- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Folded into his locker in Seattle’s KeyArena back in 2007, Kevin Durant shrugged. Just a teenager, he was trying to understand his burgeoning celebrity during his first year in the NBA. Normal was changing for him, at least to the outsiders. He was still buying packs of T-shirts at Wal-Mart and watching local college games in person when the schedule allowed. After being selected No. 2 overall by the Sonics, a franchise-altering selection the result of an erratic Ping-Pong ball which put Greg Oden in Portland, Durant was still just trying to be himself.

“It’s still kind of weird to see people ask me for autographs or ask to take pictures with me,” Durant told The Washington Times then. “I think I’m just a regular guy. I walk around the mall by myself, you know, I just enjoy being a regular person, that’s how I think I am so it’s no different to me.”

Almost eight years later, he strode into Verizon Center on Wednesday night a regular person in his mind only and surrounded by what-if. Before facing the Wizards, Durant was on the floor in a grey “Oklahoma City basketball” T-shirt, blue shorts and black tights. He lightly worked the jump shot he toned and softened at the Seat Pleasant Activity Center in Capitol Heights, Maryland while growing up and becoming attached to basketball. Durant was the first and only Thunder player on the floor almost three hours before the game. He flexed his right arm and rotated his shoulder. Durant had the result of an odd fall Tuesday night in Miami to work out in the dimness of an empty arena.

The isolation did not last. Around 90 minutes later, he was horseshoed in by media. A night after the political cycle was dominated by the State of Union address and a shift in focus toward 2016, the Washington basketball world was also looking two years ahead. Durant can become a free agent in 2016. The NBA salary cap will rise. The Wizards’ payroll should be cleared to make him a maximum offer. The locally drool-inducing possibility of Durant returning to his D.C. home to join John Wall and Bradley Beal exists. Such a shift could provide a final boost for a ladder-climbing franchise that is working to leave decades of doldrums behind.

“A very explosive trio,” former Wizard and current Washington television analyst Phil Chenier said of the possibility. “A trio that can do a lot of things out there on the floor. All of a sudden, you’ve got three players there and it’s almost like having six or seven.”

Durant has won three scoring titles. He was named MVP in 2014, then delivered an emotional speech that left his mother, Wanda Pratt, in tears. Teammates, television viewers, and coaches sniffled. He has been to the NBA Finals, yet remains titleless, the only unchecked box on the 26-year old’s stacked resume.

What if he came to D.C. to clear that final step? What if he did delivered the first title since 1978? What if?

Making The Case

The case for Durant to leave Oklahoma City and come to Washington can be validated. It can also be easily countered. The salary cap is expected to leap toward $78 million, if not more, for the 2016 NBA season according to various projections. The Wizards will have Wall, Marcin Gortat, coming draft picks and likely a couple role players under contract at that point. Beal will also become a restricted free agent that season when his rookie contract expires. Washington can match any offer Beal receives and offer him more than any other team. He’s likely to be back.

The trouble for Washington is multiple other teams will be benefiting from the rising cap. Their interest in and financial positioning for Durant’s possible free agency will be the equivalent of the Wizards. They don’t have the hometown tug, but the total dollars would be the same.

Oklahoma City projects as a clear leader to retain Durant’s services. While all other teams can offer Durant approximately a four year, $100 million contract, the Thunder can offer a five-year deal worth approximately $135 million, according to ESPN.com NBA salary cap analyst Larry Coon.

“Everybody’s going to have cap room,” Coon said. “Everybody’s going to want Durant, obviously, unless something catastrophic happens between now and then. To me personally, if you want my opinion, (I think) that he would stay in OKC just because I know about the relationship he has with the franchise. Getting him to leave and go somewhere else would be an iffy proposition, at best, to begin with. Then, if he does decide to go, there would be any number of teams competing for his services.”

As always, the dire layer of discussing what could happen in two years is the amount of variables. Injuries, changes in personal lives on and off the floor, any number of random occurrences are set to alter future decisions. That hasn’t deterred the yearning of Wizards fans. At a sold out Verizon Center on Wednesday, Durant was cheered when he was introduced before his 34-point night in the Thunder’s 105-103 overtime win.

The Push

Pleading for Durant to come to D.C. is becoming a mini industry. Web sites begging for “KD2DC” exist. T-shirts that say “KD2DMV” and have Durant in a Wizards jersey with “Home” across the bottom are for sale. That shirt is toned to look like the “Hope” posters President Barack Obama used on the campaign trail. Some fans wore Wizards jerseys with Durant’s name on the back Wednesday night.

“It’s strange because he doesn’t play for us and who knows what he’s going to do in the next couple years?” Beal said. “It’s kind of weird and it’s kind of cool at the same time to imagine that and picture it, but you never know for sure.”

When raw and a rookie in Seattle one of Durant’s friends worked at a Downtown Lockerroom in D.C. The first version of his Nike shoe arrived in the store, which prompted his pal to call him. They chatted, amazed, that his shoe was in the store. To top it off, people were buying it.

The seventh version of the Nike KD is offered by Downtown Lockerroom next to shoes that carry the monikers of the NBA’s one-name luminaries: LeBron and Kobe. Knowing now the weight his words carry not just in Oklahoma City, but throughout the league, Durant was measured Wednesday evening when asked about support in D.C. and the push for his affection.

“It’s cool … Uh … Uh … it’s cool,” Durant said with a smile.

Durant said he heard about the push for him to come to D.C. for the first time last summer. That he loves playing for Oklahoma City and it comes with a certain level of pride representing a place that “feels like home to me.” He also said never thought about what it would be like to play for the Wizards.

That would put him in the minority Wednesday night.

Follow Todd Dybas on Twitter at @Todd_Dybas.

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