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.
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