This whole “NBA superstars playing at home” thing didn’t start when LeBron James took his talents back to Cleveland—after all, Derrick Rose won an MVP with his hometown Bulls back in 2011 and Wilt Chamberlain was a territorial pick of the then-Philadelphia Warriors in the ‘50s. But those were draft picks, just as LeBron himself was back in 2003. This homecoming was different. It was LeBron’s choice, not the other way around.
And this got us thinking: Who else could and should go home? Kevin Durant is the most obvious candidate, as speculation is already running rampant over what the reigning MVP will do when his deal is up in 2016. He’s done nothing to cool the rumors either, saying “the whole city is a part of me.” Along with KD, here’s nine other guys who could make a move.
Kevin Durant (Seat Pleasant, Md.)
Free Agent: 2016
Rather than celebrate a team that features a tremendous young backcourt in Bradley Beal and John Wall, fresh off their first playoff appearance in six years, Wizards fans have already moved on to the summer of 2016 when Kevin Durant becomes a free agent. Durant is from the DMV area (if you haven’t heard) and speculation is already rampant that he could follow LeBron’s lead and come home. Never mind the fact that Durant has never played for the Wizards, or that the team he plays for now is pretty good. Besides, what will he do in DC, back up Paul Pierce?2 of 11
Kobe Bryant (Lower Merion, Pa.)
Free Agent: 2016
There is, of course, a chance that Kobe will demand (and receive) another two-year, $50 million extension from the Lakers when his current one expires. There is also a chance that by then Kobe will be the last man standing from the Class of ‘96 and he retires to become Batman or whatever a super-rich athlete with his own helicopter does these days. But if the then 37-year-old Kobe still wants to hoop and the Lakers are ready to move on, why not a Philadelphia homecoming? He could wear his dad’s old number and spread some of his long-accrued wisdom to the Philly youth movement. Maybe the notoriously ornery fans would even cheer.
Zach Randolph (Marion, Ind.)
Free Agent: 2017
Z-Bo just signed a two-year extension with the Grizzlies this year, which may very well take him to the end of his career. Then again, the crafty lefty should remain in demand as long as he’s willing to lace ‘em up. Far removed from his “Jail Blazer” days or even his ones as a Knicks chucker, Randolph is a solid low-post presence with a deft touch around the basket and a veteran leader’s mentality—Steven Adams had it coming. As for his athleticism, it’s hard to lose what you never had to begin with. Home fishing with Paul George (with an NBA paycheck) is like retiring without the retirement.
Anthony Davis (Chicago, Ill.)
Free Agent (Restricted): 2016
So on the one hand, Anthony Davis is unlikely to become a true unrestricted free agent until 2020 (unless he gets in on that new short-term deal wave). On the other hand, he’ll still only be 27 then. Ah, youth. And seeing that Joakim Noah will be 35—and hey, maybe in New York—and Pau Gasol will be a surgeon or a senator or something, the Bulls will need to reload their frontcourt. Davis, who played his mostly under-the-radar high school career at Chicago’s Perspectives Charter, could get a second chance to wow the locals.
Kyrie Irving (West Orange, N.J.)
Free Agent (Player Option): 2019
Kyrie Irving is from Australia by way of New Jersey, which means he doesn’t really have a team to go home to. But seeing that the Nets also used to reside in New Jersey, Brooklyn seems like a good a home as any for the former Rookie of the Year. By 2019, the Nets will be out from under the contracts of Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, and assuming they haven’t traded for even more onerous contracts they’ll be looking for a shiny centerpiece for their rusty arena. With LeBron pushing 35, maybe it will be time for Kyrie to move on.
Blake Griffin (Oklahoma City, OK)
Oklahoma City Thunder
Free Agent (Opt Out): 2017
This could be the second domino to fall if Kevin Durant heads back to DC. The Oklahoma City franchise will need a star, and Blake was born in OKC, went to high school there (where he won four state titles in four years and lost five games TOTAL) and went to Oklahoma. He’ll be 28, still in his prime, and assuming Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka stick around he could slot right in. If they don’t, well, there are tougher guys to build around.
Dwight Howard (Atlanta, Ga.)
Free Agent (Player Option): 2016
Growing up in Atlanta, Dwight Howard’s AAU team (which also featured Josh Smith, Randolph Morris, Javaris Crittenton and Darius Washington) may have been the best team in the city. Fine, that’s an exaggeration, but probably not by much. Howard’s NBA career has pretty much been one facepalm after another despite his superstar status, but going home could be just the thing to cure all ills.
Chris Paul (Winston-Salem, N.C.)
Free Agent: 2018
Chris Paul has already played for the Hornets in two cities (New Orleans and Oklahoma City), why not make it three? It doesn’t hurt that the Hornets are owned by Michael Jordan, who also happens to run the eponymous sneaker brand that Paul endorses. Paul will be 33 in 2018, which is kind of old for a point guard, but it also means he’ll pair perfectly with fellow Demon Deacon Tim Duncan who will be a sprightly 42 and…
Russell Westbrook (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Los Angeles Clippers
Free Agent: 2017
Let’s face it: Russell Westbrook is getting his own team eventually, one way or another. If Durant leaves OKC behind for the Potomac, maybe it happens in Oklahoma City. But he doesn’t have to stay, either. He grew up in Long Beach and attended UCLA, but Westbrook seems more like a Clipper (or whatever they’ll be calling themselves by then) than a Laker. Honestly we want to see this just for the podium outfits.
James Harden (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Los Angeles Lakers
Free Agent: 2018
What will the Lakers look like in the post-Kobe era? It’s nearly impossible to envision, like wondering what the Earth will be like after humanity goes extinct. Kobe’s presence looms so large and has dominated for so long that it seems permanent. Welp, it isn’t. So why not James Harden? He was born in L.A., went to Lakewood’s Artesia High, and is represented by Rob Pelinka—who is also the agent of one Kobe Bean Bryant. Someone get Jack Nicholson a fake beard.