Kevin Durant Defends LeBron James' Decision to Opt Out of Contract with Heat

Jim CavanContributor IJune 25, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - FEBRUARY 20:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat stand on the court on February 20, 2014 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
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It seems like just about everyone has an opinion on LeBron James' decision, per USA Today's Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt, to exercise his early termination option (ETO) with the Miami Heat—some of them astute, others…well, not so much.

For his part, Kevin Durant isn’t quite sure what all the fuss is about. From a recent interview with the Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg:

I don't know what the big deal is. As a player, I think that's the best way to go about it. You can have all your options. It's better for you as a player to opt-out, because you can get a market deal. You can get more years. You never know what will happen if you pass up on that. So I didn't know what the big deal was. I'm sure it was a decision he made, something he was thinking about, for him and his family.

While Durant could be misreading James' motivations—because, you know, we don’t really know what they are yet—his underlying point still holds: This was what was going to happen all along, so why is everyone acting so surprised?

Durant then went on to discuss what he sees as something of a double standard levied to the detriment of the game's greatest star:

I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think anything that you guys criticize LeBron [about] is fair. He switched teams; he’s not the first guy to do it. He decided to opt out; he’s not the first guy to do it. Sometimes a lot of people criticize him a little bit too much for doing normal things, doing stuff that everybody has done. [Even] Tim Duncan went into free agency before. He got courted by quite a few teams. We’ll see what happens with me, but everybody’s done the same thing. He’s not the first.

Much has been made of the motivations behind James' decision. On the one hand, opting out could potentially give the Heat more financial flexibility this summer—assuming Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh follow suit, of course.

One such scenario, first posed by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, involves Miami’s Big Three signing new, reduced deals in order to make room for Carmelo Anthony, who exercised his own ETO on Sunday:

The mere concept would require the star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to all opt out of their current contracts by the end of the month and likely take further salary reductions in new deals that start next season to give Miami the ability to offer Anthony a representative first-year salary. The Heat also are prevented from making any formal contact with Anthony until July 1 and can do so then only if he opts out of the final year of his current contract.

So that’s one option—one of many, of course.

Another ancillary theory involves James opting out ahead of Wade and Bosh in order to exert as much control as possible over how Pat Riley, the team’s longtime president, augments a roster that saw its three-peat bid throttled by the San Antonio Spurs.

Whatever James' motive, the ultimate decision was nothing if not a sensible one.

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

For Thunder fans looking to read into LeBron’s move as a bellwether for what Durant might do come the summer of 2016, a friendly reminder: Durant’s deal doesn’t include a player option.

However, when KD does enter free agency, you can expect just as big of a buzz—and just as much incessant hearsay—as we’ve seen with James.

One can quibble all day with the timing of James' gambit, coming as it did right before one of the most hotly anticipated drafts in recent memory.

As for the underlying strategy, it’s probably best to see how it all plays out before we start accusing him of orchestrating The Decision Part II.