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NBA AM: Durant, Thunder Reaching Crossroads

Kevin Durant talks upcoming free agency, while Carmelo Anthony says he is happy in New York.

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Durant, Thunder Reaching Crossroads

When the emerging Oklahoma City Thunder reached the NBA Finals back in 2012, it appeared to signal the start of a new era in the Western Conference. But fast forward three seasons and the Thunder have not only failed to gain league supremacy, but the franchise hasn’t established dominance in the Western Conference. The aging San Antonio Spurs and the young Golden State Warriors have won titles since Oklahoma City came up short in 2012 and the Thunder’s regular season win totals have declined since 2013.

Injuries to All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook during this span have contributed largely to Oklahoma City’s shortcomings. You could also make an argument that a leg injury suffered by forward Serge Ibaka during the 2014 playoffs contributed to the squad coming up short versus the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.

Even though the Thunder’s core haven’t reached their physical primes, it is fair to question whether the group has reached their ceiling as a collective unit. Adding to the pressure of winning a title is the fact Durant is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Durant is expected to be one of the most sought after free agents in league history next summer and he continues to speak about the upcoming process candidly heading into the season.

“I know it’s coming,” Durant said according to USA Today Sports during Team USA minicamp while discussing his upcoming free agency. “It’s the (free agency) year. I’m coming off of injury. A lot of people are expecting me to do this, and come back as a better player. A lot of people may be doubting me as well. But that’s a part of the game. I’m just trying to have fun playing the game again. I just want to smile on the court again and go through that whole season with joy and peace.”

Free agency rumors during the season, for elite players, have become distractions at various points in time. To help alleviate some of the future speculation on his plans, Durant told the media who they could trust on the topic in the coming months.

“Along with Matty Ice (Thunder media relations manager Matt Tumbleson), I’ve got two people who I trust with my life, which is my agent and my manager, who is my best friend as well,” Durant said. “I trust them with my life. So if you hear sources or anything, don’t believe it if it didn’t come from them.

“I tell them everything. We bounce ideas off of each other. We collaborate on a lot of different things. They give me advice. So throughout this year, if you hear sources from anybody, it’s not true unless you hear it from Charlie Bell, Rich Kleiman or Kevin Durant.”

Durant had never missed more than eight games in any campaign since being drafted in 2007, but was limited to only 27 games last season due to a recurring foot issue. Although Durant managed to average 25.4 points per game last season it was his lowest output since the 2009 campaign.

While Durant has maintained he plans to stay in Oklahoma City long term, it will be interesting to see how the process plays out as this will be his first true journey into free agency since entering the league

Carmelo Anthony sets record straight, satisfied in New York

The New York Knicks, coming off a franchise worst 17-win campaign, have won a combined total of 54 games the past two seasons. The Knicks’ continued on court struggles reportedly began to take its toll on All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony and shortly thereafter rumors started surfacing that the player was no longer happy in the Big Apple.  The reports of Anthony’s unhappiness hit their peak in June when the Knicks used the fourth overall pick to select forward Kristaps Porzingis. The unhappiness was then reported to increase when the club failed to land any of the marquee names on the free agency market.

However, Anthony recent set the record straight and praised team president Phil Jackson on the pieces he was able to secure this summer.

“Honestly, I thought we did a great job just as far as putting the pieces that we need to put together,” Anthony said according to the Associated Press at Team USA minicamp in Las Vegas. “We didn’t get DeAndre [Jordan], we didn’t get LaMarcus [Aldridge] and Greg Monroe, but [Robin] Lopez is a great addition. Arron Afflalo, I played with him a long time in Denver. [Kyle] O’Quinn is a great pickup; I think guys will like him. He’s a big guy, power forward. Derrick Williams, we’re going to get him right. He seemed focused. And then rookies, KP [Porzingis], I had him with me last week working out at my gym. We’re just trying to start this thing off right.”

While Anthony would have preferred for the franchise to ink a bigger name, the veteran says he never questioned Jackson as had been widely reported.

“You always want the top guys that’s out there. That’s anybody, not just myself … but I feel good about the pieces that we’ve got,” Anthony said.

Anthony, 31, was limited to just 40 games last season due to knee trouble. The forward averaged 24.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per contest.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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