Stay or Go? Two Years Out, Kevin Durant Is Already Weighing His Options

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Stay or Go? Two Years Out, Kevin Durant Is Already Weighing His Options
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS — Kevin Durant was happy to talk about LeBron James' decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Legitimately happy.

Durant called it "well thought out," described it as "classy" and raved about the respect he had for James making a move to serve his native community. Durant said he texted that sentiment to James directly.

And Durant really liked the way James announced this one. Durant even reached his arms out to pretend-type with his fingers on a full keyboard to mimic James crafting his written declaration for Sports Illustrated.

"Great move to do a letter," Durant said Tuesday after USA Basketball practice. "That was pretty cool."

Then the topic shifted from James' done decision to Durant's future one. Free agency awaits Durant in 2016, with so many NBA franchises mapping their plans on the hope that he wants to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder then.

Yes, Durant wonders whether he should've built opt-out clauses into his contract and savors the freedom to make that choice, saying, "You've got to look at all your options."

Yet his decision is already becoming a drain on him, two years out, with friends and family asking him now what he's going to do then.

And Durant already knows full well how many people will be disappointed with whatever choice he makes, him being the reason for their loss of hope and happiness.

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

So Durant's eyes grew duller, and he began nervously cracking his knuckles as reporters pursued the topic, even as he proceeded patiently to answer question after question about his future.

It's easy for the common man to imagine how sensational it would be to have the power to make so many people happy or sad, but it's already clear with two years still on Durant's free-agent clock how much stress he knows this is going to bring to him.

So even as Durant played both sides of the fence—"You can never close the door on anything. I like where I'm at right now"—he grew most animated when explaining why he didn't ask James anything about the reasons for his decision, wanting only to offer his support and congratulations.

"I don't talk about basketball with no NBA player," Durant said loudly.

"As a player, you know how tough it is when everybody always asks you stuff about decisions you make. So I never talk about their decisions or why they did it. I'm not a reporter; I'm a basketball player."

In other words, it's stressful enough to hear it from all the reporters…and friends…and family.

As Durant already is—whether it's the prospect of following Kobe Bryant with the glamorous Los Angeles Lakers or joining current USA Basketball teammates John Wall and Bradley Beal with the rising Washington Wizards to revive Durant's hometown D.C. area.

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

"It's being talked about. Everybody's asking me about it," Durant said. "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 naive 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?'"

Here's one interesting hypothetical, though: Durant had a clear response to a question about being more likely to stay put if the Thunder break through as champions.

"Two years straight, that would be cool. It would definitely be tough to do anything," he said. "That's one of those things where you're building a dynasty now, you win two in a row."

So given the Thunder's lack of mass appeal, just about everyone on the globe can go ahead and root hard as heck against Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka winning the next two seasons.

And maybe those fans have valid reason to…

"It's great to feel wanted, you can tell. Guys taking four or five trips to see teams," Durant said. "You've got to see what's out there if you're a free agent. We play in a league where it's so powerful, you can impact so many different people, you've got to look at all your options."

Here's the thing: Every club has absolute reason to believe Durant offers the immediate turnaround. He is the dream.

He is taking part in USA Basketball this summer because he has this wonderfully pure spirit about the game, competition and self-improvement. He refers to international players who play every offseason because they love their countries and makes it sound weird that anyone wouldn't feel that way.

Durant is a humble, confident 25-year-old reigning NBA MVP who Lakers and New York Knicks fans know would be unafraid of the pressure from following in legends' footsteps…yet Thunder and Wizards fans know is about far more than maximizing his fame.

As much as Durant has immersed himself deeply in the Oklahoma City community and has a title-contending team to bank on there, he is aware of the realities. He just saw them, objectively, when he tried his hand at free-agent recruiting and got kind of snubbed by the self-described "Renaissance Man," Chicago-bound Pau Gasol.

M. Spencer Green/Associated Press

"That was my first time recruiting a guy, but it didn't pan out," Durant said. "It's kind of tough to sell guys on Oklahoma City [over] Chicago, Oklahoma City [over] L.A. But if they come to Oklahoma City and see the love that they get there, guys will want to come."

There you have it: Durant has seen the love firsthand and is happy to be there. He knows, however, more is out there for him if he wants to reach out and wrap those long arms around it.

It's just that even his wingspan can't reach two years into the future.

So Durant clearly intends not to think about this any more than he has to. For as many people as are already worried about it, Durant wants to worry only about where he is now—while appreciating there is an exit door cracked open if he needs it.

"I love my teammates, my coaches, the front office, the city," he said. "But we'll see."

 

Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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