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Kevin Durant’s free agency: An in-depth breakdown of the superstar’s options

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 6/27/2019 By Connor Letourneau

As the Warriors endured the most trying season of their dynastic run, they struggled to escape speculation about Kevin Durant’s pending free agency.

Then, with one planting of the foot in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, all the rumblings about where Durant could land were overshadowed by one word: Achilles. As Durant begins a nine- to 12-month recovery, he enters free-agency Sunday with more questions than answers.

Durant has given his top four suitors — the Warriors, Nets, Knicks and Clippers — no indication of where he plans to sign, according to league sources. Now that he has declined his $31.5 million player option with Golden State, Durant is preparing to mull over his choices with his business manager, Rich Kleiman, in New York.

There is no timetable for a decision. What is known is that, after nine months of being recruited through the media by various teams, Durant is intent on not being swayed by any board-room pitches. This is similar to the approach LeBron James took last summer, when he announced his intention to sign with the Lakers after limiting his personal meetings with teams.

Sources throughout the league believe that Durant has yet to decide where he’ll play next. According to one Western Conference executive, “All I know is that he’ll probably change his mind 12 times between now and the time he signs anything.”

Although Durant has remained relatively mum throughout this process, he has revealed enough about his thinking in recent months to paint a portrait of what will go into his free-agency decision. Below is a detailed outline of the case for — and against — the Warriors, Nets, Knicks and Clippers.

WARRIORS

Reasons for signing: By returning to Golden State, Durant would help ensure that the dynasty is paused, not over. If both Durant and Klay Thompson re-sign this summer, the Warriors could develop their young players next season before entering 2020-21 as potential championship favorites with a healthy Durant and Thompson.

In helping lead Golden State to another title or two, Durant would be remembered as a core member of one of the best teams in NBA history, rather than just a mercenary who used the Warriors to pad his postseason resume. Still, the biggest incentive Durant has to re-sign with the Warriors is financial.

Golden State can offer him a five-year supermax contract worth $221 million; no other team can offer him more than a four-year, $164 million deal. That $57 million difference is significant, even for a mega-earner like Durant.

If he signs a supermax with the Warriors, Durant stands to earn roughly $50 million in 2023-24, when he’ll be 35. Durant’s Achilles injury reinforced just how quickly a player’s outlook can change. As he enters the back-end of his prime trying to return from a potentially career-threatening injury, he might want to go for as much guaranteed money as possible.

There has been chatter in recent days about the possibility of the Warriors sending Durant to whatever team he prefers in a sign-and-trade, which would allow Durant to maximize his earning potential and ensure that Golden State wouldn’t lose him for nothing. But according to league sources, the Warriors have yet to explore this option.

The thinking inside the organization is that, while a sign-and-trade might sound good in theory, it’s a lot of work for little gain. Also: Why would Durant want to deprive his next team of assets when he’d be heading there in hopes of winning a championship?

Reasons for not signing: If Durant leaves, he’ll do so to cement his status as the greatest player of his generation. He has long wanted to be considered better than James. But as long as Durant shares a roster with Stephen Curry, that might be impossible.

The Warriors’ system was designed around Curry and his was the “face of the franchise” long before Durant joined him in July 2016. In Durant’s mind, he needs to be the unquestioned leader of a championship-winning team to polish off his legacy.

Bleacher Report recently reported that Durant is “really pissed off at the Warriors,” presumably for how their training staff handled his return from a calf injury in the NBA Finals. The Chronicle hasn’t been able to confirm that report, and one source said that, if Durant leaves, “How the injury was handled wouldn’t be the main factor.”

NETS

Reasons for signing: League sources believed for much of last season that if Durant left the Warriors it would be for Knicks. But in recent weeks, New York’s other NBA team has emerged as a legitimate contender for Durant.

Brooklyn has long made sense for Durant from a basketball standpoint, and recent reports that his close friend Kyrie Irving is leaning toward signing with the Nets only buoy the franchise’s chances. Durant and Irving have talked about teaming up since they first played together on the U.S. national team.

Although Brooklyn can’t offer Durant the prestige or history of the Knicks, it can give him a much better chance of winning a title as the go-to option. The Nets are far better run than their NBA neighbor, and they boast a deep roster that just outpaced expectations by reaching the franchise’s first postseason in four years.

Las Vegas recently made Brooklyn the sole favorite to sign Durant. Emboldened by those odds, the Nets are reportedly looking into signing DeAndre Jordan — another Durant confidant — to sweeten the deal.

It also doesn’t hurt that Durant has history with the Nets’ team physician, Dr. Martin O’Malley. O’Malley performed Durant’s Achilles surgery June 12, and he operated on Durant’s foot when he suffered a Jones fracture in 2015. With Durant likely to miss all of next season recovering from his torn Achilles, he might like the idea of working closely with someone he already knows well.

Reasons for not signing: Simply put, the Nets don’t have the allure of the Knicks. Some league sources have a hard time believing that Durant would go to New York for a secondary team with a smaller fan base and a much less historic arena.

KNICKS

Reasons for signing: Reports have linked Durant to the franchise for nine-plus months.

Kleiman is a New Yorker who has been open about his desire to run the Knicks someday. Durant’s father, Wayne Pratt, has long been a fan of the franchise. There is also Knicks head coach David Fizdale, whom Durant has long supported.

Knicks general manager Scott Perry was an assistant general manager for Seattle when the SuperSonics drafted Durant second overall in 2007. Knicks assistant coach Royal Ivey — like Durant, a Texas alum — is so close to Durant that he asked Durant to be the godfather to his daughter. Jordan, whom Durant has said will be a groomsman in his wedding, is on the Knicks’ roster.

All of these ties are relatively superficial, however, when compared to the main reason Durant would sign with the Knicks: to lead a historic franchise in a major media market to its first title since 1973. Nothing would better solidify Durant’s legacy as the greatest player of his generation than playing at Madison Square Garden and lifting a long-dysfunctional team to national relevance.

Reasons for not signing: The Knicks have been a leaguewide punchline under owner James Dolan, and there are no guarantees that Durant’s addition would suddenly make the franchise functional.

By trading Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas in January to free up two max-salary slots, New York went all-in on free-agency as its path to respectability. With Irving being linked to the Nets, could the Knicks entice another high-profile free agent this summer or next summer to join Durant?

New York has the most barren roster in the league. Outside of recent draft pick R.J. Barrett, center Mitchell Robinson and forward Kevin Knox, the Knicks don’t have many players other teams would value in trade scenarios. Would Durant really want to go somewhere he won’t necessarily have a great shot at winning a title?

CLIPPERS

Reasons for signing: If their first-round series against the Warriors was an audition for Durant’s services, the Clippers aced it. They have a talented, deep roster that plays hard and listens to one of the best head coaches in the league, Doc Rivers. A healthy Durant could immediately make the Clippers contenders in 2021.

If they also sign Kawhi Leonard to a long-term deal, the Clippers might be the Western Conference favorites as soon as Durant returns from his injury. Even if Leonard doesn’t sign with them this summer, the Clippers could take the patient approach, waiting to sign a big-name free agent next summer to pair with Durant.

Reasons for not signing: Leonard probably wouldn’t join the Clippers to be Durant’s sidekick, which means Durant would have to gamble on the front office bringing in someone notable next year. That’s a risk that might not be worth taking for a team that, even with a healthy Durant, will probably still be overshadowed by the Lakers.

There is also a question over whether the Clippers even want Durant. According to Bleacher Report, they “have backed off their pursuit because they are focused on building off their playoff success this past season.”

BOTTOM LINE

Although Durant might meet with the Clippers, this appears to be between the Warriors, Nets and Knicks. According to a league source, Durant is “very much considering” Golden State. But the overall feeling throughout the league is that Durant will play in New York, with the Nets currently the front-runner.

Connor Letourneau is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: cletourneau@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @Con_Chron

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