The free agent negotiation period begins on Friday, but the rumor mill has already started to warm up.

The Golden State Warriors will be pursuing Kevin Durant and ar the front-runner to land him if he doesn’t re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder by all accounts.

There’s no point speculating about what he’s leaning toward doing right now as he has set up meetings with six teams and we have to assume that he picked them (and excluded others, like the Washington Wizards) for reasons that are weighing on his mind. But as Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman (and others) have suggested, the Warriors probably strengthened their case to land Durant when they unraveled in the 2016 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Plus, in a strange twist, their case was strengthened by falling apart in the Finals and losing a 3-1 lead. Now they can pitch him as the missing piece in a return to glory instead of a title leach. There’s a big difference between ‘we need you’ as opposed to ‘you need us’ — especially for a prideful guy like Durant.

How’s that for a silver lining (h/t Cyann for the optimistic FanPost)?

In any event, the Warriors would have to make some serious moves to accommodate a max salary for Durant.

The process of landing Durant

The biggest debate around the decision to sign Durant throughout the season has been whether Strength In Numbers should trump Superstar Strength.

After the way the playoffs went, I think most people are probably on the side of star power, especially when considering who the Warriors would have to give up.

Bobby Marks of The Vertical outlined the moves the Warriors would have to make more clearly than most: they’d have to renounce all eight free agents and then still trade Andrew Bogut.

The moves would leave Golden State with $26.6 million in cap space to sign Durant to a max contract. However, doing so would only leave the Warriors with the minimum and room mid-level ($2.9 million) to fill out their roster.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury took a longer look at the ins and outs of how the Warriors could open up the room to sign Durant, elaborating on the decision to move Bogut instead of a contract like Andre Iguodala.

With one more sacrifice needed to create the max spot, the choice for the Warriors would come down to Bogut or Iguodala, and here’s why would the Warriors would keep Iguodala in that scenario: They’re both valuable/aging players with one year left on their deals, but Iguodala is a key personality in the locker room, can guard great wings (like LeBron), and, as a side note, is pretty close to Durant. Bogut is valuable. He has been very good for the Warriors. But Iguodala is more valuable. And I don’t think Durant would love seeing Iguodala peddled off to another team and maybe set up to guard Durant in the playoffs.

However, there’s another complication here: Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical suggested during a chat with CBS Sports Radio that Durant could sign a one-year deal and then do this all over again, essentially gathering information and deferring a “final” decision until next summer. Yet as Dan Feldman of NBC Sports commented after transcribing the key portions from Woj, that’ not a particularly good situation for the Warriors.

[The Warriors] can create cap room this summer, and if Durant doesn’t come, they’ll have to invest in longer-term options. They’re too good to put everything on hold another year (which is why them signing him to a 1+1 and leaving max 2017 cap space for him is practically unworkable).

So there are a lot of moving parts and we can just hope that it all works out in Golden State’s favor in the end, which would hopefully mean another championship whether they get Durant or not.

What happens if the Warriors can’t get Durant?

Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group dropped a number of names that we might hear linked to the Warriors if they can’t get Durant:

According to sources familiar with free agent talks, the Warriors are looking at Al Horford, Joakim Noah and even Hassan Whiteside. The contract demands might be too hefty but the goal is clear. The Warriors can’t thrive with a center that doesn’t attack the rim or score inside. […] Free agents Nicolas Batum and Evan Turner are among the players being considered at small forward, per sources, if the Warriors don’t get Kevin Durant. Which means the Warriors will be taking a long, hard look at if they can do better than Harrison Barnes.

If you’re looking for some persuasive writing about Horford, L.W. of Bullets Forever did a great job summarizing his strengths and weaknesses.

And with Pau Gasol opting out of his contract with the Chicago Bulls earlier today, as many expected, Zach Harper of CBS Sports speculated that he could also become a target for the Warriors.

CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore has Gasol ranked as the 17th best free agent this summer with ideal landing spots being the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder. Gasol is 35 years old but should still be able to contribute as either a starting big or a Sixth Man type off the bench. He’s coming off a great individual season in which he put up 16.5 points, 11 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2 blocks per game in 72 games.

One name that I still can’t really accept as a primary target for the Warriors: DeMar DeRozan, who Sam Amick of USA Today reported is a possible Warriors target.

 

What about Harrison Barnes?

If the Warriors get Durant, Barnes’ time in the Bay Area will have to end. And Andrew Lynch of the Daily Telegraph made a nice quip about that scenario, regarding Barnes’ selection to the 2016 U.S. Olympic team.

If the Warriors are able to convince Durant to sign in Golden State this off-season, they’ll have to jettison Barnes to make room for Durant’s contract. Imagine, then, a scenario where Durant joins new teammates Thompson and Green in Vegas while Barnes is left on the sideline, commissioning voodoo dolls of the entire Warriors organisation while he contemplates his move to the Lakers or the Rockets or wherever he ends up.

But even if they don’t land Durant, his time might be running short regardless — it looks like numerous teams are considering him as a fit and someone is bound to look around at the competition and determine they have to throw a max at him to retain his services while the Warriors wait for Durant.

  • Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia News Group writes that Barnes could be a target for the Philadelphia 76ers.
  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald reports that Barnes could be a target for the Bulls “…in line with a vision of a fast-paced, high-scoring Bulls lineup. Some combination of Butler, Barnes, Valentine, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic, with maybe Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez splitting time at center. No true point guard. Size at every position.”
  • Scott Rafferty of The Sporting News did a great job explaining how Barnes fits with the Blazers as, “The Blazers wouldn’t have to rely on him to create his own shot with Lillard and McCollum combining for over 40 points per game, either, and he’s an ideal fit for their timeline as a 24-year-old yet to enter his prime.”

Then there’s this thought:

 

That’s by no means  an exhaustive list of teams — sign and trades are possible, as Sean Deveney of Sporting News previously reported regarding a Barnes-for-Batum rumor — but you have to figure that someone is going to come up with the cap room to throw at Barnes and the Warriors will be forced to make a decision that could be a lot easier after his Finals performance.