Teams prepare to make best pitch to prize free agent

By Michel Kinney

During the Oklahoma City Thunder exit interview, coach Billy Donovan was asked a specific question on trying to keep Kevin Durant with the organization. The former college coach was asked about having to recruit Durant.

“Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be recruiting him,” Donovan said at the time. “I don’t look at it as recruiting. For me, it’s been over 100 games with Kevin. Obviously, for him, this decision will be his decision. I’m there in any way he needs. But I think when you’ve been with somebody for basically an entire year – and it was a year ago at this point in time when he was coming off his foot injury that we had a chance to spend a lot of time. So Kevin will go through this process, and I’m going to respect his wishes of taking his time and evaluating it and making the right decision for himself.”

However, that is not entirely true. Donovan will most likely be in the room with Durant when he meets with the Thunder today (Thursday) to kick off his free agency tour. That means, Donovan, General Manager Sam Presti and the rest of the brass will be making the strongest pitch possible to keep him from bolting town.

The Thunder will be the first of reportedly six teams who will have an audience with Durant over the next two to three days. He is schedule to meet with the Thunder in Oklahoma City before flying to New York where he sit with the Warriors, Clippers on Friday, Spurs and Celtics on Saturday and Miami Sunday.

Each of the teams will present a glimpse of what the future would look like if Durant is wearing their jersey for next few years.

“I think number one is not to make it too overly complex,” Presti said earlier in June. “We’ve had a relationship with Kevin in Oklahoma City for eight years, nine with this particular franchise, and we talk to him all the time. I think when those conversations occur, it’s really just a continuation of a dialogue that’s been going on for eight or nine years. It’s a chance to reflect and recognize that relationship and continue the conversations that we’ve had on going.”

When the Thunder do make their pitch, money seems to be the one factor that is not an issue. If he signed long term with Thunder this season the max contract could be 5-years, for $153 million. If he signs for a year then does a long term next season, it would balloon up to $230 million with the new salary cap.

Under that same scenario, the other teams can offer 4 year deals for $114 (this season) or $177 (next season).

However, when Durant was in Austin last week, he said his decision will come down to basketball reasons. Only he and his inner circle know exactly what that means.

Because of that, there is no guarantee that Durant will be returning to the Thunder. Teams such as the Warriors, Spurs and Celtics have the ability to surround him with talent and pay him the money he is seeking.

In reality, Oklahoma City began making their pitch to Durant on draft night when Presti traded Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Iiyasova and the rights to No. 11 pick Domantas Sabonis. There has also been talk that he is making a move to sign free agent Al Horford from Atlanta.

What Oklahoma City can offer that no other franchise can match is a legacy that is all his own. There he is the foundation the franchise has been built on. He will be the first player to get his jersey retired or have a statue built of him. All future members of the Thunder would be compared to him.

No matter wherever else he goes, that is not happening.

I believe the Warriors are the Thunder’s biggest threat to stealing Durant. If that is so, at the end of the day he has to ask himself one question. Would he rather be another part of what would be an inevitable NBA championship or the lead horse in trying to bring Oklahoma City it’s first ring? When it’s all said and done, that is the pitch the Thunder have to make.

“Look, Kevin is a highly, highly intelligent person,” Presti said. “He’s a mature person. He’s a rational person, and he’s going to work through the decision in a way that will help him do what he feels is best for him. We’ll react accordingly once we have that information, and we’ll try to be as prepared as possible.”

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