The Oklahoma City Thunder were rumored to be in trouble of losing star Kevin Durant this offseason, but the team’s unlikely run deep into the NBA Playoffs has likely changed that.
Durant has long been expected to opt out of his contract and test free agency waters this offseason, and as many as 10 teams have been said to have some level of interest. His offseason decision was supposed to rival LeBron James’ 2010 free agency adventure, with several teams making their pitch ahead of Durant’s decision.
Despite the drama, many expected that Durant would likely end up back with the Thunder, and the team’s postseason run may have now solidified that. Sources close to Durant said he is seeking a team that will offer him the best chance at winning a title, and now that the Thunder have unseated the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs before putting the Golden State Warriors in a 3-2 hole, the Thunder look like the best team in the Western Conference.
Kevin Durant on the Thunder "staying in the moment" up 3-1: pic.twitter.com/XtOL7B8zUj
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) May 26, 2016
USA Today‘s Sam Amick noted that the run seems to have put an end to the speculation that Durant might leave Oklahoma City. This is especially true given the team’s strength against powerhouse Golden State, making the Warriors’ stars work for every point.
“Yet the truth, that thing that has flipped the Durant narrative on its head, is that the Thunder are making Curry & Co. work in ways that should make any self-respecting superstar want to jump on this Oklahoma City train,” he wrote.
The Thunder still have the final step of defeating the Warriors one more time, but the series will be turning back to Oklahoma City for Game 6, a setting where the Warriors have struggled. History is on the Thunder’s side, with less than 5 percent of teams falling into a 3-1 hole advancing.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) May 26, 2016
Even with the Oklahoma City Thunder rumored to be in the driver’s seat regarding Kevin Durant’s future, there could still be some other serious contenders. Reports have indicated that the Miami Heat have intended to make Durant their biggest offseason target, with ESPN’s Dan Le Batard reporting that the Heat even favor Durant over Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside.
“The plan is and always has been: Go after Durant and free everything up – so much so that you insulted your superstar this offseason by telling Dwyane Wade no on multiple years, even though that’s what he wanted. Dwyane, who deserves more of your allegiances as business and a company and management than Chris Bosh does. Because the whole thing is get in a room with Durant after this season.”
The most serious contenders were rumored to be coming from the Western Conference. The San Antonio Spurs reportedly planned to make a major run at Durant, giving him a major role for what will likely be the post-Tim Duncan era. ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that the Spurs were planning a major offseason push that looked not only at Durant but also Mike Conley, forming a powerhouse team to take on the Golden State Warriors for dominance in the West.
The Warriors are another likely contender, with rumors dating back months that the Warriors had been planning a pitch for Durant to join Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to form a nearly unstoppable scoring trio.
But, all along the way, there were doubts that Kevin Durant would ever leave Oklahoma City. Even before the team put the Warriors on the ropes, Forbes writer Kevin Badenhausen noted that the Thunder represented the better option than trying to jump ship to a new franchise. If the Thunder can finish off the Warriors and advance to the NBA Finals, that may be sealed.
[Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images]