VIDEO: Durant burns Nuggets for 36 points in preseason
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The drum beat has already begun for Kevin Durant.
The endless line of questioning, the non-stop speculation and the outright rumors (and lies) about what he’s going to do as a free agent three summers from now is officially a part of our daily NBA conversation. I hate it for Durant and I hate for his Oklahoma City Thunder, whose organic quest for a championship has been one of the better storylines the league has seen in recent seasons.
“Small-market superstars dig in and battle the big-city superstars for supremacy.” It had the makings of great drama from the very start … Durant and Russell Westbrook — and James Harden and even Jeff Green at one time — joining forces in OKC to challenge the establishment.
But like all good things, the reality and the bottom-line nature of the business threatens to derail it completely. ESPN’s Jalen Rose has already fired the first shot, predicting that Rose will bolt for Houston and a seat alongside Harden and Dwight Howard on a championship quest those two stars are just starting.
“I think that after he plays out the couple years on his contract that he goes to Houston to play with Dwight Howard and James Harden,” Rose said in this clip on Grantland.com’s video YouTube channel.
That’s a bold statement indeed, and based on the recent history of stars like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Howard, one that should not be dismissed. The reality for all of these stars is that they will be faced with a similar stay-or-go dilemma at some point in their careers. And the entire drama will be played out in public, with a huge assist from social media.
I’m not nearly as convinced as Rose is about Durant bolting. Durant’s response to Rose’s claim in an interview with the Oklahoman‘s Darnell Mayberry should calm any immediate fears:
Q: Did you hear what Jalen Rose said about the Houston thing?
Do you have any thoughts on that?
Nah, I’m here for the Thunder (laughs). I mean, that’s all I can say. I’m not thinking far down the line at all. It’s about today. Today we got better against the Chicago Bulls. I can’t tell the future. I can’t speak on that. That’s his opinion. I’m just going to keep playing for the Thunder. I love playing here.
People probably will continue to say that for the next three years.
How do you deal with that?
I mean, just let them know I’m not thinking that far down the line, I guess. I mean, I love my teammates. I love where I live. I love playing for this organization. So I’m just taking it a day at a time.
But whatever the three-time scoring champ decides to do, whatever choice he makes in free agency in the summer of 2016, he will have earned the right to make a decision of his own. He’s given the Thunder everything a city and its fan base could ever dream of, short of that Larry O’Brien trophy he is still pursuing.
If Durant decides in two years that he’d rather chase it elsewhere, so be it.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti lives with that reality daily. He knows that there are no guarantees in free agency, not even with a transcendent talent like Durant, whose loyalty to the Thunder has never wavered.
The doesn’t meant these next two seasons won’t be an absolute nightmare for Presti and his crew. That speculation that drives the day for so many will be magnified behind the walls of the Thunder’s headquarters. The way LeBron left Cleveland, Carmelo left Denver and Dwight left Orlando has forced every team to take stock of their situations a bit differently.
And unlike a hometown star like Chicago’s Derrick Rose, Durant’s roots in Oklahoma City don’t run deeper than the six seasons he’s spent with the franchise.
The Thunder also have to deal with the reality of their own situation. There have been some dents in the organization’s armor of late. When Westbrook suffered his knee injury during the 2013 playoffs, the entire world (and more importantly, the rest of the league) got a glimpse of just how vulnerable OKC can be when one of their big two is out.
That deep team that had home-court advantage in The Finals against the Heat two years ago is no more. They’re no longer viewed as that precious team on the rise. They are now a part of the very establishment they were challenging just three years ago.
The perception of what this team is and the reality of what this team is presents the dilemma for Durant that is no doubt coming. Fearless predictions or not, Durant will be a free agent in the foreseeable future. He and his representation, as well as the Thunder’s brain trust, need to be prepared to address it.
Whatever the final outcome, it is (and was) Durant’s decision to make. If he’s learned anything from his contemporaries and the way they handled their business, that should be at the forefront of his mind when we actually get closer to July of 2016. He has to own this decision!