The KD question: Did Kevin Durant play his last game for the Thunder?
Free agency season has officially begun
Kevin Durant looked understandably dour. Moving slowly, he was one of the last members of the Oklahoma City Thunder to walk off the Oracle Arena floor after being eliminated in the NBA’s Western Conference finals Monday night. That elimination came in a crushing Game 7 defeat after losing a commanding 3-1 series lead, certainly warranting the raw disappointment. Once Durant reached the tunnel on his way to the visiting locker room, there were a series of lengthy, consolatory hugs from rookie teammates Cameron Payne and John Huestis, vice president and assistant general manager Troy Weaver, general manager Sam Presti and first-year coach Billy Donovan. The NBA All-Star last embraced Thunder owner Clay Bennett before finally walking into the locker room for the last time this season — and perhaps ever — for the franchise.
“I was just stuck in the moment,” Durant told The Undefeated. “Man, we just lost the game. I embraced my teammates, the coach and GM. I really had no thoughts. I just let everyone know that I felt the same pain that they felt. I just wanted to go through that moment together.”
While Durant said the loss was too painful to even allow thought about what’s next to enter his head, speculation about his future started at the Thunder’s season-ending buzzer. Barring Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James jumping into the fray, Durant will be the marquee name when the NBA’s free-agent market opens in July.
The Thunder would love to re-sign the 2014 MVP, a player who has been with the organization since he was drafted second overall in 2007. But the competition to snatch one of the NBA’s top five players will offer a challenge and intriguing options. According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Golden State Warriors, Durant’s hometown Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs are all interested in signing him this offseason.
“It must be fun playing with a guy like that,” Warriors forward Andre Iguodala said of Durant.
And while the topic of what’s next after such a nightmarish series collapse was one Durant had zero interest in discussing, come free-agency time, expect the 27-year-old to listen to, most notably, his agent Rich Kleiman of Roc Nation and his business manager and childhood friend Charlie Bell.
“We will figure it out,” Durant said. “I will talk to my agent, my best friend and my dad. Just talk to those three guys and get some advice from other people. But for the most part, I will talk to them in the next couple of weeks. I don’t even know where my mind is right now.
“I can’t think about what is going to happen in a month. I’m just thinking about what we’ve all been through as a team and embrace my brothers right now.”
While several NBA teams have been preparing their sales pitch for Durant, don’t count the Thunder out.
Oklahoma City has been understandably nervous about Durant’s free agency for a while. The Warriors’ infatuation with him is a real concern to the Thunder, a source said, but could he sign in the Bay Area after this? Oklahoma City brought Durant within one win of a second Finals trip in franchise history. Donovan coached the franchise to 65 wins as an NBA rookie head coach despite the loss of assistant coach Monty Williams after the death of his wife, Ingrid, and a lengthy absence from assistant coach Maurice Cheeks following hip surgery. Still, the Thunder stunned the higher-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs.
Oklahoma City also has a young talented core that includes Payne (21), first team All-NBA guard Russell Westbrook (27), big men Steven Adams (22) and Enes Kanter (24) and defensive specialist Andre Roberson (24). Durant adores and trusts Presti and Weaver and has recently expressed strong respect for Donovan.
No, Oklahoma City doesn’t exude the same sexiness and off-the-court fun that the Bay Area, Manhattan, Hollywood, South Beach and his hometown of Washington, D.C., offer. But, from a basketball standpoint, which is most important, Durant loves the direction the Thunder are currently heading and may not have a better option. Thunder brass is expected to push this positive direction to Durant among the reasons to re-sign in free agency.
“Our goal is to win a championship, but we didn’t do it,” said Durant, who was limited to 27 games during the 2014-15 season due to injury. “I wouldn’t say it’s a total failure and it all sucked. We wanted to win a championship and the goal going in was to win a title. That’s the worst part. But when you look at it, we have a new coach and we learned a lot from him. We’re basically a new team.
“I didn’t play with these guys last season. So coming in and playing with a new group of guys, I thought we did a great job. There were a lot of expectations on us. A lot of people might not think that. Internally, I thought we peaked at the right time and got better at the right time. We just kept growing. All our players got confidence throughout the season. I hate to lose in the conference finals. But we got better.”
As the Thunder depart for the offseason, Durant and his “brothers” could be embracing for the last time as teammates. Or, it could just be a see-you-later.
“He loves this team and wants to win in Oklahoma as bad as anybody,” Kleiman told The Undefeated. “He’s going to have to get over tonight and take everything day-by-day.
“They had an incredible run. They are as good as anybody in the league. They have a championship roster. Kevin is going to win his championship any year now. It just motivates him more. He’s locked in right now. We will just let him feel how he feels tonight and keep talking, keep building.”