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OKC Thunder: Buckle up Oklahoma, the Kevin Durant countdown has started

The free agency countdown for Durant has begun. Former NBA player and current ESPN analyst Jalen Rose this week became the most prominent figure to proclaim that Durant will leave Oklahoma City when his contract is up in 2016.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: October 24, 2013

Additionally, basketball is a sport in which just one player can drastically alter the direction of a franchise, leaving fans of every team coveting another team's stars. When James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami, the Heat didn't just become instant championship contenders but also journeyed to three straight NBA Finals, winning the past two.

James' infamous decision, and Miami's subsequent success, helped spawn a new era in the NBA, one that has only fanned the flames of free-agency countdowns. It's the era of friends forming super teams.

Boston first benefited from this type of roster when Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett joined Paul Pierce before the 2007-08 season. The Celtics went on to win it all that year.

But unlike the stars that found their way onto that Celtics team — Allen and Garnett were both traded from their respective franchises but Allen didn't have a say in the matter — players are now controlling their own destiny. More than ever, they're voluntarily tag-teaming and chasing championships.

New York attempted it with Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. The Lakers lured Howard and Steve Nash to team with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol for one season. Brooklyn will begin this season with six former All-Stars, most of them past their primes yet still an impressive collection of talent, led by Garnett, Pierce, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez.

The widespread belief is championship-starved star players soon get restless and begin looking around for the best chance at winning. And with most of those same star players having clauses in their contracts that allow them to forego the final year of their deals additional pressure is on franchises to assemble a winner before the clock begins ticking.

In cases like Oklahoma City's, the franchise's market size adds another hurdle. A team like the Thunder ($71 million payroll) never will be able to splurge as much as a team like the Nets ($101 million payroll). With larger market teams, players have the potential to maximize their earning power by pulling in more money on an off the court.

It's why, even after a lockout intended to even the playing field, players like Howard immediately fled Orlando for Los Angeles, Chris Paul parted ways with New Orleans for the Los Angeles Clippers and Shane Batter made his way from Memphis to Miami.

This is how it works in the NBA.

Durant and the Thunder might be happily married for three more seasons. But that won't stop the rest of the country from setting their clocks and starting the countdown.

Durant becomes a free agent on July 1, 2016. That's 979 days.

Buckle up, Oklahoma.

by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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