With Sunday night’s incredible performance, the Oklahoma City Thunder took a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference finals. It has put them in a strong position to advance over a Golden State team who were heavy favourites heading into the showdown.
But how much does the outcome of the series affect Kevin Durant’s decision in the summer as he is set to be the hottest property on the market come free agency.
Durant is, in a very positive way, a freak of nature. He stands at nearly seven feet tall yet has the type of agility you would expect in someone a foot shorter. He has a slight frame and huge wingspan, as well as some of the best shooting ability ever seen on a basketball court.
Now he may not be as good a shooter as Steph Curry, currently on the opposing Warriors team, although arguably no one is or ever has been, but as someone who became the sixth man to join the ‘50-40-90' club three years ago, he is clearly one of the elites.
To be able to shoot and move that well for someone of his stature is quite remarkable and at times makes Durant almost unplayable, as he was in Sunday’s encounter, scoring 33 points in 32 minutes on the court.
Durant’s conundrum will come this summer when he is faced with the decision of possibly leaving OKC to join another franchise when his contract expires and he becomes a free agent.
Heading into the playoffs it was expected that an early exit for OKC would spell the end of KD’s tenure in Oklahoma City for good, but the team came back to defeat the San Antonio Spurs in the second round impressively and have exceeded expectation so far against the Warriors.
Will the current playoff performance play a part?
So if OKC were to not make it past the conference finals, would they have already done enough to convince Durant to stay?
It is a difficult question, as the side have proven they can compete with the defending champions, but even a victory over Golden State may not be enough to keep the 27-year-old if the team was to lose in the NBA Finals to either Cleveland or Toronto.
However, if Oklahoma City were to win the championship, it is certainly possible that the forward would look for a new long-term contract with OKC, as he does not seem interested in moving to a bigger market such as New York or Los Angeles and is comfortable with the franchise.
One thing that must be noted is that there is also a distinct possibility that KD may opt to sign a new one-year extension with OKC, as it drastically increases the amount of money Durant would be able to paid by another franchise with the salary cap set to rise again next year.
This would also put Durant on the same cycle as teammate Russell Westbrook, whom he is extremely close to, and would mean that the two would therefore be able to leave the team at the same time, possibly even to move to another franchise together, in the summer of 2017.
Where could free-agent KD head to?
So what would be the possible options for KD in terms of destinations this summer?
Every team in the league will be interested in his services, there is no doubt about that, but you would expect the smart move for Durant if his priority is to win titles, is to move to the Eastern Conference.
In the East, Durant would then be able to avoid Golden State, San Antonio, and even his former OKC team, leaving a clearer path to the Finals. Two strong options would be the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, both of whom are just one superstar away from having a team that would be expected to compete for a championship.
Miami will particularly be on the lookout for a marquee signing if Chris Bosh is forced to retire, and if the lure of Pat Riley was enough to convince LeBron James to join the franchise in 2010, it could certainly do the same for Durant.
Although, unfortunately for Washington Wizards fans, it appears Durant is less inclined to join the team from his home state, unlike LeBron. However, it cannot be completely ruled out just yet.
The result of the conference finals may not ultimately decide whether KD decides to move on from OKC, but it could certainly play a part in the star's decision at the end of the season.
A very intelligent man off the court, Durant will surely keep his options open, but you can be certain his chances of staying at the Chesapeake Energy Arena have improved drastically in recent weeks, and a championship ring may just mean he stays put…