Teams Lining Up For Durant Derby

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Thunder superstar Kevin Durant officially becomes a free agent at 12:01am on Friday and perhaps as soon as then he will begin sitting down with teams that have the best chance of obtaining his services for at least next season and perhaps beyond.

The Thunder, Warriors and Spurs have secured face-to-face meetings. The Heat, Celtics and Clippers are expected to and according to ESPN’s Chris Broussard now have secured meetings. The Rockets, Lakers, Wizards and Knicks are hoping to get a chance to make direct pitches but the odds are decent for just one of those teams, the Knicks.

Durant is in New York City now. He has been there mainly to help hype the debut of his latest Nike sneaker the KD9. He is also reported to have had dinner Friday night with longtime pal Carmelo Anthony and will be with Anthony again to help make the official announcement of the 12 members of Team USA who will compete at the Rio Olympics.

The Knicks will likely make the cut mostly because of the trade that brought former NBA MVP Derrick Rose in from Chicago.

They’ll pitch the bright lights and big stage of the NBA’s largest market and their improvement as a team with Rose, Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis.

But with new coach Jeff Hornacek and questions about just how that will all fit together there’s not much chance KD will actually be convinced to sign a deal.

In fact the Thunder are still believed to be the favorite and probably by a wide margin.

The Warriors are now probably the most likely team, other than OKC, that has a realistic shot. Durant is friends with many of what would be his future teammates and he respects Steve Kerr’s abilities as a head coach.

The Warriors would also be able to keep much their main core intact and still afford a max deal for Durant. Other role players would have to go and probably Harrison Barnes or Andrew Bogut too.

The Spurs would have to do some wheeling and dealing in order to fit in max contract for Durant. As things stand right now the Spurs won’t have any cap room come Friday morning. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are mulling retirement, Tony Parker’s name has been spinning around in the rumor mill as someone the Spurs would be willing to trade.

So the uncertainty surrounding San Antonio and who exactly will be on the roster next season might be enough to prevent the Spurs from making much headway.

The other teams in the running also have major issues. The Celtics have great tradition and a highly respected young coach but at the moment they don’t have a championship ready roster. Durant would be their only superstar level talent.

Miami’s Pat Riley has a bunch of rings but his current roster could have a lot of holes soon. Dwyane Wade is 34 now, Chris Bosh has health issues that could lead to his retirement. Hassan Whiteside could be on the move in free agency so who knows what the Heat’s roster is going to be.

The Clippers would most likely have to send Blake Griffin packing and Chris Paul, though a terrific point guard, is older now too at 31 plus he’s coming to the end of his contract.

Durant has said time and again money isn’t the most important thing. It’s his comfort level with teammates and staff and the ability to have a legitimate shot at a championship.

He has all of that with the Thunder. Solid relationships all around, face of the franchise and a roster that keeps getting better.

Sources both inside and outside the organization say Durant did not have an issue with the team sending Serge Ibaka away in a trade and that KD is “excited” about the acquisition of Victor Oladipo.

The Thunder’s “pitch” to Durant has been on display for years. Since 2011 Oklahoma City has made it at least to the Western Conference Finals four times and despite that success, which would normally have them stuck down near the bottom of the draft they’ve managed to obtain six players who were lottery picks and high ones at that. Oladipo, who was the 2nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, and 11th overall pick last week, Damantas Sabonis, are the latest examples.

Thunder GM Sam Presti has proven he can do what it takes to continue to bring in high level talent to re-charge the roster.

And of course if money does come up, the Thunder can offer a fatter paycheck than any other team.

KD probably already has a pretty good idea of what he’s going to do. These meetings will serve as a way to re-enforce that thinking and maybe give some teams a chance to alter it.

Durant can reach a verbal agreement with a team about anytime from July 1st on but league rules prohibit him from actually signing a contract until July 7th.

He leaves for an overseas promotional tour on the 9th and then Team USA training camp cranks up on the 18th so he would probably prefer to have a new contract settled and signed before then.

As the week progresses, we’ll update any new information here on the website and when the clock strikes midnight on Friday we’ll be updating everything from sources and reporters around the NBA.

Thunder Send Serge Ibaka To Orlando In Blockbuster Deal

Serge Ibaka listening to a reporter's question during Thunder exit interviews earlier this month. (Photo By Randy Renner/InsideThunder.com)

Serge Ibaka listening to a reporter's question during Thunder exit interviews earlier this month. (Photo By Randy Renner/InsideThunder.com)

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Just a couple of weeks ago Thunder general manager Sam Presti called power forward Serge Ibaka “absolutely” a core member of the organization telling reporters he’d been “fantastic” in the playoffs.

A few days earlier Ibaka said he wasn’t concerned about all the talk recently that he might be on the trading block.

“No, I'm not worried,” he said then. “I'm not thinking, and I'm not talking about this. I'm still a Thunder. I'm going to wear the Thunder jersey next year, too, so there's nothing to talk about right now, because it's not important. It's not really important things.”

Well it’s important now because Ibaka will be wearing an Orlando Magic jersey next season after being sent to Florida in exchange for Magic guard Victor Oladipo, power forward Ersan Ilyasova and Orlando draft pick Domantas Sabonis, a 6-11, 240 pounder who can play power forward and center.

Presti began his post-draft news conference last night by thanking Ibaka.

"He's been absolutely integral to helping us create a foundation of sustainable success for the Thunder," Presti said. "He's been a great citizen of Oklahoma City, and we're confident that he's going to continue his career trajectory with the Magic in Orlando."

The Thunder were reported to have talked with Toronto about sending Ibaka to the Raptors in exchange for the 9th pick but OKC turned thumbs down to that.

The Magic, being run by former Thunder assistant GM Rob Hennigan, upped the ante considerably by adding in a couple of established players.

Oladipo is under contract for next season at $6.5 million. He is extremely athletic at 6-4, 210 and can play both point guard and shooting guard. He was the 2nd overall pick in the 2013 draft and has career averages of 15.9 points (on 43.8 percent shooting) 4.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in three NBA seasons.

"He is tough-minded, he's competitive, he's selfless," Presti told reporters when asked about Oladipo. "He is a guy that we really feel like not only brings things on the floor for us, but I think he's going to be a real add to our environment, our culture on an everyday basis. "We are thrilled about having him."

Ilyasova has been in the league eight years, most of it in Milwaukee. He has career averages of 10.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Ilyasova has a team option next season for $8.4 million but the Thunder won't be on the hook for that entire amount.

When the deal was first announced many reporters figured Ilyasova might not stick around OKC, that he would either be sent out as part of another trade or that team option simply wouldn't be picked up but Presti said Ilyasova definitely has a future with the Thunder.

"We traded for him because we think he's a good, complementary player to our core players," Presti said. "He led the league in charges taken last season. He's a 74, 75 percentile, three-point shooter at that position. He's an excellent offensive rebounder. He stretches the floor and as we know in today's league, having people that do that is hard to find."

Sabonis is from Lithuania but came to America to play college basketball at Gonzaga instead of staying in Europe and playing there. He ranked seventh in the country in post-up scoring and third in efficiency according to Synergy Sports. Scouts say he has excellent footwork, tremendous hands and a nice touch shooting the ball. He just turned 20 years old last month.

He’s not as polished defensively but is an excellent rebounder. In fact that might be the strongest part of his game.

Presti said he's been very impressed with Sabonis.

"I think he's pretty diverse in the sense that we have not really had a player at that position or size that has the passing ability that he has. He plays with force. He understands what goes into winning."

Most of the reaction from around the league is that the Thunder got a steal of a deal.

The biggest mystery at the moment is what Kevin Durant thinks of this move.


 

Thunder Trying To Move Into Draft But Far From Desperate To Do So

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

For the first time since the Thunder set up shop in Oklahoma City the team will go into the NBA Draft without a pick.

“We're truly an organization of firsts,” Thunder GM Sam Presti said of the situation a couple of weeks ago. “We're still not 10 years old, and we haven't encountered the situation yet.”

Presti didn’t really think he’d be without a pick in this year’s draft when the move was made that set this scenario up.

Back in January of 2015 the Thunder traded away their first round pick in that June’s draft to help get Dion Waiters. The pick was lottery protected which meant if the Thunder didn’t make the playoffs they’d keep the pick for 2015 and wouldn’t have it for 2016.

Even with their injuries in 2015 the Thunder still figured to make the playoffs but of course they missed it by one game. So the pick they’d traded away came back and became Cameron Payne.

They dealt away this year’s second round pick in February to get Randy Foye from the Denver Nuggets and that’s how they ended up without a pick.

At least they don’t have one yet.

“I'm actually kind of excited by it because it's an opportunity to approach the draft in a different way,” Presti told reporters during his end of the season news conference. “It's a way to use our creativity and imagination in ways we haven't. So I'm kind of excited to see where it leads us.”

Presti and his staff have been working the phones the last several days talking about possible trade scenarios that could them into the draft. There’s also a chance they just simply buy their way into the second round.

“We will prepare for the draft like we're picking 60 times, no different than we've ever done or prepared for any draft, but we can use our minds a little bit differently,” Presti said, “trying to decide how to get in, and if we were to get in and who to get in for. I'm kind of looking forward to that.”

There’s been some question as to just how good this draft class is when it comes to surefire star players at the NBA level especially when you get beyond the first couple of picks.

After that a lot of teams seem to be thinking you can get almost the same quality in the second round as you can the first but you won’t have to spend as much money and the salaries for players taken in the second aren’t guaranteed so if a player taken there turns out to be a bust the financial risk is minimal.

According to some reports at least a third of NBA teams, and maybe as many as half, are actively shopping their first round picks.

The Thunder have been built through the draft. All five regular starters from last season were Thunder draft picks. They’ve used the second round primarily to stash players either overseas or on the OKC Blue while they develop.

Shooting guard Alex Abrines, point guard Semaj Christon and power forward Dakari Johnson are the latest examples of that strategy.

The 6-6 Abrines is talented enough to come to the NBA now but he doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave Europe where he won the Euro League’s Rising Star Award. He remains under contract with Barcelona. Christon played for the Blue and averaged 18.8 points and 5.8 assists season before last then went to Italy where he remains. Johnson averaged 12.3 points and 8.1 rebounds for the Blue last season.

The most likely scenario is for the Thunder to buy their way into the middle to late second round. Getting into the first round would likely involve dealing a player they would prefer to keep around.

Among the players that could be available in those spots are high school power forward Thon Maker (projected at 36th), Kansas shooting guard Wayne Seldon (projected at 50th), Oregon State point guard Gary Payton II (projected as the 51st pick) and OU shooting guard Isaiah Cousins projected at 54th by Draft Express but who has also generated buzz as possibly moving all the way into the first round because of some outstanding workouts.

So even though the Thunder don’t have a pick as of this writing, they may very well have one by tonight so this could end up being an intriguing evening.

Either way the Thunder have said Presti would be available to answer questions after all the picks have been made.

I’ll be at the INTEGRIS Thunder Development Center this evening keeping track of what’s happening. You can follow me on Twitter @RandyRenner for live updates through the evening and be sure to check out the Twitter Feed page of our website to get updates from others both locally and from around the NBA.

Report: Durant To Meet With Teams In LA

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

The NBA’s free agency period is still a few days away (it begins July 1st) but the rumors and rumblings are revving up, especially when it comes to Thunder superstar Kevin Durant.

Durant and his advisors haven’t said anything publically about how the process will work but ESPN’s Marc Stein and New York Daily News reporter Frank Isola are both quoting NBA sources saying Durant plans to meet with a handful of teams in Los Angeles.

Durant has a home in the LA area.

Sports Illustrated is quoting sources as saying the teams most interested in Durant and that might actually have a chance of getting him are the Warriors, Spurs, Celtics, Wizards, Knicks and Rockets.

However other national publications have said the Rockets are no longer in the running but will push for a meeting anyway.

Isola says Durant “would prefer to re-sign with the Thunder” but if a decision is made to leave OKC the Warriors would be his choice.

Earlier this week at the official launch party for his new Nike sneaker, the KD9, Durant said his free agency destination would be a “basketball decision.”

The Thunder can offer more money and a longer contract than any other team in the league and Durant has said over and over how much he loves the atmosphere in Oklahoma City and the only pro basketball organization he’s ever known.

One of the more intriguing angles to this is whether Durant will sign a short term deal or go ahead and pull the trigger on a long term contract.

He can make the most money by signing for a year then going back into free agency after next season when the salary cap will make another big jump. But he’s said in the past “money isn’t everything” and it’s also believed he’s not a big fan of the process and all the distractions it can bring.

Following those clues could lead you to believe he might go ahead and commit for the long haul. In that scenario the Thunder could offer a five year contract, other teams could only offer four years.

More clues are sure to come out after July 1st when we’ll surely start to hear about meetings between Durant and teams that have taken place.

He could sign a new deal as early as July 7th and most likely would want to have everything wrapped up before July 18th so he can have his mind clear and ready to focus on Team USA’s training camp for the Olympic Games which begin that day.

Dirk & Dwight Opt Out

Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki and Rockets center Dwight Howard have opted out of the final years of their contracts. Nowitzki almost surely will re-sign with Dallas and Howard almost surely will not re-up with Houston.

The Warriors, along with several other teams, would be interested in Dirk. If Durant decides against hooking up with Golden State then Nowitzki would become the top target of the Warriors.

Durant Talks Free Agency, Road To Rio

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Thunder superstar Kevin Durant was back on his old college campus yesterday for the official release party of his latest Nike sneaker the KD9.

In addition to showing off the shoe he sat down for an interview session on the stage and was asked some questions about his future free agency and the Summer Olympics in Rio.

The answers were pretty much the same ones we’ve heard before.

“I know how important this time is,” Durant said about his free agency which officially begins on July 1st. “Like I've been saying all season, I have people I trust. I have all the trust in the world with them that we'll sit down and figure this thing out, figure out what's best for me.”

KD’s closest advisers are his manager and childhood friend Charlie Bell and his agent Rich Kleiman and he has said before when commenting on rumors about his free agent future if reporters didn’t hear something directly from him, Bell or Kleiman it wasn’t to be trusted and those three have maintained a silence on what they’re thinking and even what the general process might be.

“I know everyone is wondering what's gonna happen. This whole (free agency) thing has become a season, I guess, in the NBA. I know how important it is for everyone else. But I'll take my time, look at what's in front of me and go from there.”

Time is starting to get short, just 10 days (from this writing) until the process officially begins and about three weeks until a new contract could be signed.

Durant is still mum on whether he will sit down for formal presentations from other teams but it’s generally believed he will. And KD has said in the past and repeated again yesterday, the most important issue isn’t money, it’s basketball and the people he’ll be working with most closely.

“It's one of those situations where you work so hard to put yourself in a situation to kinda control your own destiny. I give all the credit to how much work I put in and the people who've helped me put that work in. I'm worrying about basketball. That's what it is for me. It's a basketball decision.”

If that’s truly what it is and there’s certainly no reason to doubt what Durant has been saying for months his best basketball decision (and his best financial decision) would be to stay in Oklahoma City where the Thunder have a proven roster capable of challenging for a championship.

The Thunder wouldn’t have to deal away any assets to be able to afford a new big money contract for KD, other teams, at least great ones like Golden State and San Antonio, would have to make changes in their roster to fit Durant’s money under the salary cap.

Durant could sign a new deal as early as July 7th and he would likely want to have that out of the way by the time training camp workouts begin for Team USA on July 18th because despite health concerns and just the added fatigue of playing more competitive this summer he still wants to play in the Rio Olympics.

“I'm excited about it. I'm looking forward to it,” he said. “Not all NBA players can play on it. They handpick the best 12 guys in the world to be on the team. That's an accomplishment in itself.”

This year not every NBA player wants to play on the team. In fact KD’s own Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook has pulled out of consideration and so have several other star players including Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, John Wall and LaMarcus Aldridge.

A couple of those players have pulled out because of injuries but there is definitely a lot of concern over health and safety issues in Brazil.

But Durant doesn’t seem worried and has pledged to play throughout the process.

By then the free agency questions will surely have been answered either for the next five years or at least for next season.

Until then we wait and so does the rest of the NBA.