Durant and Thunder get it right
Five years from now, it could turn out that the biggest NBA news event of this summer wasn't LeBron James' announcement special on ESPN but rather Kevin Durant's tweet. With no fanfare (and a misspelling or two), Durant sent out the word via Twitter at 10:44 a.m. Eastern time that he will sign a five-year extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder:
"Exstension for 5 more years wit the #thunder God is Great, me and my family came a long way I love yall man forreal, this is a blessing!"
No summit, no TV show, no drama. The NBA's top up-and-coming team knows its franchise player won't be going anywhere.
We've seen the Thunder roster in action. We know it works. All it needs is a little seasoning. The Thunder will be the biggest threats to the Lakers in the Western Conference next season. I see OKC going down to L.A. in a classic Western Conference finals in what could be the last stand for Phil Jackson's Lakers, then emerging as the West's No. 1 team in 2011-12. Is the Heat's future that simple to project? Cleveland's? Chicago's?
This was the stealth signing. The Thunder had $14 million of salary-cap space to work with this summer, but you never heard them mentioned among the free-agency players. All along, they planned to use that money on their young core of stars, which begins with Durant. They addressed their need for a big man through draft-day maneuvering that brought Cole Aldrich in from Kansas, but the real goal was to lock up their own guy.
Oklahoma City was correct from the outset, with general manager Sam Presti literally arriving at Durant's doorstep at the first possible moment to present his offer.
"The Thunder showed the Durant family from the very beginning, at 11:01 [Central time] the first night, that they were committed to keeping him," said Durant's agent, Aaron Goodwin, referring to the start of the free-agency period. "There were just a few legal things to work out. Kevin made it clear that he wanted to be in Oklahoma."
Yes, he'll stick in the sticks, far from Broadway, Sunset Boulevard or Ocean Drive. Oklahoma City has everything he needs: a gym with lights in it. And Durant is so into his team that he went to Orlando, Fla., to cheer on his mates in the summer league.
But before we get too warm and fuzzy, let's keep in mind the CREAM principle (Cash Rules Everything Around Me). Much like the decision facing Carmelo Anthony, who has a three-year, $65 million extension offer on the table from the Nuggets, Durant risked having some of this money evaporate under the next collective bargaining agreement, which will dictate contracts signed after next season. Counting the $5 million he'll make next season, Durant has some $90 million coming his way before he becomes a free agent again at age 26. He probably will be the last 21-year-old NBA player to have that opportunity.
The math made too much sense for the Thunder. They locked up Durant for only $5 million more than Memphis committed to Rudy Gay -- and $15 million less than New York will pay Amar'e Stoudemire. In the last year of his contract, Durant should be getting better -- not worse. By that final season -- 2015-16 -- he could turn out to be the best value in the NBA.
As much as Durant has done already, including leading the league in scoring this past season, this extension is still about potential more than past results. Next year, he can't shoot 35 percent in the playoffs again. (For comparison's sake, Kobe Bryant shot 38 percent as a rookie in the playoffs, LeBron James shot 48 percent in his first postseason and Carmelo Anthony shot 33 percent in his). The Thunder still have to show they can win a road game in the postseason.
Still, I guarantee you no one will look back on this contract in six years and say, "What were they thinking?" That makes sense because there wasn't any airtime or Twitter characters wasted on wondering "What is Durant thinking?" this summer. We were all distracted, wondering about LeBron's future whereabouts, when maybe we should have been wondering whether -- wherever he ends up -- his team could beat the Thunder.