaiah Thomas does not exert himself as much in this alternate universe, he does not suffer a season-ending hip injury. Avery Bradley does not become the workhorse of the C’s offense, and 20 year old Jaylen Brown isn’t assigned to guard LeBron. Durant against LeBron becomes one of the best match-ups in the playoffs. The red-hot Cavs are taken to seven games and crack under pressure. The Celtics advance to take on the Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals.
The Warriors did not land Durant in the off-season, so they kept a similar lineup compared to their 2015-2016 run. They don’t sweep the first three rounds, but they still found themselves easily making the Finals. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are no match for Boston. The Celtics ultimately fall in six to the Warriors. Durant wins regular season MVP but does not earn a ring.
Summer of 2017
Though Durant doesn’t earn a ring, luckily enough for Boston he is willing to stay. He picks up his player option to play another season with the promise of a ring. Free agent Gordon Hayward never teams up with his former coach, Brad Stevens, and stays in Utah. However, the Celtics still have the assets to make the trade for Kyrie Irving still happen. Boston sends off IT, Crowder, Zizic, and picks for Irving. Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko walk still, but Gerald Green returns on a one year deal. They also still bring in Aron Baynes on a one year deal.
In the 2017 NBA Draft, the Celtics trade down not to third, but to the eighth pick via trade with the Knicks. The Celtics swap the first overall pick and Avery Bradley for Kristaps Porzingis. They then select Dennis Smith Jr. out of NC State instead of the Dallas Mavericks. The Celtics have become a super team almost overnight, just to impress Durant.
The new starting five consists of Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Kevin Durant, Kristaps Prozingis, and Al Horford.
If Durant signed with Boston (and decided to stay), Danny Ainge had an interesting situation in front of him. He could either stay with his “build for the future” route or he could also press the “win now” button. If he wants to win now, Boston would have to lease talent to win a few championships quickly. I went the latter route here, but I also made the assumption that everything worked out perfectly in Boston’s favor.
If I were a NBA GM I’d avoid doing something this drastic. Three years down the road Boston could only afford probably one of those players they acquired. In real life, the Celtics’ current situation is a perfect storm. They acquired All-Star talent in Kyrie and Hayward, and without them this team has shown that they already have the talent to contend in the playoffs. Durant or no Durant, don’t mess with the C’s.
Cover image courtesy of SB Nation.