MIAMI (AP) — Draft night belonged to Ben Simmons.
The summer now belongs to Kevin Durant.
With Simmons going No. 1 in the draft to Philadelphia and Brandon Ingram following one pick later to the Los Angeles Lakers, the most predictable part of the NBA offseason is complete.
What comes next is really anyone’s guess. Free agency begins July 1, but it’s already clear some teams aren’t waiting for the shopping window to open before starting their summertime roster-remodeling. Derrick Rose — the first MVP who will call Madison Square Garden home since the 1970s — has already been sent to the New York Knicks, and Oklahoma City traded Serge Ibaka to Orlando on draft night in a deal that made a huge splash.
And both moves surely got Durant’s attention, since the Knicks will want him and the Thunder most definitely want to keep him.
“I’m interested to see what we do,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said early Friday.
He was talking about how the Thunder will make the trade pieces fit, after the bold draft-night move. He may as well have been talking about free agency, and how Oklahoma City will or will not keep Durant in blue and orange for at least one more season.
All the talk going into the draft was about who would be No. 3 behind Simmons and Ingram, what Boston would do with the eight picks that it carried into the night, and if Chicago would move Jimmy Butler.
For now at least, Butler remains with the Bulls. The Celtics were solid if not splashy, though their selection of Jaylen Brown at No. 3 got their ownership booed at the team’s draft party. International players got taken more often than ever before, but many of those guys likely won’t see the NBA floor for some time.
On the surface, making such a bold move — the Thunder gave up Ibaka and landed the rights to No. 11 pick Domantas Sabonis, guard Victor Oladipo and forward Ersan Ilyasova — works two ways for Oklahoma City. On one hand, it may make staying put more attractive to Durant. On the other, if Durant leaves, the Thunder will still have plenty of talent to surround Russell Westbrook with.
Then again, the Thunder are not counting on Durant leaving.
“We’re striving to build a great organization,” Presti said. “And I think for the last eight years, he’s been striving for the same thing.”
Before he completed even his first hour as a member of the Thunder, so was Sabonis.
“They were 30 minutes away from the finals,” Sabonis said, noting that Oklahoma City took Golden State to Game 7 of the Western Conference finals this year and led that series 3-1 before letting it slip away. “Hope I can bring that extra piece to their team which will help them succeed even more. I’m just really excited to be there. They’re a great organization.”
Everyone will want to talk to Durant, and he’s hardly going to be the only one commanding major attention. Miami center Hassan Whiteside is planning to take free agent meetings in New York next week, with Dallas expected to be one of the major suitors trying to lure him away from the Heat. LeBron James can opt out, though it seems like he’s not leaving the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
DeMar DeRozan, Dwyane Wade, Al Horford, Nic Batum and Dwight Howard will also be high on plenty of wish lists. If the Knicks weren’t looking like a major player before in free agency given how disappointing they’ve been on the court in recent years, the play to get Rose most definitely improves their collective outlook.
“We felt that our group needed to have some kind of aggressive play, a full-court, aggressive attack,” Knicks President Phil Jackson said. “This was one of the ways we could get it done.”
It’s a start, anyway.
In a week, the free-for-all begins, with the highest salary-cap numbers in league history set to usher in a shopping spree like none other.
“We’ll have to be aggressive come July 1,” Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said. “And we will be.”
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