Anyone with a clue knew Kevin Durant, picked No. 2 in the 2007 draft, quickly would become a great player. But who knew he would so soon become such a star? Who knew, in his third NBA season, flying the colors of Oklahoma City’s Thunder, Durant would be the biggest story during all-star weekend? Durant was everywhere. Coaching the rookies. Playing H-O-R-S-E. Pitching Nikes. Durant had more TNT face time than did Charles Barkley. Just look at the treatment of Durant during the All-Star telecast Sunday night. Pull two other players out of a hat. Let’s say Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce. Anthony a perennial scoring-title threat on a Denver team that will challenge the Lakers for NBA supremacy. Pierce an eight-time all-star on the regal Celtics. Neither got near the air time Durant did. Kobe. LeBron. D-Wade. Even hometowner Dirk Nowitzki. None were as hot as Durant. The only story that rivaled the arrival of Durant on the NBA superstar stage was the looming labor strife, which is no small issue. The owners really do seem serious about reigning in costs come summer 2011, when the collective bargaining agreement expires. The owners are pushing for a hard salary cap, which almost surely will reduce overall payrolls, and shorter maximum contracts, from five to four years. Which some have speculated means the Thunder could try to save some coin by waiting to sign Durant to a contract extension. Could happen. But only if the Thunder brass is idiotic. The possible new labor landscape only makes it more likely that the Thunder could sign Durant in 2010, before the new financial order is set. Durant has more reason than ever to stay. He most certainly can get more money and more security in 2010 from OKC than he could from any of the 30 teams in 2011. When you add the Boomtown element — great young roster, soaring success — of Oklahoma City, Durant would be a fool to not sign one of those six-year, $100-million extensions that have become the norm for superstars after their third NBA season. Who knows if that kind of contract will be available in 2011? The longer extension works both ways. Security for Durant and the Thunder, which wants KD for time and memorial. And chairman Clay Bennett knows the labor problems play right into the Thunder’s hands, as it relates to Durant. That’s a massive amount of money, especially for a downtown no bigger than OKC’s. But all that salary-cap room we’ve been hearing about since the Thunder hung out a shingle? This is what those savings should be all about. The pending fear that Durant might leave, and the ceaseless sniping from ports bitter that little ol’ Oklahoma City landed not just a ballteam but an epic ballplayer, is not grounded in history. NBA franchises historically have kept their cornerstone players. Even the small markets. David Robinson and Tim Duncan in San Antonio. Karl Malone in Salt Lake City. Dwight Howard in Orlando. Chris Paul in New Orleans. No reason Oklahoma City can’t do the same. The Thunder made money last season in a league when many teams didn’t. It will be harder to make money when you’re paying Durant $15 million a year, with Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green soon to follow with substantial raises of their own. And it’s easy to tell other people how to spend their money. But paying great players big money has to be done. Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy told me the other day that franchise success comes down to one thing: "the commitment of your ownership group. Small market or large market. "Small market, it’s a little tougher job. You simply can’t make as many mistakes on the smaller market.” The biggest mistake Bennett and the Thunder could make would be to not secure the NBA’s newest superstar this summer. Especially since everything is laid out to make Durant want to sign as soon as possible.