Per Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical (Yahoo Sports), the Los Angeles Clippers are among five teams solidifying their invitations to meet with Kevin Durant starting July 1st. Aside from the natural front running Oklahoma City Thunder, the Clippers join the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, and the Boston Celtics as teams that will be getting an audience with Durant.
This news is notable for a few reasons.
First, the Clippers made the cut of initial consideration.
This is somewhat surprising given that the Clippers have no way to outright sign Durant (because no he's not taking the minimum). The Spurs and Warriors on the other hand have the ability to play with their roster and salaries to make it work. The Spurs would have to get a little creative, and the Warriors would have to stretch Andrew Bogut and trade Andre Iguodala...but those are possible options.
*To update, the Clippers actually can outright sign Durant. Our fearless leader Lucas outlines this path here.
There are also a bunch of teams are named by Woj as being outsiders looking in on the Durant sweepstakes right now: the Lakes, Knicks, Wizards, Nuggets, and Rockets. They might get an audience eventually, but they evidently were not part of the first tier of considerations right now. Sure, teams like the Rockets, Knicks, and Nuggets probably were not going to earn a seat at the table...but it's surprising that Durant's hometown Washington Wizards were not named by Woj as being immediate players. Likewise, the Lakers finally got rid of Kobe Bryant (for the lack of a better phrase when it comes to his alleged negative effect on attracting free agents) and the team would no doubt be happy to give Durant the reigns of their franchise. Heh, I guess a franchise "legacy" is not worth that much...
Second, the Clippers' pitch would be interesting.
So let's say Durant meets with Doc... How exactly is this recruiting session/meeting going to proceed? Is Doc going to bring Chris Paul (and maybe DeAndre Jordan) in and then have them pitch a dream scenario of Durant coming to Los Angeles to help the Clippers win? What exactly will go through Blake Griffin's mind when this all happens? It's unlikely he would join a recruiting pitch. As our own Robert Flom has pointed out for this topic, Durant basically would only get to the Clippers in a sign-and-trade deal where Blake Griffin gets shipped to OKC. I guess the Clippers could send out DJ instead, but DJ fits better with a Clippers team that has Paul and Durant. It would be intriguing to see how the Clippers pitch any kind of serious offer to Durant. While it makes sense that "basketball is a business" and teams and players need to proceed accordingly in a processional manner...Blake still needs to suit up and work with Doc and CP3. Potentially seeing them trying to trade you away for someone else is not going to be good for working relationships.
Finally, Durant wants to win.
Woj makes it clear:
Durant's public and private criteria for the free-agent selection process have pertained to a singular focus: the chance to win titles immediately.
It's going to come down to how badly Durant wants to win. He would have a decent chance to win a title if he stays in OKC, even after Ibaka was shipped out. BUT if Durant were to leave OKC for any of the current teams listed as getting a chance to meet him, Durant would tip the scales of power in the NBA by making one team that much better. and likely making OKC that much worse. (Even if Blake went to OKC, I"m not sure how exactly he would jive with that roster...but I'll assume he wouldn't have the same dynamic with Westbrook that Durant has had). So if Durant REALLY wanted an easier path to the Finals... he should leave OKC and help make a "super duper team" elsewhere.
In the end though, as most prognosticators have guessed, Durant will likely just stay with the Thunder. His team was a 3-1 series collapse away from making it to the Finals. The money will be better if he stays in OKC. There's no pressing need for Durant to leave. He could always just sign a one or two year deal and choose to consider this upcoming circus of suitors later.