Kevin Durant's ready to return, and the Thunder are ready to take one wild ride

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Kevin Durant is beyond eager to resume giving defenders fits and buckets galore. (AP)
Kevin Durant is beyond eager to resume giving defenders fits and buckets galore. (AP)

It had been expected for weeks, but it's good news all the same: After three surgeries in six months on his fractured right foot, Kevin Durant has been fully cleared for all basketball activities, and will be full-go on the court when the Oklahoma City Thunder open their training camp next week.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti shared the glad tidings on Wednesday, according to Royce Young of ESPN.com:

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"He's been playing without restriction, 5-on-5 and competing as normal," Presti said at his preseason news conference. "With that said, as any of our players coming off injury, we're going to be watching and managing practice, recovery time; we're going to be watching. But as far as limitations, he doesn't have any." [...]

"He feels great. Looks great. It's great to have him back on the floor," Presti said. "Happy for him because he's been so committed and so disciplined to that process of getting back on the floor."

Persistent foot problems limited the 2013-14 NBA Most Valuable Player and four-time NBA scoring champ to just 27 appearances for OKC last year. He missed the first month of the season rehabilitating after an initial procedure intended to address his preseason Jones fracture. Less than a month after his return to the lineup, he was sidelined for another 10 days by a sprained right ankle.

Durant performed largely as advertised when he did get on the floor, averaging 25.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 33.8 minutes per contest on typically sterling 51/40/85 shooting splits for the Thunder. But he couldn't stay on the court; the issues with his surgically repaired foot never fully subsided.

He played just 10 minutes in the 2015 NBA All-Star Game and suited up for only one post-All-Star-break contest — a Feb. 19 win over the Dallas Mavericks — before exiting with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter. Three days later, Durant underwent another procedure on the foot, this time to replace a screw in the foot that had been causing the persistent discomfort.

Durant spent the ensuing weeks continuing to rehab and work his way back to health in the hope of returning to the lineup to aid the Thunder's push for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. New concerns arose when Durant sat out a Thunder practice "with another bout of soreness in his surgically repaired right foot." A day after that setback, Presti ruled Durant out indefinitely; from there, team and player agreed that Durant would go back under the knife, scuttling the remainder of his '14-'15 campaign in hopes of rebounding strong thereafter.

Evidently, he's now believed to be healthy enough to do just that, which ought to offer a major boost to Oklahoma City's attempts to return to the postseason after falling one game short in an injury-wracked campaign. But while there's certainly plenty of reason to be excited about a season that will see Russell Westbrook aim to once again produce at an MVP level even though he won't have to do it all himself this time around while Durant resumes torching opponents with an eye on proving he is exactly what he says he is, Presti reserves the right to take a measured, cautious approach to reintegrating his top gun, according to Cliff Brunt of The Associated Press:

Durant averaged a career-low 33.8 minutes per game last season as he fought through the injury. Presti wouldn't say for sure if the number would creep back up toward the 38.2 minutes he averaged in his career before last season.

"Average minutes — that's probably going to be the most important thing," Presti said. "Are there going to be games that he plays more than the average last year? Probably. You also have to factor in where you want be at a certain point and where the schedule is and where there are opportunities to take some time."

Those opportunities will begin in preseason, and — as is the case with the likewise-recently-cleared Kobe Bryant and coach Byron Scott with the Los Angeles Lakers — Presti and new head coach Billy Donovan plan to take advantage of them. That said, the Thunder bosses aren't exactly going to envelop KD in bubble wrap and store him in the attic, according to Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:

On Wednesday, Presti shied away from revealing a specific plan to monitor Durant. The goal is to move perception away from that injury stigma and back to his on-court greatness.

“We are going to treat him like a normal player because that's what he is,” Presti said.

But a drop in court time is expected. [...]

Even without a setback, there's an expectation Billy Donovan can find more pockets of rest for Durant this year. Sit him during some back-to-backs. Limit his practice time. Anticipate blowouts early and cut his minutes against lesser teams. Trust a deep roster.

“He is going to play a lot of minutes because he can,” Presti said. “[But] we are going to be really diligent about how those minutes are distributed and when.”

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The more diligent they are and the healthier Durant remains, the more dangerous the Thunder become in the race to unseat the NBA champion Golden State Warriors. And, of course, the closer the Thunder get to that goal of hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the first time in this iteration of the franchise's history, the greater the chances — you'd figure, at least — of Durant electing to stay put in Oklahoma City when he hits unrestricted free agency next summer.

Presti, like everyone else in Oklahoma and the NBA-watching world at large, knows that. And yet, with perhaps the most significant single personnel decision in franchise history now sitting a scant nine months away, Presti's entering the season refusing to make himself a prisoner to the worst-case scenario looming on the horizon, according to ESPN's Young:

"Here's the thing: We're not going to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that's not going to be in the air," Presti said. "Knowing that the future is coming, we're incredibly excited about that because it's an opportunity for us to keep him in Oklahoma City: a Hall of Fame player, a legacy player, I should say a legacy person, in Oklahoma. But those are conversations for another day.

"He knows how we feel about him. The best way to serve the Thunder and put him in a position to be successful, those things are one in the same, and that's what we focus on."

With Donovan on board in place of Scott Brooks, Westbrook coming off the best season of his career and plenty of capable contributors up and down the roster, Presti and company certainly seem to have put together a crew capable of meeting their high expectations. Whether they do so figures to depend mostly on whether Durant's ready to don his "Slim Reaper" shroud once again; in getting him fully cleared, Oklahoma City has jumped that first significant hurdle. That's sour news for Thunder opponents, but an exceptionally exciting update for the rest of us who just missed watching the game's purest scorer work.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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