Peace, Love and Thunderstanding: Bye-Bye Kevin Durant

Well, enjoy Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City while you can, because apparently it will be short lived…at least according to everyone not named Kevin Durant.

Sure, Kevin Durant can say things, like, “I want to stay in Oklahoma as long as possible. I do, that’s the honest truth. I love it there.”  He could actually say nothing but that and journalists in big markets would still write crap like Dan Shanoff (formerly of did recently on his Twitter account:

Kevin Durant bolting OKC for DC in 2012 is the new LeBron bolting Cleveland for NYC in 2010. Mark it down.

This is not new material,’s The Sports Guy has been referring to the Thunder as “Kevin Durant’s Future Former Team” since they left Seattle.  The morons behind “Save Our Sonics” have been reporting that Kevin Durant and Jeff Green personally sought them out to tell them they would never sign a contract with a team in Oklahoma City.  So, I guess we should be living in fear that our first professional superstar will be abandoning us as soon as he has a chance.  Or…

You could click on the jump and learn why it is idiocy to suggest this happening.

First, let’s look at what the Thunder, barring a trade of the Durantula are guaranteed in receiving his services.

  • He is under contract for the 2009/2010 season.
  • At the discretion of General Manager Sam Presti, they can pick up his fourth year rookie contract for the 2010/2011 season.  (You can mark this down.)
  • In the Summer of 2011, Kevin Durant could become a restricted free agent.  Worst case scenario, he accepts the “qualifying offer” putting him under contract for the 2011/2012 season with the Thunder, and allowing him to go wherever he pleases in 2012.

In the Summer of 2010 things start to get a little tricky.  This will likely be where we learn in Durant truly wants to stay here long term.  At this time, Presti will be able to offer Kevin Durant a contract extension.  Assuming the Collective Bargaining Agreement does not change significantly, that would mean Durant could sign for five additional years for up to 25% of the salary cap (probably about $13MM in the first year).

If he does that, he will be obligated to play in Oklahoma City until 2016.  Unless something awful occurs, you can count on Presti offering Durant the most money allowed for as many years as possible.  Thanks to rules geared toward keeping star players from jumping markets, the Thunder will be in position to offer Durant about $20MM more than any other team.  The question will be if Durant accepts.

Through the post-salary cap history of the NBA, no player whose performance had mandated a “max contract” offer has turned down an extension.  Not one player who could make as much as possible has said, “you know what, I’m going to take the one year tender and hope a better team makes me a lesser, but still good, offer next summer.”  The closest is the catalyst behind the rumor Shanoff mentioned.

When LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were offered max extensions, they turned them down.  They signed extensions, but instead of accepting the five years the GMs wanted them to take, they only signed for three years (at max money).  Their rationale was reasonable.  They both wanted their teams to make pushes at championships and were afraid to get locked up long term to teams that were going nowhere.  Also, they were projecting that a robust economy would make it much more lucrative to sign long term deals in 2010.

Now, both of them are likely going to be burned for ignoring the idiom about birds in hand while a Bush is controlling the economy.  Their options in 2010 are to take less money with teams that will be worse than the one they are leaving, or due to the shrinking salary cap, accepting a long term contract for less money than they were offered three years ago.

Of course, the D.C. rumors are expecting Durant to be even harder core.  They say he will refuse to sign any contract (including an offer during his restricted free agency in 2011 that Oklahoma City could match) and risk more than $80MM that could be wiped away by an injury or car accident during the 2011/2012 season.  And why?  Assuming the Washington Wizards, the team closest to the town he grew up in, will have max money to offer him in the summer of ’12.

Let’s assume the Wizards manage to avoid the awful contracts they love to offer over the next two years and keep only Gilbert Arenas and whoever they draft so they can afford Durant:  Why would anyone think Durant wants to go home so badly?  He was an unrestricted free agent coming out of high school and could have attended any college he wanted.  If he loved his hometown so much, why wasn’t he playing for Georgetown?  Or Maryland?

Also, here is the other thing.  If Durant is lying and really wants out of this small market so badly that he would be willing to give up a guaranteed $20MM, he will lose out on more than money.  As LeBron is learning as he gears up for his free agent extravaganza, the only teams who can even remotely compete with his current team when it comes to dollars are only able to do so because they have entirely stripped themselves of talent.  When the Knicks come knocking on his door next Summer, they will have only Eddy Curry, Jared Jeffries, Wilson Chandler, and Danilo Gallinari under contract.  Then, should they sign King James, they will only have enough salary cap space leftover to surround him with minimum salaried players.

Durant, on the other hand, is the member of a young corp destined for greatness while working for the “it” general manager in a city that adores him.  Yeah, I can see why he’d want out.