"I'm going to do what's best for me. It's hard to talk about that right now when I've got two years left in Oklahoma City. I'm just going to focus on that. I'm not going to make a decision based on what anybody else does." -- Kevin Durant, 7/29/14
LeBron James and Cleveland have given 29 other NBA cities hope, hope that when perhaps a hometown star becomes available in free agency, he will allow the tugging at his heartstrings to lead him home.
Barring a James opt-out from his current deal in Cleveland in 2015 (and the subsequent apocalyptic earthquake that goes with it), the next massively anticipated journey into NBA free agency will be Oklahoma City über-star Kevin Durant's in 2016.
And if his most recent quotes from U.S. national team workouts are any indicator, Durant was watching James's return to Cleveland closely a couple of weeks ago.
When asked about it, here's what Durant had to say (courtesy of ESPN.com):
"I thought it was well-thought-out. It was classy. It was a great move to do it as a letter," Durant said Tuesday, after a training camp session with USA Basketball. "That was pretty cool. It's funny seeing guys think about more than just basketball for once. He thought about the city where he comes from, about Northeast Ohio and how he can affect so many of the kids just being there playing basketball. I love that. So many guys get criticized for making the decision that's best for them instead of what's best for everybody else. He's a guy that did that. You gotta respect that. I applauded him, I texted him and told him congratulations on the decision and told him I was happy for him. As a fan of the game, it's going to be pretty cool to see him back in Cleveland."
All of that was probably music to the ears of Washington Wizards fans, with Durant having grown up in the D.C. suburb of Seal Pleasant, Maryland. In fact, if you listen carefully, you can probably hear the Wizards already clearing salary cap space and seeing if there are any 2016 takers of Marcin Gortat's $12 million per year contract.
Durant was coy when asked if he would follow suit and, like James, return to his roots in a couple of years as a free agent to try to bring a title to his hometown:
"I'm going to do what's best for me," Durant said. "It's hard to talk about that right now when I've got two years left in Oklahoma City. I'm just going to focus on that. I'm not going to make a decision based on what anybody else does.
"I grew up watching the Bullets/Wizards. I grew up taking the train to that arena, all the time, to watch Georgetown, the Bullets, the Washington Mystics. That whole city is a part of me. It's in my blood. I love going back home, seeing my family and playing there, but I love Oklahoma City, too."
Durant still has two years left on the five year, $86 million deal he inked back in 2010, a deal in which he specifically included no early termination option so that he could show his full commitment to the success of the Thunder and to the Oklahoma City community. This unlike James, who in his second go round with the Cavaliers signed only a two year deal with an opt out after Year 1.
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For his part, Durant sounds like he might follow the star trend of maximum flexibility in his next deal as he discussed his reasoning for such a stringent five year deal back in 2010:
"To be honest, I just didn't know. I was 21. I didn't know. Obviously when you sign a deal you want to have the best options for yourself, the best flexibility for yourself. But I loved Oklahoma City so much I just wanted to dedicate and show them that I'm all about the team."
A lot can change in five years, though. Someone in OKC better check and make sure Durant doesn't have Lee Jenkins' phone number.