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The question that won't leave Durant alone

10/25/2013



Sounds like Kevin Durant was amused to hear ESPN's Jalen Rose predicting that Durant will leave Oklahoma City as a free agent in the summer of 2016 to join the Houston Rockets.

Sounds like Durant is realistic, too.

Impossible as it is to try to project where Durant's contentment, accomplishments, loyalty, wanderlust and free-agent options will intersect three summers from now, Durant surely gets it. Like it or not, Oklahoma City's season is going to be all about how Durant feels about where the Thunder are and where they're headed ... and about us media pests raising and re-raising those questions.

This season and the next two, frankly.

"Unfortunately," Durant said, acknowledging in an interview with The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry that this Rose-inspired storyline isn't about to go away.

Unless the three-time scoring champ and new agent Jay-Z decide to pursue an extension at some stage, that's the uncomfortable but unavoidable truth about Durant's situation as he enters his seventh season.

Whether it's Russell Westbrook's problematic knee or the fact that the Thunder have to this point only replaced James Harden with the unproven Jeremy Lamb, rookie big man Steven Adams and a trade exception created via Kevin Martin's free-agent departure, Oklahoma City is fighting the perception/fear that it has fallen farther away from title contention since losing to Miami in the 2012 Finals when it's supposed to be closing the gap.

Also: This, fair or not, is just what we do with the game's greatest one-man corporations ... especially those found outside of the league's glamour markets. The frenzy surrounding LeBron James' first foray into free agency in 2010 started bubbling up regularly in 2008. Durant, as the NBA's undisputed second-best player, has to know he's going to get us all frothing on a similar timeline.

The good news for the Thunder is that Durant isn't just starting to fill out physically. Judging by the calm responses he gave after catching Rose's video chat with Grantland founder Bill Simmons, KD gives the impression that he can shoulder the added burden of endless speculation about his future. Even this far out.

The Thunder, though, would be wise not to relax. The odd hints from the 25-year-old over the past few months that suggest he's starting to get antsy about winning his first ring -- be it Durant announcing on media day that he's "starting to get up there" or the uncharacteristic way he abruptly ended an interview in July when asked about OKC's summer -- have to make his bosses wonder in moments of weakness.

Rest assured that the next three years, without a championship or a new Durant deal, will be the longest for them.