LeBron James changed the game when he bolted Cleveland for Miami. This age of free agency and 24-hour news cycle created a world in which fans got excited about the rumors — JUST THE RUMORS — of a player leaving. The fact they all got blindsided by Miami swooping in made it more shocking. Players care about rings, not laundry.
Then James, after getting two championships in four Finals appearances in four years in Miami, jumped back to Cleveland and returned home.
That changed the game yet again. Just ask Kevin Durant.
As the media has descended upon Las Vegas for Team USA training camp, their eyes have quickly turned to the summer of 2016 when Kevin Durant becomes a free agent for the first time. Fans are already lining up for his services and to woo him. Particularly fans from Durant’s home in the Washington, D.C. area:
Durant's refusal to say anything negative about DC or the Thunder will keep the #KD2DC Tilt-A-Whirl spinning until we all vomit.
— Bullets Forever (@BulletsForever) July 30, 2014
#WizardsTwitter is going to turn Kevin Durant off to coming home before he ever considers it. Good one, jerks.
— Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) July 30, 2014
The whirlwind has gotten so bad regarding Durant’s future and his hometown, he turned off Twitter on his iPhone. Trying to calm down that distraction:
iPhone go silent, like I ain't need the stress
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) July 29, 2014
What sparked all of this?
Certainly James’ surprise decision to return to Cleveland sparked the belief that players do care about laundry and the team they play for and not just championships. Two years is a long ways away and the Thunder have come frustratingly short of a title the last two years. Everyone seems to recognize Clay Bennett is not the most spending owner and Oklahoma City has to win a title in the next two years to guarantee Durant stays.
The Wizards also have a really good young team developing. Last year’s breakthrough to the Playoffs was huge from a reputation standpoint. John Wall is an All Star. Bradley Beal is a growing player with a heck of a jumper. Nene and Marcin Gortat are solid in the post. This is a team that would be a title contender if they added a player of Durant’s caliber.
The early frenzy also was sparked by comments Durant gave to Sam Amick of USA TODAY speaking about LeBron James’ free agent decision:
“I thought it was well thought out, it was classy. It’s fun to see a guy think about more than just basketball for once, and himself … He thought about the city where he comes from, northeast Ohio and how he could affect so many kids bigger than basketball. I love that.
“So many guys get criticized for making a decision, what’s best for them, instead of what’s best for everybody else and here was a guy that did that and you’ve got to respect him. I applauded him. I texted him and told him congratulations on that decision and I was happy for him.”
Wall and Durant already have a pretty close relationship having worked out together in the D.C. area. It is very possible.
The Thunder have done some planning too. The only guaranteed contracts set for Durant’s free agent year belong to Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. The rest of the team can be form fitted around those three. Although, it is quite possible that even with Bird rights, the Thunder would have to go into the luxury tax to sign Durant and field a title-contending team. Bennett has never paid the luxury tax since owning the Thunder.
The Wizards have a little less money and would have to do some maneuvering if Durant’s interest in them is real. Wall and Gortat are the only players with guaranteed contracts that year. Nene would be a free agent and Beal would hit restricted free agency that summer. That would make acquiring Durant tough.
But if there is mutual interest and it could really happen, you move heaven and earth to make a core of Durant and Wall.
Fortunately for Kevin, he does not have to make a decision for another two seasons. The fans will not let him forget that he has to make one though.