New Orleans basketball Twitter has been buzzing, even if the city’s NBA team is now represented by a bird and not a bee.
The subject of the lively social media debate amongst Pelican fans? Kevin Durant: Why or why not?
The NBA superstar asked the Brooklyn Nets to trade him last week, and it seems the Nets are willing to accommodate his wishes. Personally, I don’t understand why – this is a Brooklyn team that traded all of its draft picks for the foreseeable future to Houston for James Harden (who already forced his way out of Brooklyn), so this is a team that effectively has to win now. Durant has four years left on his deal, so unless one believes he’d simply sit out and forego over $200 million, or intentionally play poorly, I can’t see the leverage he’d have. And I don’t see him doing either of those things.
But the Nets appear to disagree, and it is likely Durant and teammate Kyrie Irving will have new addresses sometime soon.
Could Durant’s be in New Orleans?
At any other point in the team’s history – heck, dating back to this franchise’s days in Charlotte – I’d say the answer would be a hard and resounding no. Durant is bent on finding the perfect situation to win in, and the Pelicans’ history is … how do we put this …
What’s different now, however, is this is a team that can effectively outbid anyone else, were it willing to cash in several of its considerable assets. A roster boasting a young superstar in Zion Williamson, an emerging force in Brandon Ingram, a veteran shot-maker in CJ McCollum, and a plethora of nasty, do-what-it-takes defenders who cultivated an attitude New Orleans fans grew to love over the past season.
As importantly, though, it New Orleans has several years’ worth of Laker draft assets to bid, along with the Pels’ own picks.
This could all be a moot point, as if Durant doesn’t see himself in New Orleans, it’s much less likely the Pelicans pay the kind of price it would take to land him.
But we don’t know what he sees, and fans are debating hard on this.
Let’s examine both sides.
The case for a Durant deal:
It’s Kevin Durant. Soon to be Hall of Famer. One of the best five current players in the NBA. The kind of alpha dog scorer that, quite frankly, one needs to win a championship.
With Durant and a healthy Zion Williamson, you potentially have two generational talents who complement each other on offense – Williamson’s gravitational pull of defenders with him into the paint, and Durant’s own out onto the perimeter. Assuming a deal somewhat resembling Ingram, another piece and a plethora of picks, on paper you will be closer than you ever have been for a championship. Durant’s won those before. He’s been the NBA MVP. The Finals MVP. And he may well be the most gifted scorer who’s ever lived.
The case to stay put:
Durant will be 34 in September. He’s torn his Achilles, and while he’s returned from that injury and proven he’s still dominant as ever, that counts as significant wear and tear. He played just 87 total games over the past two seasons, including 55 this past season. His absence hit Brooklyn hard, as the Nets fell from the top seed in the East to No. 8. Also, you’d in theory be betting on both Durant and Williamson to each put in a healthy season, and those odds might not be great given recent history.
Salary wise, there won’t be room to pay Durant, Williamson, Ingram and McCollum, so one or even two of the latter three might have to go in a deal.
I think what bothers the “no trade” group most of all, though, is that this is such a likeable team. Fans fell in love with this group – “Not on Herb,” Jose Alvarado, Ingram, McCollum, Jonas, late season stars like Larry Nance Jr. and Trey Murphy. The young guys listen to Willie Green, they improved as the year went on, and they were a nightmare to play against late in the year. McCollum is a longtime leader in this league; Ingram an emerging one. Both stars want to be in New Orleans. Most of this team, in fact, seems to love being in New Orleans, and the fanbase loves them right back.
You also have a conveyor belt of draft picks coming in from L.A. If that team continues to deteriorate, you have another team tanking for you.
As great as Durant is, are fans comfortable with the idea that – on a whim – he could decide this isn’t for him, and blow things up here as is likely to happen in Brooklyn?
It might seem that I’m firmly in the “No Durant” camp because I was far lengthier stating that case. But that’s more of a function of the case for Durant being so simple: getting Durant is the most direct route to a world championship. If the goal is to win it all, then on paper, a roster boasting Durant and Williamson is historically your best chance to get there, as opposed to a slower build with more moving parts.
But while Durant might bring your chances to the peak of the mountain for two years or so (realistically, in my mind, given his age), this full roster of youth, budding stars and potentially high picks to come could allow the Pelicans to become an NBA factor for several years – and, if things break right, indeed a world champion
And for a fanbase that we know is dying to support a winner, and will do just that like no other when presented the opportunity – that could change things forever in New Orleans. It could make it a certified basketball city.
For me – it is side two. Barring a deal that sends far less to Brooklyn than I anticipate would be necessary to land him, I’d let this young team grow, and its fanbase along with it.