- Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant’s free agency decisions serve as the backdrop to the NBA Finals.
- There is a belief that the outcome of the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors’ seasons could impact Leonard and Durant’s decisions this summer.
- There is an increasing buzz that Leonard may re-sign in Toronto while some believe the Warriors’ struggles without Durant could alter his decision.
- With both players increasingly viewed as perhaps the best in the league, their decisions have the chance to alter the NBA landscape.
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A high-stakes NBA postseason has come down to a matchup between two teams whose futures rest, in part, in the hands of two impending free agents – Kevin Durant with the Golden State Warriors and Kawhi Leonard of the Toronto Raptors.
Speculation about the futures of Durant and Leonard – who at various times have each been nominated as “Best Player in the NBA” in these playoffs – has played out all season long, but in the NBA Finals, their free agency decisions are front-and-center.
The NBA grapevine has suggested for most of the season that both players are goners this summer. Rumours have pointed to Durant leaving the Warriors, perhaps for the New York Knicks, while many believe Leonard, who was traded to the Raptors with little say in the matter, would like to move closer to home in southern California by joining one of the two Los Angeles franchises.
However, with the Finals taking twists and turns from game to game, so, too, rumours and speculation about their futures.
There was a belief that the Raptors needed an incredibly successful season to convince Leonard to stay in Toronto. Lo and behold, they won the Eastern Conference, with Leonard creating some all-time moments in the process.
As a result, there is a growing buzz that perhaps Leonard would stay in Toronto.
David Thorpe of TrueHoop reported that sources have said that Leonard would consider staying in Toronto, even on a short-term deal.
On Monday, Toronto sports radio host Michael Landsberg reported that he had heard that Leonard recently bought property in Toronto.
Of course, a real estate purchase does not guarantee anything. As former NBA player Caron Butler joked on ESPN’s “Get Up!,” he recently bought property in Mississippi, but does not intend to move there. Leonard also created a stir before the season when he bought a house in San Diego County.
However, with the Raptors making their first-ever Finals appearance and now just three wins from a championship, the buzz seems to be growing that the situation in Toronto may be too good for Leonard to leave.
Durant’s legacy with Golden State
The public perception of Durant’s value to the Warriors has been on a roller-coaster ride ever since he injured his calf in the second round of the playoffs.
When the Warriors swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals, it appeared the Warriors did not need Durant to win. They played much like the 2015-16 team that won 73 games before Durant’s arrival.
After losing to the Raptors in Game 1 of the Finals, the needle swung back the other way, with viewers believing the Warriors needed Durant’s shot-making. Then the Warriors had a gritty Game 2 win in which Klay Thompson left the game with an injury, suggesting the team may still be good enough to win a championship, even if half of its star-studded squad is beaten up.
There is a belief that one of the reasons Durant may leave the Warriors is that he isn’t as valued and beloved as the Warriors’ original core of stars. Perhaps Durant would want to build a contender elsewhere.
The outcome of the Finals, then, could affect Durant’s decision.
ESPN’s Rachel Nichols argued on “The Jump” that if the Warriors fall behind in the Finals, or even lose the Finals, it could “re-frame” Durant’s time with the team. The Warriors have been unbeatable since he joined. If they struggle without him, it could be the supposed validation he seeks about his value to the team.
Durant’s status is uncertain for Game 3. He may not return until Game 4. If Durant returns and saves the Warriors, it could reshape how he’s been viewed in recent years and perhaps alter his decision.
The NBA landscape could be on the line
Free agency speculation can be viewed as silly or overwrought, but as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on “The Jump,” these players’ decisions could affect the future of the league.
“When LeBron went to Miami, it completely changed the league the next four Finals. Goes to Cleveland, changes the league, the next four Finals,” Windhorst said. “Durant goes to Golden State, changes the next two championships. Kawhi comes here – I know it wasn’t free agency, but it was a form of free agency … Where Durant and Kawhi go will be where this show is going to be … It decides what happens in the NBA.”
Durant and Leonard are just two stars in a stacked free agent class. Durant, Leonard, Curry, and LeBron James have each been in the last nine NBA Finals; they’re perhaps the four most impactful players in the league. Two of them could change teams next year, severely altering the two current Finals teams.
The outcomes of the upcoming Finals games may change the entire league landscape.
- Read more from Scott Davis:
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- The 2019 NBA free agent class is stacked and has the potential to alter the league – here are the best players available
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