Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Durant extension cements Thunder as legit

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant takes the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers during Game 4 of their NBA Western Conference playoff series in Oklahoma City, April 24, 2010. REUTERS/Bill Waugh (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Sorry, free agency fanatics. You'll have to wait a while for Kevin Durant to hit the market.

OKC's young stud agreed Tuesday to a five-year, $86 million extension to his rookie contract, keeping him in the Midwest through 2016.

This is as noteworthy as the outcomes of LeBron, Wade and Bosh, if in a different way. Durant is showing the kind of steadiness and faithfulness to his team that is all too rare in today's NBA. For every Durant, Deron Williams and Tim Duncan, there's a slew of LeBrons, Boozers and Boshes who value leaving over longevity. The former produces mercenaries. The latter makes icons.

Like Duncan, Durant's name and face are synonymous with his team. This is the best possible outcome for a team only three years removed from relocation. When the Thunder-then-Sonics left Seattle, naysayers questioned the franchise's ability to stay relevant in such a small market. The Thunder's relatively unimpressive logo/name didn't do much to quiet their ridicule.

There's no denying OKC's identity now, not with the Thunder fresh off a playoff appearance and Durant cementing their legitimacy. Besides, if perennial contenders like the Spurs and annual doormats like the Knicks prove anything, market size is overrated. Like the Spurs, look for the Thunder to contend through home-grown products and savvy spending.

The seeds of that are already in place. Like the rest of the team, KD is young, hungry and improving.

It looks like they'll stay that way.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Thunder looking to avoid free agent panic with Durant

Apr. 14, 2010 - Oklahoma City, OKLAHOMA, UNITED STATES - epa02117227 Oklahoma City Thunder player Kevin Durant goes in for a dunk against the Memphis Grizzlies in the second half of the game at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA, 14 April 2010.

Free agency may be great for fan attention and gossip, but the Thunder would just as soon avoid all that, thank you very much.

Oklahoma City has no intentions of going through what Toronto, Utah, Cleveland, Miami and a handful of other teams are facing right now - the very real possibility of their franchise player taking off. Seeing other clubs' desperation had to be extra motivation for Sam Presti and the rest of OKC's brass to lock up Kevin Durant ASAP, and that's exactly what they're trying to do.

They already know other teams are willing to start planning two years in advance for a superstar's free agency. It's not something OKC is willing to risk, especially in a small market where superstars are needed keep the franchise relevant both on and off the floor. It's easy to wonder what will happen to Cleveland and Toronto if LeBron James and Chris Bosh leave, respectively. Can professional basketball ultimately continue in cities disdainfully dropped by the league's best?

Again, the Thunder would rather not face that themselves.

The signs are positive thus far. Durant has done nothing but exude fondness for Oklahoma City, both as a franchise and a city. He seems set in helping himself and the team progress. He doesn't want to go to a better team. He wants the Thunder to be a better team, and is willing to do all the little and big things to see it happen.

Unlike other stars, Durant has the backing of competent management. Every year they do well through drafting and trades. This year's draft was no exception. The underrated coup of the night was OKC swapping their No. 18 pick for a future Clippers' first-round pick (A.K.A. lottery pick).

Between the smarts at the front office, a solid surrounding cast of young and improving players and a college-like atmosphere of support, Durant has every reason to feel good about extending his commitment to OKC.

And that's what has the Thunder feeling a lot better than the Cavs right now.