There’s not a lot of time to reflect on the past. The Oklahoma City Thunder are out of the playoffs, and now everything this organization is focused on is holding on to Kevin Durant, who becomes a free agent this summer.
Unless LeBron James indicates he’s leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers (he’ll opt out of his deal anyway), Durant is the biggest prize in free agency this offseason by miles and maybe light years. The 2014 NBA MVP bounced back from an injury-filled 2014-2015 campaign to lead the Thunder to game 7 of the Western Conference finals when many thought they won’t make it out of the previous round.
Durant averaged 28.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5 assists per game while shooting 50.5% from the field. He wasn’t as efficient in the playoffs, averaging 28.4 points, playing almost five more minutes a night, making 43% of his shots and just 28.2% of his three-pointers. In the game 5 & 6 losses to the Warriors, Durant hoisted 62 shots, making only 22 of them. He had a solid game 7, but like the rest of his teammates looked helpless on both ends of the floor during the third quarter, when the Warriors ran away from the Thunder to complete their comeback from 1-3 down.
Right now, as Durant has mentioned a couple of times, the pain of losing to the Warriors is too fresh to start thinking about anything else. But this blows over. It’ll be July in no time, and there are decisions to be made. Durant, who has been part of the Thunder/Sonics franchise since 2007 (a second overall pick), the only club he’s ever played for, will make his decision with the help of his agent, his father, and his best friend, who make up the inner circle that helps him make decisions. This is his first time as a free agent, and it’s a big one.
Durant is likely to receive the biggest contract in the history of the NBA, all depending on the exact numbers of the new salary cap. The Thunder will have to become a tax paying team in order to keep Durant, right now with a $69 million cap hit for the 2016-2017 season. They can shed some of that by declining Anthony Morrow’s team option ($3.488 million) and not re-signing Dion Waiters. But Durant probably wants to know that the team is looking to do more than just count on him and Russell Westbrook to lead them to the championship.
Westbrook? Durant loves playing with him. For all the words that have been typed and written about this duo, Westbrook isn’t going to be the reason Durant is driven away from the Thunder. The two like playing with each other and off of each other. As far as blaming Westbrook for the playoff collapse? Durant had just as bad of a finish. Westbrook is a reason to stay, not to leave.
No one can offer Durant more money than the Thunder, or more years. But almost every significant team in the NBA is thinking about how cap space can be made for Durant to be accommodated. The Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks keep getting mentioned, but right now it’s all speculation. Durant is keeping the cards close to his chest, but the belief in the capability of winning a championship on the Thunder will be at the heart of his decision, trumping all other factors.