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Could Kevin Durant Leave the Oklahoma City Thunder?
He is one of the best players in the NBA. Teams wish they had him and the Oklahoma City Thunder feel fortunate they do. However, after yet another playoff failure is the patience of Kevin Durant beginning to wear down in his quest to finally win a championship?
Russell Westbrook injury magnified loss of James Harden
As the second seed in the West, most people fully expected Oklahoma City to challenge the mighty San Antonio Spurs once again for supremacy. That all changed when star point guard Russell Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus in his knee. Without him running the floor, it was only a matter of time before teams figured out the truth about the Thunder. Outside of Durant they have no true scoring threat without Westbrook. That is exactly what the Memphis Grizzlies discovered. Using their suffocating defense they frustrated Durant throughout the divisional playoffs. In three out of five games during the series he scored under his regular season average of 28 points. Oklahoma City failed to crack 100 points in any of those games.
People will look back and think the Westbrook injury was the single reason the Thunder fell apart. However, that entire scenario really grew roots back in the off-season when the front office was forced into a difficult decision to either retain forward Serge Ibaka or extend rather than trade star bench man James Harden. Though not a starter, Harden averaged 16 points per game the season before. He was a main cog in their offensive attack. In the end, Oklahoma City felt the deal offered to them by the Houston Rockets was too good to pass up. They dealt Harden and kept Ibaka, believing with Durant and Westbrook they had enough scoring potential to win.
Their mistake didn’t become apparent until later in the season. It was an unspoken feeling, but the Thunder just didn’t seem like the juggernaut they were a year ago despite winning lots of games. Meanwhile Harden became a major boost for the Rockets, averaging 26 points per game as a starter. When Oklahoma City knocked Houston out of the playoffs it seemed like the Thunder made the right call. Then Westbrook went down. Without another scorer on the team they were helpless. Memphis shut them down and cruised to a series victory in five games.
NBA Trade becomes more realistic with every failure
A year ago it was inconceivable that Durant might leave the Thunder. He’d been with the team since the franchise drafted him in Seattle and had watched him blossom into a superstar after they made the move to Oklahoma City. Yet after three scoring titles, four All-Star appearances, Rookie of the Year and a gold medal the 24-year old is running out of personal career milestones to achieve. He hasn’t won a championship of any kind since his days in high school for the PG Jaguars. His lone year in college met with an early exit in the NCAA tournament. Since then not much has changed. The Thunder are very good and get very close but they, just like the great Supersonics teams of the past, can’t get over the hump.
Free agency is not something to think about at this point. Oklahoma City handed Durant a five-year, $86 million extension back in 2010. That means he would have to wait until 2016 to consider a move. That is a long time to wait. As good as the Thunder still are, can Durant accept the possibility of three more seasons without a ring? His only other avenue of escape would be a trade. If Dwight Howard caused a media circus, one can only imagine what unfolds if Oklahoma City received a similar demand for a deal to a new team from their star.
The logistics alone that would go into such a trade are mind boggling. Given Durant is 24-years old and entering his prime, and that he’s already one of if not the best scorer in the league, there is no doubt a team would have to pay through the nose to get him. Theoretically, are there any teams in position for such a move? The New York Knicks might have pieces the Thunder like what with Carmelo Anthony (another great scorer), Amare Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith. The Brooklyn Nets have a nice, young core of talent with Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Gerald Wallace. One team that might have the best trade package is the Chicago Bulls. Outside of Derrick Rose they have two All-Stars in Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, a rising bench man in Jimmy Butler, ACB league MVP Nikola Mirotic and a valuable draft pick from the Charlotte Bobcats. Though the price is steep, the idea of Rose and Durant pairing together is something Bulls fans dream about.
Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets figure to offer future problems
All that being said the status quo is unchanged. Durant has no plans to leave Oklahoma City and the team should return healthy and ready for another run next season. That doesn’t mean their road to a championship lay wide open. The San Antonio Spurs are proving as dangerous as always, not to mention looming threats posed by the upstart Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets. The Thunder essentially have at least another season to get it right before their star scorer begins to feel that itch to try someplace else. It may take one and a half seasons but sooner or later Durant will begin to believe, true or not, that finding a new team is his best hope to get that ring.