By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Before the NBA free agency period evens begins late tonight in Oklahoma City (11:01pm central time) the Thunder will have already made their pitch to superstar Kevin Durant.
When his rookie contract expired on June 30, 2010 and he became eligible for an extension Thunder chairman Clay Bennett and GM Sam Presti were ringing KD’s doorbell at the strike of an hour before midnight, the exact moment his first Thunder contract expired.
This time they will be even earlier.
Sources have confirmed Bennett, Presti and other key members of the organization will meet with Durant on today in Oklahoma City while KD is in the last hours of that deal he was offered on his doorstep and accepted right there and then at "11:02," KD said back then. "Point blank, it was done."
The new deal couldn't be signed until 10 days later but Durant knew he didn't need to explore any other options.
This time around the process will take a bit longer.
The topic of discussion, though perhaps in a more formal setting, won’t be much different from talks Durant has had with team management for years.
“We've had a relationship with Kevin in Oklahoma City for eight years, nine with this particular franchise, and we talk to him all the time,” Presti pointed out during his annual end of the season news conference.
“So it's really just a continuation of a dialogue that's been going on for eight or nine years. It's a chance to reflect and recognize that relationship and continue the conversations that we've had on going.”
Durant will meet with the other teams vying for his services on neutral ground in The Hamptons on Long Island, just outside New York City. His meeting with the Thunder will be in familiar surroundings for both sides.
Money of course doesn’t need to be discussed and by NBA rule can’t be until the free agency period begins. Thunder are offering Durant a max contract, just like all the other teams, except OKC’s max contract is a little fatter. The NBA gives a player’s original team a financial advantage so they can have a better shot at holding off the competition.
This meeting will mostly be about the Thunder continuing to assure Durant they will not be content to stand still, they will continue to work to improve and build toward the future. The draft night deal that sent Serge Ibaka to Orlando but brought in three high quality players in Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and draft pick Domantas Sabonis was the latest example of that strategy until word broke Wednesday night the Thunder have been exploring options to bring free agent Al Horford to OKC.
Durant is known to appreciate Horford's game and Horford remains close to Thunder head coach Billy Donovan who was his coach at the University of Florida when the Gators won two National Championships.
They will also spend some time to reflect and remember what’s happened in this football city and state that is now basketball crazy.
“I personally choose to look at it is we've got to take a step back and realize how incredible, how fortunate are we that Kevin Durant has been one of the first players to ever wear a Thunder uniform,” Presti said earlier this month.
“He's played for eight years in Oklahoma City. Kids that were six years old watching the Thunder and now 14 years old, and they've watched this evolution of Westbrook, Durant, Ibaka and company through their adolescence, and now we have the opportunity to sit down with him and talk about what looks like an incredibly bright future together.”
A couple of days before Presti talked to reporters, Durant was in front of the media answering some of the same questions and his answers were similar when asked about looking back on his time in Oklahoma City.
“Just the way we built this from the ground up. Just the journey we all took together from the ground up,” he said.
“Sam and I were talking, and it was like we started in a roller rink (the first practice facility) and we made it to the Western Conference Finals year after year, made it to The Finals before. We have so many individual accolades that come through here from MVPs to first team All-NBAs to all the stuff that comes through here. And the brand Oklahoma City is just so world known now, I think that just shows how much organization put the players first and put basketball first, but also put the community and this whole atmosphere. We grouped it all into our organization and made it one.”
And then he added, “I’m just so proud to be a part of something that started from nothing.”
That legacy is unique to Durant and the Thunder.
No other team can offer that.
Kevin Durant will be a superstar wherever he goes but everywhere else he’ll be just another one. Just the latest and who knows maybe the greatest, depending on the team, but he can never be the first somewhere else.
In Oklahoma City he is the foundation of everything that’s been built and now he thinks of this place as “home.”
“That’s how it’s been for eight years. I've learned so much about myself, about being here as a basketball player and as a man. I've been through a lot of different experiences just in this city.”
Durant has said it’s not always about the money, especially now, when he’s already financially secure.
“The most important thing for me is the type of people I'm going to be around every single day. If I'm enjoying playing basketball, that's what I'm really -- that's the thing I really want to center everything around. I love my teammates here. I love playing basketball here. So that's what's important to me.”
And that’s going to be difficult for other teams to counter especially when three men who have walked the journey together from Day One get together on Thursday.
Bennett, Presti and Durant. The owner, the general manager and the superstar. The men who took nothing and built it into something special, something unique, something no other team can offer.