After missing the playoffs for the first time in six years, the Oklahoma City Thunder are ready to contend with the best in the NBA once again, hoping Kevin Durant is in his best-in-the-league kind of form and fitness, while secretly dreading his decision in the 2016 offseason.
Durant played just 24 games last season, as the Thunder missed the playoffs on the last day of the season. Despite injuries to him and others around him, Russell Westbrook carried the team to one win away from another postseason. He didn’t get much help, and didn’t allow others to help him as well. That, and a combination of other, long term things, resulting in Scott Brooks losing his job and Billy Donovan finally leaving the comforts of Gainesville and become an NBA head coach.
There are no restrictions on Durant. Sam Presti knows they have to be very watchful and careful with him, but it’s like he’s starting the season 100% healthy, with a clean slate.
He’s been playing without restriction, 5-on-5 and competing as normal. With that said, as any of our players coming off injury, we’re going to be watching and managing practice, recovery time; we’re going to be watching. But as far as limitations, he doesn’t have any. He feels great. Looks great. It’s great to have him back on the floor. Happy for him because he’s been so committed and so disciplined to that process of getting back on the floor.
Minutes probably won’t be an issue as well, but some do think that Brooks doing a poor job of rotating players and resting his stars contributed to him losing his job. Donovan might allow Durant (or be ordered to from above) a bit more rest, especially in the first month of the season.
We have to see how he feels during the beginning of camp, and then we’ll map out a plan for the year as we do with all our players, not just Kevin. Are there going to be games where he plays more than the average? Probably. But I think you have to factor in it’s 82 games and where you want to be at a certain point and where the schedule is and where opportunities might be to take some time. But he’s going to play a lot of minutes because he can, but we’re going to be really diligent with how those minutes will be distributed.
And then there’s the big elephant in the room. Durant becoming a free agent in 2016. Every team with cap space will be going after him. But is it a question of the Thunder being built to win? Feeling homesick and leaning towards Washington D.C.? Or maybe the Miami Heat or Los Angeles Lakers offer a different kind of temptation?
Here’s the thing: We’re not going to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that’s not going to be in the air. Knowing that the future is coming, we’re incredibly excited about that because it’s an opportunity for us to keep him in Oklahoma City: a Hall of Fame player, a legacy player, I should say a legacy person, in Oklahoma. But those are conversations for another day. He knows how we feel about him. The best way to serve the Thunder and put him in a position to be successful, those things are one in the same, and that’s what we focus on.