Chris Mannix thinks Celtics are leading Eastern Conference contender for Kevin Durant

Ever since the Big 3 left a few years back, Celtics fans have been drooling over the thought of bringing in a superstar talent to lead the team to the Finals for the first time since 2010. Before, Boston was always pushed right up to the cap space wall, where heading into free agency, the C's usually only had room to make a few minor moves.

This offseason, however, the team has the money to sign potentially two max-level deals, all while keeping the key pieces on the roster such as Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Marcus Smart.

The Celtics have the ability to cause major damage in free agency, and the prize of the class could certainly be an option.

According to Chris Mannix of Yahoo!'s "The Vertical," Boston is a "dark horse" candidate to sign Kevin Durant when free agency opens up in July.

The Summer of Durant will be wild, with Durant eager to be courted, to see how other teams operate. Golden State will be in the mix, San Antonio too, while Boston lurks as a dark horse, the Eastern Conference alternative if Durant chooses to extract himself from the bruising Western Conference playoffs.

The Eastern Conference is undoubtably the weaker conference between the two, and Durant could use that to his advantage by signing with Boston. His presence alone would put the Celtics in position to be a contender, especially with another added max-level star like Al Horford and Brooklyn's likely top-three draft selection.

In the pregame show before the C's Game 3 victory on Friday night, Mannix said the Celtics would need to acquire a veteran for a realistic shot at Durant, rather than using the top-three pick and a young roster as their pitch.
"Boston is the Eastern Conference alternative for Kevin Durant... The Celtics would have to come to the table with another veteran, just like they did with Kevin Garnett trying to get him back in 2007. They've got to say "We have a deal on the table for Jimmy Butler or Bradley Beal." Al Horford would do it too."

With Washington's recent hiring of Scott Brooks, Durant's former head coach in Oklahoma City, many speculated it was a match made in heaven for the 27-year-old Thunder forward to return to his hometown and sign with the Wizards this offseason.

Mannix, however, reports a Durant homecoming is extremely unlikely. According to The Vertical, when the Thunder visited the Wizards earlier this season, it was very "stressful" for Durant. Mannix says those closest to Durant believe friends and family will "come out of the woodwork" to befriend him again, and he just "isn't interested in dealing with them."

Though Washington will make a hard pitch at Durant this offseason, don't expect him to take them up on their offer.

Mannix believes the Warriors and Spurs are the leading contenders in the West for Durant, the former being the team that just beat the Bulls' '96-'97 record for most regular season wins of all time with 73, and the latter the team that finished second in the entire league behind the Warriors and is led by one of the best coaches in the history of basketball. Either option would instantly make the organization of Durant's choosing the title favorite heading into the 2016-17 season.

Needless to say, a team consisting of Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, or Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and LaMarcus Aldridge would be nearly unstoppable. It's very well known his desire to get his first ring, and considering how he has been right on the brink of one several times in his career in OKC, Durant could take the "easy" way out in his pursuit of a title.

Joining the Warriors and becoming one of four superstars on a team would definitely give the defending champions a chance to be the clear-cut title favorite for several years. The even scarier part is that Golden State could actually afford to retain Curry, Thompson, Green, and one of Barnes or Iguadola, while signing the superstar small forward. Those five players would essentially cripple the team's cap space and they would be limited to signing just veteran minimum and mid-level exception contracts to fill out the rest of the roster in the coming years, but just the thought of that Avengers-esque starting lineup is terrifying nonetheless.

Durant signing with the Spurs would be scary as well, especially if their own "Big 3" hangs around for another year or two. Aldrige's low post presence, Leonard's tenacious defense, and Durant's scoring ability, with the mastermind of Gregg Popovich running the show would create a unique, yet well balanced attack that could produce some of the most entertaining Western Conference Finals match ups we've seen in quite some time.

If Durant wants the chance to win a championship, but remain the key player and face of the franchise for years to come, Boston would be his best bet. If he wants to form the NBA equivalent of Space Jam's Monstars, with a realistic chance at a ring year after year, the Warriors and Spurs are potential landing spots as well.

Needless to say, Durant's recruitment this summer will certainly be one for the ages.

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