LAS VEGAS — Kevin Durant isn’t ready to travel in time but understands that questions about his future are unavoidable. His contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder has an expiration date in 2016 and he will be the most in-demand free agent, with fan bases around the league – specifically in his hometown of Washington – already salivating about the prospect of having the reigning league’s most valuable player on their roster.
When asked about the possibility of playing for the Wizards, Durant didn’t shoot down the notion.
“We’re going to put it out on the table. It’s been talked about,” Durant said. “Everybody is asking me about it. Every time I go on Instagram or Twitter, all my friends ask me about it. So I’m not going to sit here and act like I’m naïve to the fact that people think about that stuff. But I just tell everybody, ‘Look, I’m here in Oklahoma City. I love it here.’ Who knows what’ll happen? You never can close a door on anything, but I like where I’m at right now. I can’t answer those questions.”
That certainly won’t stop the four-time NBA scoring champion from being pressed for answers during an era when speculation and hope have a greater currency among fans than tangible realities. On the second day of Team USA training camp at Mendenhall Center on the campus of UNLV, Durant didn’t want to get ahead of himself when his immediate concern is helping the United States claim a fourth straight gold medal in international competition at the World Cup in Spain, which starts next month.
A win there would earn the Americans an automatic bid into the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. And after that, he’ll return to his primary commitment of attempting to win his first NBA title with the Thunder.
“When [free agency] comes around, I’ll answer those questions, but for now, I’m focused on where I am and the task at hand. Just take it a day at a time,” he said. “It’s hard to tell the future. That’s why you can’t do it. It’s hard. I can’t do it right now.”
The conversation began with Durant being asked about LeBron James’s decision earlier this month to return to Cleveland to not only try again to help the Cavaliers win a title but inspire an entire region that has dealt with some difficult times. Durant said he was so touched by James’s impassioned first-person letter in Sports Illustrated that he applauded his good friend for making the move and sent him a congratulatory text message.
“I thought it was well-thought out. It was classy,” Durant said. “That was pretty cool. It’s fun seeing guys think about more than just basketball for once. He thought about the city where he comes from, about Northeast Ohio and how he can affect so many of the kids just being there playing basketball. I love that. I love that. So many guys get criticized for making the decision that’s best for them instead of what’s best for everybody else. He’s a guy that did that. You got to respect that. I was happy for him. As a fan of the game, it’s going to be pretty cool to see him back in Cleveland.”
Durant was then asked if James’s decision would lead him to make a similar move and play for Washington when he becomes a free agent for the first time in his career. “I’m going to do what’s best for me. It’s hard to talk about that right now. I got two years left in Oklahoma City. I’m just trying to focus in on that,” Durant said, before adding, “I’m not going to make a decision based on what somebody else does.”
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When the Thunder made its lone visit to Verizon Center last February, Durant said he hadn’t given much thought about the possibility of playing for the Wizards. He had just forked over five digits to buy 100 tickets and joked that he couldn’t imagine having to make a similar investment 41 times a season. “I love coming here and visiting,” he said back then.
The perception of the Wizards has changed considerably since, with the franchise advancing to the second round for the first time in nine years and beginning to develop a solid core around the talents of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Ten-time all-star Paul Pierce signaled the change when he elected to join the organization as a free agent, signing a two-year deal earlier this month.
The hashtag #KD2DC has already taken off on Twitter, especially since the Wizards have positioned themselves to be in play when Durant becomes a free agent in two years. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has always mentioned that he desires to bring in a “transformative-name free agent” and Durant, a four-time scoring champion and five-time all-star, would qualify. He would also only be 27 in the summer of 2016, when only Wall and Marcin Gortat will be signed to guaranteed contracts and Beal will be a restricted a free agent.
Wall works in Los Angeles with Durant with trainer Rob McClanaghan and is also in Las Vegas for Team USA tryouts. He said he expects to use his time with USA Basketball to make a pitch for the former Montrose Christian star to join him in Washington, so that his home basketball appearances won’t be limited to lacing them up for Barry Farm or the Goodman League in the summer time. The Wizards also recently hired former Montrose Christian assistant coach David Adkins, who worked closely with Durant, as a player development coach.
“You look at that,” Wall said. “You try to set yourself up for those situations, to have an opportunity to see him come back home and have us a big three, with me, Brad and him. We know it’d be great to have him. We know he’s got to focus on his season and what they’re doing. Hopefully around that time, we’ll do what we’re supposed to do. Paul will probably be near the end of his career at that time, and it’ll open up perfectly…All you can do is sit back and see what happens.”
The Wizards will undoubtedly be in competition from several other teams that will have money that summer, including the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Rockets. Durant expects to have a few suitors coming his way.
“It’s great to feel wanted,” Durant said. “Got to see what’s out there, if you’re a free agent. We playing in a league where it’s so powerful, you can impact so many different people. You’ve got to look at all of your options.”
But Durant added that those options would be probably be negated if the Thunder was finally able to crack through and win a championship or two over the next two seasons. Oklahoma City reached the NBA Finals in 2012 but has yet to get back. It lost in the conference semifinals a year later after James Harden was traded to Houston and Russell Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus in his right knee. Last season, the Thunder lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the conference finals but Durant was adamant afterward that his team’s championship window hadn’t closed.
“Definitely,” Durant said, when asked if the questions would cease with championships in Oklahoma City. “Two years straight, that would be cool. It would definitely be tough to do anything. That’s one of those things where you’re building a dynasty now, when you win two in a row. But I don’t want to think too far down the line. I’m just trying to focus on today. I love my teammates, my coaches, the front office, the city. But we’ll see.”
The line of questioning on Tuesday put Durant in a difficult position because he has never wavered in his desire to win in Oklahoma City but he has also never hidden his love for his hometown — from getting the curly W tattoo, to constantly wearing the apparel of the NFL’s Redskins, to even having his signature Nike shoes incorporate designs and color schemes that connect with the place where he grew up. Those rides from Seat Pleasant to Gallery Place-Chinatown on the green line are still vivid for Durant.
“I grew up watching the Bullets, Wizards. I grew up taking the train to that arena, all the time, to watch Georgetown, the Bullets, the Washington Mystics,” he said. “That whole city is a part of me. It’s in my blood. I love going back home, seeing my family and playing there, but I love Oklahoma City, too.”
Durant feels that any talk about two years from now is way too premature. His viewpoint was summed up when later asked if thought free agency would affect his decision to participate in the 2016 Olympics.
“I haven’t even thought that far. Who knows? I’m not a free agent. I try not to think,” he said. “I hear God laughs at plans.”