Just one year ago, it seemed as if the Wizards had as good a chance any to win the sweepstakes for D.C. native Kevin Durant. Now, the latest reports suggest that Washington isn't even one of the half-dozen or so teams to get the opportunity to meet and make a pitch. As such, the Wizards themselves think it's highly unlikely Durant considers them, according to a report from ESPN's Britt McHenry.
Durant plans on meeting with the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and his current team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski. There's a chance Durant adds more teams to his list, but the Wizards are very much on the outside looking in.
The Wizards staked years of planning on the summer of Durant, letting key players go and refusing to sign anyone to more than a one-year contract last summer to preserve cap space. Now, they don't even appear to be in the Durant conversation.
What went wrong?
For years now -- at least two, if not longer -- the Wizards have been chasing Durant. All decisions were made with an eye towards this summer and luring Durant back to D.C. Washington purposely didn't woo any major free agents last offseason following the team's impressive run to the second round because it wanted to keep its cap space clear.
So, how did Durant's hometown team, one that boasts an All-Star point guard in John Wall and (assuming he re-signs) a potential All-Star in Bradley Beal, fall so far in Durant's eyes?
Wall believes that all the focus on Durant's impending free agency from D.C. fans might have been a turn off. As he told CSN Mid-Atlantic:
"A lot of people will be devastated. But at the end of the day he never promised us anything," he said Sunday. "Every day, everybody said KD-to-DC, coming to our games wearing all the Kevin Durant stuff, he didn't like it at that time because you should cheer for the team that you got. That might sway him."
In an interview with USA Today in November, Durant acknowledged that the way Wizards fans reacted to the team's obvious interest bothered him.
"[It] was kind of disrespectful, in my opinion, because you've got a great team there already that deserves your full 100% support," Durant said. "I wouldn't like that if I was on that team. I didn't like that, but it comes with it nowadays."
Durant was also reportedly overwhelmed with all sorts of requests when the Thunder traveled to D.C. last November, as reported by The Vertical's Chris Mannix in April:
Durant isn't all that keen on returning to play in the city in which he grew up. Friends, family - some real, some claiming to be - all come out of the woodwork in those situations, and Durant, who has tightened his inner circle considerably in recent years, isn't interested in dealing with them. His lone trip to D.C. this season was stressful, league sources told The Vertical, reinforcing to friends that wherever Durant signs next summer, Washington won't be it.
The Wizards' play on the court last year no doubt played a role in Durant souring on his hometown, too. Washington won just 41 games and missed out on the playoffs despite playing in the lowly Eastern Conference.
Last year's disappointing results led to the firing of head coach Randy Wittman. He was replaced by former Thunder head coach Scott Brooks, who coached Durant for seven years in Oklahoma City. It was never said publicly (or even leaked privately) that Brooks was hired to further endear the Wizards to Durant, but surely the prior relationship between the two couldn't have hurt, right?
Instead, it seems to have made no difference at all.
Where the Wizards go from here
Here's the good news: losing out on Durant does not mean all is lost for the Wizards. They still have Wall, one of the top point guards in the league. They will likely still have Beal, who, despite an injury-plagued start to his career, remains a sweet-stroking 22-year-old shooting guard with a bright future. Beal is a restricted free agent, but is expected to receive a maximum-contract offer from the Wizards.
They still have former No. 3 pick Otto Porter, who looks like he's going to develop into a solid NBA starter at small forward. They also now have a new coach who has helped foster the growth of young superstars before in Oklahoma City. Under Brooks, the Thunder also became one of the league's top defensive teams.
There are still other talented free agents that Washington can chase, including Al Horford, Hassan Whiteside, Chandler Parsons, Nicolas Batum and Harrison Barnes. Even Dwight Howard could be an intriguing signing.
Horford should and likely will be the team's top target. His defensive brilliance would elevate a Wizards team that finished the season 14th in points surrendered per 100 possessions. His lethal mid-range shooting would help space the floor for Wall. Howard could also be a good match, as he'd be a strong partner for Wall in the pick-and-roll, help the team defensively and provide a low post scoring threat. (The Wizards would likely need to trade incumbent center Marcin Gortat to make room for Howard, whereas Horford can also play power forward).
The Wizards also have enough cap room to add a lower-price player instead. Kent Bazemore emerged as a solid "3-and-D" wing for the Hawks last season, would be a nice fit. Ryan Anderson, Jeff Green and Amir Johnson could be decent back-up plans, too. The Wizards still have time to salvage their offseason.
Nevertheless, their grand plan to chase Durant has almost certainly fallen flat on its face.