The conventional wisdom around the NBA shifted some as the NBA playoffs wore on, moving from “Kevin Durant is definitely in play” to “Kevin Durant likely stays with the Thunder for at least a year” as the Thunder kept on winning and came close to knocking off the Golden State Warriors. Where is he going to go and have a better chance at a ring?
Of course, when asked directly about free agency after the game, Durant would have no part of it.
“I mean, we just lost like 30 minutes ago, so I haven’t even thought about it,” Durant said. “I’m just embracing my teammates and just reflecting on the season. I’ll think about that stuff, I don’t know when. But we just lost an hour ago, 30 minutes ago, so I don’t know.”
But some of the other things he said over the course of the night sounded like a guy who is going to stay put. At least for now. There was this comment reflecting back on the season:
“I’m just proud of what all we’ve been through this season. We stuck together and we sacrificed for each other. That’s just what makes this game so special.”
Notice the use of the word “we.” He used that word a lot in his postgame press conference.
He used that word more speaking to Sam Amick of the USA Today a little later in the evening.
“We all grew up,” Durant said. “I think more than anything, we embraced the moment. We stayed in the moment every game. I’m more proud because most of these guys haven’t played in this atmosphere before.
“From (fellow free-agent-to-be) Dion (Waiters) to Enes to Andre, Steven – this is his first time as a starter playing, in this type of atmosphere as one of the main guys,” Durant said. “(Veteran) Randy (Foye) never made it to the Western Conference Finals, and he played a lot. Anthony Morrow had never made it to the playoffs, so I was just proud of how everyone just stayed in the moment and enjoyed it. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
And then, the curious kicker.”I see bright things for this team,” he added. “And it’s great to be a part of it.”
Once Durant’s emotions have settled after the loss, he may look at his situation and decide he does want to test the waters of free agency. There are no certainties in the NBA.
However, the sense around the league is that Durant will sign a two-year, one-plus-one deal with the Thunder, where he gets max money next season then can opt out again after one year (the kind of deal LeBron James did last summer). The reason starts with money. Durant’s max salary next season (whether with the Thunder or another team) will start at around $28 million a year, but if he signs a new contract in 2017 — after another salary cap bump and he gets 10 years in the league, so the percentage of his max deal goes up — his max would start in the $37 million a year range. There’s a risk with a one-year type deal, but it makes a lot of sense because he will make a lot more money and get to make one more run at a ring with Russell Westbrook and the developing cast in Oklahoma City.
We will see what Durant decides, but the smart bet is on him staying in OKC for at least one more season.