While other teams' front-office emissaries were preparing to visit newly minted free agents when the clock struck 12:01 a.m. ET, Oklahoma City Thunder Thunder officials were working to reaffirm their relationship with a player they've already got under contract. This is what you do when you employ the league's leading scorer and you are S-M-R-T-smart.
Sources with knowledge of the Thunder's plans said team officials met with star forward Kevin Durant at his new Oklahoma City home at one minute past midnight Thursday to formally open negotiations on a contract extension.
It remains to be seen how long talks actually take, given the Thunder's famously methodical ways, but there seems little doubt that Durant will ultimately receive the maximum five-year extension worth in excess of $80 million from Oklahoma City before the Oct. 31 deadline.
This obviously makes all the sense in the world for OKC. The Thunder love Durant — who wouldn't love a 21-year-old who averages 30 a night, often appears unguardable, has shown a willingness to rebound and defend, and clearly wants the responsibility of being a leader for a good-but-still-very-young team? And they want to make sure he never, ever starts itchin' for greener pastures (or at least, pastures where he'd make more green). And given what Stein calls the franchise's "famously methodical ways," it's logical that they wouldn't want to waste any time in getting things started.
Plus, cementing your best and most popular as the face of the franchise for the next half-decade can only help keep Thunder fans engaged and excited for what appears to be a nova-bright future — it's always easier to fall in love with a player you know will be around for a while. And locking Durant up until three years after the Mayan End Times for less than nine figures is an outright steal, especially if Joe Johnson(notes) gets his reported max re-up from the Atlanta Hawks — one fewer year, nearly $40 million fewer, a better player now and an infinitely higher ceiling? Yeah, that dog'll hunt.
But what we should all really be applauding about this is that Thunder general manager Sam Presti made sure his megastar never doubted for a second that he was the team's top priority. "Yes, the whole world's attention is on LeBron, Wade and Bosh, but we've only got eyes for you, Kevin. Sure, we've got four months to work this out, but we want to back up a Brinks truck on your front lawn as soon as is humanly possible. Do you like this necklace? We had it made especially for you. Are you thirsty? We've scoured the Earth to find the purest, finest mineral water. Only the best for you, our champion."
If the Thunder are going to compete for a title, the weight of the chase will rest on Kevin Durant's(notes) shoulders, and his organization's management is going out of its way to let him know it's got his back and will take care of him, every step of the way. And on an interpersonal level, it's brilliant — all people need to know they're loved, valued and appreciated. By sending out the Welcome Wagon to the already-in-house Durant, Presti just gave arguably the game's best young player the negotiating equivalent of a foot rub and earnestly asked him, "How was your day?" (Personally, I would've liked to see Presti show up outside KD's window blaring "In Your Eyes" on a boombox, but hey, I'm the sentimental type.)
To be fair, BDL's Fearless Leader reminds me that Presti's not perfect — he did, after all, trade the rights to the electric Rodrigue Beaubois(notes) (plus a future second-rounder) to the Dallas Mavericks for the rights to far-lesser-form-of-energy B.J. Mullens — but more often than not, he seems to be playing chess when every other GM is playing "Hungry, Hungry Hippos." Showing up ready to lock down his squad's meal ticket on Day Zero is just another example that he's becoming the NBA front-office answer to Kasparov. (Or at least Wilt.)