Shaquille O’Neal has predicted that Kevin Durant will join the Los Angeles Lakers (17-65) in free agency ahead of next season. You must be wondering: “Is Shaq trolling Lakers fans or is he serious?” Here’s the bottom line: The Lakers are still The Lakers. Plus, it takes only $65 million in cap room and a new coach to change the fortunes of a team and make them title contenders overnight.
Despite their recent woes, the prediction is not far-fetched. Never mind the fact that team won a franchise-low 17 games in the just-concluded regular season. There is a feeling around the league that the front office, led by general manager Mitch Kupchak, strategically cleared room to build a team around Durant, in the aftermath of Kobe Bryant’s exit.
Last offseason, they only took up the last year of Roy Hibbert’s contract and signed reigning Sixth Man Lou Williams to a bargain 3-year $21 million deal. With the TV money kicking in, they clinically planned for the 2016 offseason so they could go all-out with a quartet of youngsters, $65 million (approx.) in cap room and a potential top-3 pick.
If the ‘plan’ comes to fruition, GM Mitch Kupchak will once again prove his worth. Lakers fans are familiar with the phrase: “In Mitch We Trust.”
Watch: Shaq tells ESPN SportsCenter that Durant will join the Lakers next season.
Here are some primary factors why Durant to Lakers is more realistic than you think:
- Love For Superstars: Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour was the greatest pitch the Lakers could have made to Durant. In a cutthroat league which sees teams trade, dump and pressurize players on a yearly basis, there’s nothing like a sense of assurance that a franchise “has your back” and will “shower you with love” until the end of your career. Bryant played through multiple injuries during his last few seasons but the Lakers paid him handsomely (more than anyone else in the league) and gave him an enviable exit. Which player wouldn’t want to go out on that kind of a high note?
- Four promising youngsters, ton of cap space: The Lakers have essentially tanked for two consecutive seasons. But in the process, they’ve acquired four talented youngsters in D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. Plus, they are likely to secure another top-3 pick in the forthcoming draft. This team will be sans egos and loaded with cap space. Durant could actually partner up with a few other free agents and join Los Angeles. Doesn’t it sound like a perfect plan?
- Legacy Factor: Though the Lakers have lost the aura that made them the most successful sports club of the last few decades, they still have a greater global following than any other team. It’s difficult to ignore that L.A. offers – by far – the most money, the biggest empire, the stage, and the opportunity to be known as the best player in the game. Though not something widely acknowledged, money and legacy matter.
- Roc Nation Sports – Durant’s Agency: Durant is represented by Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports, a prominent talent agency based in Los Angeles that partners with Creative Artists Agency (CAA). The CAA represents most of Hollywood’s biggest stars and directors. It’s true that small market teams can offer players just as many monetary advantages in the modern NBA (look at Stephen Curry and LeBron James). But Kevin Durant still stands to make at least $100 million more over the rest of his career playing in L.A. Also, Time Warner, which owns the rights to all Lakers games, has a reach of close to 15 million people – more than eight small market teams combined!
- Scott Brooks Factor: Recently, there have been reports that the former OKC coach is keen to coach the Lakers if Byron Scott is fired. This could prove to be a decisive factor in the Durant sweepstakes. When OKC fired Brooks last year, Durant didn’t refrain from acknowledging the coach’s influence on his career, especially his early years in the NBA. If Lakers hire Brooks, that’d send a strong message to Durant.
Of course, this entire article is meaningless if Kevin Durant stays in Oklahoma City – a possibility if the Thunder can make a deep postseason run and perhaps win the NBA championship. As it stands, pundits aren’t giving them great odds since Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs stand in their way.
Regardless, it would be stupid to count out the possibility of Kevin Durant joining hands with Russell, Clarkson, Randle, the 2016 lottery pick and another superstar or two. The fortunes of the Lakers could change overnight.