OAKLAND, Calif. – From Kevin Durant’s arrival in San Francisco on Friday, to Saturday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors, to his expected attendance at Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, you’d think the Oklahoma City Thunder free agent-to-be would be overwhelmed by pleas from the Bay Area to join the Warriors.
“I wasn’t listening,” Durant said.
But when July 1 comes, the Warriors expect Durant to seriously listen to their free-agent sales pitch.
The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski recently reported that the Warriors “are the significant frontrunners” to sign Durant as a free agent if he were to leave the Thunder. The 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player certainly validated the reigning NBA champions’ interest Saturday night, scoring a game-high 40 points with 14 rebounds and five assists. Durant and the Thunder overcame a 20-point deficit to give Golden State one of its toughest tests of the season at Oracle Arena, but still fell 116-108.
“He’s special. He made some tough shots. Kevin kept his foot on the gas pedal all night. That’s what he does,” Warriors All-Star guard Stephen Curry said.
Barring a stunning departure from Cleveland by LeBron James, Durant will be the marquee NBA free agent next summer.
The Thunder can pay him the most money with a five-year deal. The Washington Wizards remain a sentimental dark horse for the Maryland native. The Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers will also try to recruit the five-time All-NBA first-team selection. And then there are the Warriors.
“It’s hard for it not to enter your mind,” said Durant, 27, about free agency. “There’s a lot of uncertainty to what’s going on because I haven’t really thought that far. I just try to focus on playing basketball, man. When I lock in I try to get better every single day. I’m trying to come in and help my teammates every single day. That’s what my thought process is always focused on.
“Once that time comes and I make that decision, I will sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and try to figure it out. Right now, I’m trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day.”
Perhaps no option shines brighter for Durant than possibly joining Curry and the Warriors.
Golden State’s 46-4 record is tied for the best mark in league history through 50 games. With three All-Stars in Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, Golden State has youth and plays an attractive brand of unselfish basketball that fits Durant. The Warriors play in front of an intimidating Oracle Arena crowd and are expected to debut a new San Francisco arena in 2019. Durant has quietly done his due diligence on the Bay Area, too, sources told Yahoo Sports.
Durant expected boos from the loyal Warriors crowd before the game. Instead, he got a wink-wink round of applause.
“It’s a great atmosphere. It’s always been one of my favorite arenas just because it’s small. I always say that it always feels like you’re playing on a hill. I don’t know why it feels that way. It’s always a fun arena since my rookie year. I feel like this is one of the best arenas in the league,” Durant said.
On Super Bowl eve, the highly anticipated Warriors-Thunder showdown had entertainment and sports celebrities such as rapper Kendrick Lamar, NFL Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett and actress Kate Hudson in attendance. Jay Z, whose Roc Nation Sports represents Durant, and his wife, singer Beyoncé, who is performing at halftime of the Super Bowl, were also on the scene.
When it comes to free agency, Durant said he will lean most on his Roc Nation agent Rich Kleiman and personal manager Charlie Bell.
Regarding Jay Z, Durant told Yahoo Sports: “He’s just the big homey. That’s how it is. I got two people I talk to and figure it out with every day. They give support.”
The Thunder’s best hope to keep Durant would be a second trip to the NBA Finals.
Such a road would be rugged, as the Thunder would likely have to play both the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs without home-court advantage. Durant didn’t consider the close loss to the Warriors a moral victory, but he did exude confidence about future success as he left the floor.
So until July 1 arrives, expect Durant to be focused on beating the Warriors rather than joining them.
“We’re not scared of either one of these teams [the Spurs and Warriors],” Durant said. “We’re going to play our game. Nobody in this locker room is scared. We got to play them. If we want to get to where we want to get to, we got to play them. We’re not ducking nobody.”