LeBron James lives and breathes “the ‘Land”. For most players, where they grew up has very little significance in the decision of where they’ll earn their salary.
For the past year and a half, people have been discussing and weighing in on the possibilities of where Kevin Durant — the summer’s premiere unrestricted free agent — would sign. Those conversations intensified once he and Russell Westbrook literally handed over their chance to play in the NBA Finals.
The one team that some people expected to pursue Durant is also the one team that’ll be missing from meetings in New York this week.
Kevin Durant has never been silent about his adoration for all things DC related. He’s never shied away from his roots. However, the Washington Wizards are officially out of the running in the Durant sweepstakes. In fact, Durant has never once said that DC was a desired or possible destination at this point in his career. That didn’t stop fans from being hopeful about a reunion.
To be frank, the Wizards aren’t an appealing franchise for any marquee player with a “win now” mentality. Bradley Beal is a 2 guard with a lot of upside who has yet to play a full season. John Wall has had his flaws — mostly as a long distance shooter — yet he’s the exact type of versatile guard Durant would want to play with. Wall posted his best season this year, averaging a career-high 10.2 dimes along with averaging nearly 20 points per game for the second time.
Marcin Gortat is a prototypical foreign big man. He can pass well, he clears offensive boards, and has a smooth mid-range jumper. However after Wall and Gortat, the Wizards don’t have much else to offer if they’d requested
(and been granted) a pitch meeting with Durant. Many teams will have a surplus of cap space where acquiring Durant is possible. Although, cap room means nothing to a player when that money won’t get him closer to being a legitimate contender.
The theoretical map of players playing in the locales where they grew up is nothing new. As recent as last month, detailed breakdowns have been created assigning players in a starting line-up based on the sole commonality of being from the same city. Few players will ever have the privilege of playing for their hometown team for any stretch of their career. LeBron James is a rarity. Derrick Rose is another.
Rose, much like James, had the keys to kingdom handed to him. Chicagoans followed Rose from his days at Simeon. When the time came, there were no doubts that the Bulls would select him first overall in the 2008 draft.
The city of Chicago enjoyed the mediocrity that a young Ben Gordon and Luol Deng brought. Over time, they improved immensely on the defensive end. Though, the Bulls still struggled to close games. They lacked the quickness and explosiveness to be able to exploit match-ups, particularly off the dribble.
Derrick Rose was the answer in 2008. He was to carry the torch from the underwhelming Scott Skiles-era into a more balanced and deliberate pace led by Tom Thibodeau.
What Rose lacked in defensive prowess, the Bulls’ franchise player made up for in his fearless drives down the lane and his unyielding passion for the game. The year he won Most Valuable Player, the Bulls won 62 teams; the best record in the league and the first time they’d surpassed 60 games since the MJ/Phil Jackson era. Unfortunately for the Bulls, Rose’s style of play lead to his body betraying him soon thereafter.
At 27 years old, the 2015-16 season was the first in three years we saw Derrick Rose on the floor full time. Even though he averaged almost 32 minutes per game in 66 games, Rose isn’t quite the same player that his hometown fans got to experience. It’s for that exact reason that the Bulls trading him to New York might not have been the worst case scenario.
Unlike LeBron, Derrick Rose never promised the fans of Chicago anything more than his best. He gave that and much more. With notable cautionary tales such as Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill, it’s hard to tell how many good seasons Rose has left in him. But it’s unfair to denounce him as a hometown player for being happy about getting to play somewhere else.
How incredible would it be to watch Chris Paul and Stephen Curry make the Charlotte Hornets a top 5 most watchable team again? Russell Westbrook as a Laker would send the entire city into a frenzy. The District would dedicate a weekend strictly to celebrating Kevin Durant’s return to the area that birthed him.
The reality is many hometown NBA teams can’t offer free agents much beyond nostalgia and personalized branding opportunities.
The business of basketball has evolved to the point where athletes don’t have to be in a large market to earn hefty marketing dollars. Durant has been able to grow his brand in Oklahoma City without ever once tapping into his connection to DC or PG County. Kobe Bryant could have gone home to Philly but he didn’t identify that as “home” despite people still wearing his Lower Merion High School jersey.
So what exactly can hometown teams offer free agents who clearly have it all sitting right where they are?
Only one player thus far has been able to answer that. And it’ll likely remain that way for the remainder of our lifetime.