Nothin' but Net: Interesting offseason for KD

By The Sports NetworkAug. 22, 2014 at 11:34 AM
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Kevin Durant has enjoyed a pretty eventful summer, although most of the noteworthy information has come in the form of reports, not actual events.

After finally winning his first MVP award, and his accompanying thoughtful acceptance speech, his Oklahoma City Thunder got bounced in the Western Conference Finals by the precise locomotive that is the San Antonio Spurs.

From there, Durant was supposed to anchor USA Basketball in the FIBA World Cup. He went through training camp, then abruptly left the team, citing the need for rest. This decision came less than a week after Paul George's leg exploded and just before the team's preparatory scrimmages.

Durant's departure raised eyebrows. Why leave the team and say it's for rest when he went through training camp? Did George's gruesome injury play a role? What role might his burgeoning business interests have played in his withdrawal?

Durant reiterated the rest excuse at an event for the NBA 2K15 video game. That won't stop conspiracy theorists from speculating about the idea that George's leg injury played a role. After all, if it could happen to George, it could happen to anyone.

Seeing something that hideous (again, for the record, I still haven't seen it since I value not vomiting) can certainly make someone re-evaluate things. However, an injury can happen on a basketball court at any time and do we really believe KD has not played any meaningful basketball since?

The more realistic explanation for Durant's departure, if you're the cynical type who doesn't believe people at their face, has to do with moolah.

Multiple reports have stated that Durant received a gigantic endorsement deal from Under Armour in the neighborhood of $265 million to $285 million over 10 years. According to ESPN's Darren Rovell, Under Armour would offer Durant stock options and a community center built in his mother's name.

Times have changed.

Nike still has a chance to match the offer per his contract, but that is an insane amount of money. It's a huge toe in the pool for Under Armour, which has never offered a prospective client that much.

Durant is now repped by Roc Nation, the sports agency empire created by Jay Z. If the goal was to maximize KD's worth immediately after the MVP season, the Under Armour deal would signify a huge mission accomplished.

We hate when business decisions drive athletes. Money is too powerful an afrodisiac. However, nothing is that simple. Durant is trying to strike while the shoes are hot and they'll never be as scorching as now. Should Under Armour dictate if Durant participates in international competition? Of course not, but let's not be naive enough to believe outside interests play no part.

If the reported deal is true, that's an obscene amount of cash. It doesn't give Under Armour the right to decide what Durant does, but it should factor in his mind. In fact, if the contract estimates are accurate, he'll be paid more by Under Armour than the Thunder.

And while some might get in a lather if in fact Durant's pending endorsements played a role in his decision to leave Team USA, let's remember this is the World Cup. It's made-for-TV theater. If the Olympics were this summer, I feel strongly Durant would be there in Rio.

The other business murmur this summer is how much Durant respected LeBron James' decision to go home. James' return to the Cleveland Cavaliers could have a big impact on Durant, who has two years left on his deal with OKC.

Durant is from the Washington D.C. area and last check shows that our nation's capital has a professional basketball team. In fact, they have a pretty good one, littered with the best young backcourt in the league. The whispers say Durant could want to return home when he has the chance after the 2015-16 season.

That makes for a great story, but remember - money talks and you know what walks. The Thunder can offer Durant the most loot in a contract. Sometimes, that's what matters most.

Durant's relationship with the Thunder has been solid, but Oklahoma City is the 27th most-populated city in the US and, according to Nielsen, ranked as the 41st biggest market for television. Those numbers don't scream to someone trying to extend his brand.

The Thunder have been one of the league's elite teams during Durant's tenure, but they've only made one NBA Finals appearance and they lost to James and the Miami Heat. "Underachieving" is not a word that immediately pops into heads about Oklahoma City, but rings are what define pro athletes. If the Thunder can't win in the next two seasons, it may prompt Durant to question if a title is ever going to happen there.

That opens the door for the Wizards. Basketball-wise, he could form a nucleus with John Wall and Bradley Beal and that trio could contend with Cleveland's James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Money might be tight in D.C. Stop me if you heard that before, but the Wiz paid Wall max money, gave Marcin Gortat five years and $60 million, and Beal still has get locked up. But, if both parties want it to happen, Washington can sell off all other players on the roster and the Lincoln Memorial to make it work.

The New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers will be in play. Who knows what role Jay Z and his connections to the Brooklyn Nets will factor into Durant's free agency. Basically, Durant is going to have plenty of suitors with cash.

Is it ridiculous to speculate about Durant's free agency two years before it happens? No, it is not. James' decision captivated the sports world. Durant's will be similar and it's never too early to examine how decisions made now play into the future.

Durant is doing what's best for Durant right now. If you believe him, he's also doing what's best for the Thunder, but the way he exited USA Basketball left a bad taste in people's mouths.

He has to be careful in terms of public perception. Most people aren't like me and accept business decisions for what they are. Some will look at Durant this summer as a guy who let financial considerations dictate his basketball schedule and, in the process, abandoned his country at the 11th hour.

Either way, it won't matter to Durant if he's $265 million richer and playing in his hometown in two years.


- Four players have to be cut from USA Basketball. Let me say this - I don't believe all four will be cut by Saturday. I think a few guys are going to get cut in Spain and have lonely flights from Barcelona. I think the four guys who get cut are: Gordon Hayward (lock), Kyle Korver, Andre Drummond and Chandler Parsons. Damian Lillard stays because he can play if Derrick Rose's knee issues flare up and DeMar DeRozan did enough in his playing time to warrant a spot. Coach K loves Mason Plumlee so he's going to Spain.

- On Saturday, the prospective Kevin Love trade can become official. Sounds like Love goes to Cleveland; Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a first- rounder go to Minnesota as well as Thaddeus Young from the Philadelphia 76ers. In return, Philly seems like it's getting Luc Mbah a Moute, Alexey Shved and a first-rounder, which it appears would be Miami's first-rounder in 2015.

This is no-brainer city for Cleveland and Minnesota does well to keep Bennett. He was rumored to be in the deal to the Sixers. As for Philly, this seems underwhelming, but Shved can play the two guard and the Sixers have no one other than Jason Richardson to do that. Plus, GM Sam Hinkie collects first- round picks like they were baseball cards, so he will probably feel great about that. I definitely like this deal less for Philadelphia without Bennett involved.

- Dick Bavetta retired after 39 seasons as a referee. He worked 2,635 consecutive games, which is remarkable, but at the end of the day, an older man retired and I don't have anything snappy to say about that. Happens every day in America.

- No matter what he thinks, James Harden is not the best basketball player alive. I'm sure he knows that since there are Youtube videos dedicated to how embarrassing he is as a defender. Harden is a top-four offensive talent and probably is the best shooting guard in the world. Bravado never hurt any one. That's not true, cowboys got shot for it in the wild west, but people shouldn't hate when someone is overly confident in one's abilities.

- Most improved team next season - Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans and Boston Celtics. Teams taking a step backwards next season - Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets.

- Movie moment - Full confession - I think "Good Will Hunting" is a little overrated. Robin Williams is not.

- TV moment - With the Emmys upcoming and possibly no column on Monday, I'll tell you I think. "Breaking Bad" and "Modern Family" will win the two series awards. "Breaking Bad" was insanely good in the final season and "Modern Family" was better than recent years. Plus, I'm not sure voters realize there are other comedies on the ballot.


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