Let's begin with a stipulation: Kevin Durant is probably not going to the Lakers. Also, a qualifier: the case for KD on the Lakers is predicated on Anthony Davis landing elsewhere. And finally, a sincere apology: everyone is sick of Lakers rumors, and I don't mean to be part of the problem. But this isn't speculation. This is closer to a dream. And if nothing else, hopefully it will be more interesting than some halfhearted power ranking of Christmas Day matchups.
Here is why Kevin Durant should go to the Lakers.
1. If Durant decides to leave the Warriors, no move comes with more upside than L.A. If he wins a title with the Lakers next year, he'll have won three straight in Golden State and then added a fourth next to LeBron. In that scenario, everyone would be forced to stop downplaying how important he's been to Golden State's success over the past three seasons (because the Warriors suddenly become mortal without him) and it would be impossible to deny KD's individual brilliance in a historical context (he helped build the best team ever, then he left and immediately beat them). Durant would be untouchable.
And yes, of course, right now, in mid-December, there will be lots of dumb people who dismiss this out of hand and crow about Durant potentially jumping on another bandwagon. Don't be one of those people.
Consider where the Lakers are going to be this summer. Wherever this season ends in L.A., it will be LeBron's earliest playoff exit in a decade. The young players on this team aren't as good as the Lakers need them to be, and free agent options are already dwindling. Anthony Davis to LA probably isn't happening. Kawhi wants his own team. Klay's not leaving. Absent some dramatic twist, the ceiling in L.A. is lower than most people realize. If Durant changes all of that by himself—the twist—he wouldn’t be crushed for it. In time, he could be celebrated as the guy who helped save both LeBron and the Lakers.
2. To understand what Durant should do next, it's important to appreciate what happened in 2016. Durant joined the Warriors after losing to them in the Western Conference finals. This was a sign of weakness, critics say. You're supposed to compete with the stars you can't beat, he took the easy way out, etc. Sure. But just to be clear, when Durant left the Thunder in 2016, it wasn't about countering Steph Curry. He was leaving OKC because the partnership with Westbrook had run its course. He went to Golden State to beat LeBron James and be the best player in the world.
Just as LeBron recognized that he needed help to get where he wanted to go, Durant wanted to win, and he sought out the place that gave him the best opportunity to do it. He took LeBron's playbook and then beat James at his own game. He found better teammates and a perfect system. While James latched on to Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving, Durant found Steph Curry, a player who was better than them both. If they decide to stay together this summer, the Warriors really could win not one, not two, not three... So it all worked in a literal sense. But there have been a few problems with selling the Warriors move and getting the credit he deserves. The first is that KD has explained this move by telling the world that going to Golden State wasn't about winning titles or continuing to his build his brand into the next phase of his career; KD has said that he's just a basketball purist who has never cared about narratives. He claims that he went to the Warriors because they gave him a chance to grow on the court and explore the best version of his game. I'm not sure anyone believes him.
The second problem with the Warriors move goes back to LeBron's playbook: on some level, we've seen all of this before. LeBron's decision was new and audacious and paradigm shifting, and while he initially drove the world insane, the Heat move was eventually appreciated as groundbreaking. Then, on the heels of the LeBron Heat experience, Durant did essentially the same thing, only his decision was more extreme, with less imagination. The Warriors move wasn't groundbreaking. It was tacky.
If KD goes to Los Angeles to inherit his own Clippers kingdom, right next to LeBron with the Lakers, it might feel like another imitation of a move that was more interesting when LeBron did it. That criticism would be even more applicable if Durant decides it's time to save the Knicks. Either of those moves would be fine, to be clear, and staying with the Warriors would be acceptable just the same. I reserve the right to enjoy any decision Durant makes in July. But for the sake of this argument: Durant has taken many of the same steps as LeBron, except that by the time he takes them, they aren't as cool, because we've seen them before. And you know what we've never seen before? One of the greatest players ever teaming up with his biggest rival to run through the whole league.
3. If Durant wants to continue growing, the Lakers are the best combination of a challenge and an opportunity. There’s this notion that KD needs “his own team” in the next phase of his career, but that idea can be taken too far. There’s a thin line between valor and stupidity. If winning titles with three other Hall of Famers hasn't been as fulfilling as expected, that doesn't mean it's time to over-correct and try to carry Allonzo Trier to the Finals. Montrezl Harrell and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are wonderful, but anyone who thinks the Clips are one superstar away is probably spending too much time on NBA Twitter.
Durant is so good that titles are the only way he'll be measured. If he leaves Golden State, the Lakers give him the best chance to continue winning, while also providing an opportunity to do it in a more satisfying way (for both KD and the rest of us). LeBron and KD would be phenomenal, but they would be tested. The roster would still have holes, there would be questions all year, and contending with the Lakers would demand the most explosive version of KD's game on a near-nightly basis. That’s a good thing.
More importantly, a move to join the Lakers would give KD's career a shape that feels more authentic to who he actually is. Durant isn't LeBron or Kobe. He doesn't have the force of personality to galvanize an entire organization. When Durant retires, there's a chance he will be remembered as an incredible player who spent most of his career searching for fulfillment he never quite found. If he goes to the Knicks and Clippers, he could find himself trying in vain to carry his own franchise to a title, inhabiting a role that has never quite suited him. If he went to the Lakers, though, he's got a better chance of actually winning, and he would spend the second half of his prime chasing titles with the Hall of Famer he's been pitted against for the past 10 years. The partnership would be bizarre, thrilling, league altering, and another sign that Durant has been wired a little differently all along. That seems closer to the truth of KD than any kind of East Coast LeBron role he'd be trying to sell in New York.
4. If you're worried about that one Bleacher Report quote, don't be. Sure, I will admit: it’s possible that KD has already tipped his hand with his "toxic atmosphere" answers earlier this month. Maybe we should all give up on any Uber commercial reunions. But at the same time: KD says lots of things, and there is plenty of time before free agency.
In July, Durant will be the one player in the NBA who could join LeBron as a peer, not a pupil. His comments may have done a nice job explaining why other free agents might not want to play with James, but many of those concerns wouldn't apply to KD. He would have the leverage to wield nearly as much influence with the Lakers organization, he could go to L.A. and come reasonably close matching LeBron's star power, and he might be the one player in the league with enough credibility to split responsibilities on the court. This partnership can work. One quote may not be dispositive. (Bonus: Watch how carefully LeBron answered this question.)
5. If Durant is worried how the public would perceive a Lakers move, he shouldn't be. The single biggest problem with Durant's reputation through these Warriors years has been an absence of drama. There has been nothing like the 2011 Finals, and there's been no credible threat like Boston, OKC, or San Antonio in 2012 and 2013. There are no fit concerns to discuss, and as long as everyone stays healthy, there's really no question how each season will end. KD started all of this, and without any meaningful intrigue on the court, there's been nothing to debate but meta-questions about how to feel about any of this success.
KD on the Lakers would bring the story back to basketball. There would be lots dumb jokes initially, and then it would be about two weeks into the regular season before the whole world would forget to care about the ethics of any of this. Actually watching LeBron and Durant would be 10 times more interesting.
There would be pressure to succeed, but that will be true anywhere he goes. In the meantime, KD in L.A. could give us the best NBA season in decades. How would LeBron and Durant fit together? Could they beat Golden State? How many spiteful interviews would Draymond give in the nine months after Durant leaves? How many times would KD drop 40 on Draymond in response? Wouldn’t Warriors fans be secretly thrilled to see if Steph Curry could beat everyone regardless? Alternately: if Anthony Davis lands with the Celtics, who wins an NBA Finals if it’s AD and Kyrie vs. Durant and LeBron?
Choosing LeBron and the Lakers would be the biggest risk of KD's professional life, and there's no guarantee the partnership would succeed. Doing it anyway would be proof that Durant truly doesn't care about the haters anymore. Right now millions of fans subconsciously (or, um, very consciously) resent KD for ushering in the current era. In time, if he could make the Lakers move work, all of the critics would come to appreciate KD for having the audacity to try any of this. Before you know it, millions of people would be talking about Durant as a basketball purist who doesn't care about narratives, except this time it would be fans making that case on Durant's behalf.
Everyone wants to be entertained, and the world eventually learns to love the people who give us the best story. So this Christmas, please keep in mind: not a single story in sports would be wilder than Kevin Durant turning heel on the Warriors this summer and going to Los Angeles to try to take over the world with LeBron James. It probably won't happen, but can't we all agree that it should?