Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant has a lot of eyes on him as the 2015–2016 NBA season approaches.
The former Longhorn has one year left on his current contract before he tests the waters of free agency. He also is still recovering from his injury-riddled 2014–2015 season.
Two seasons ago, Durant was the league MVP, averaging an NBA-high 32.0 points per game to lead the Thunder to a 59-23 season — the second-best record in the Western Conference. He guided the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals, where the Spurs ousted Oklahoma City in six games.
Durant and the Thunder were less fortunate during the 2014–2015 season. As the season launched, Durant spent 17 games sidelined with a fracture in his right foot. Upon returning, he reverted to his stellar scoring averages, posting 25.4 points per game on 51 percent shooting, but then he suffered an ankle injury. Durant played his last game of the season in February before sitting out with complications from a foot fracture. Without Durant, the Thunder missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team went 18-9 in games with Durant and 27-28 as Durant sat out.
On September 23, Thunder general manager Sam Presti said Durant is cleared to play and has “been playing without restriction.” Even if Durant is healthy and returns to MVP form, the team still faces many challenges.
The Western Conference is extremely competitive , featuring the defending-champion Golden State Warriors as well as the Spurs, Rockets, Clippers and Grizzlies. After a season of missing the playoffs, it is uncertain where the Thunder belong in this picture. The team has not reached the NBA Finals since 2012, when All-Star James Harden still competed alongside Durant and Russell Westbrook. But the Thunder’s drop speaks more to the health of their lineup.
If the Thunder cannot overcome these obstacles and return to the NBA Finals, Kevin Durant’s offseason will prove eventful. Many teams will recruit him, most notably his home team, the Washington Wizards. During NBA Media Day on Sept. 28, Durant said he is not “looking for people to lobby [him].” While he focuses on playing basketball, many NBA teams will focus on luring him to their teams.
“[We will] throw a pitch at him and try to get him to come back,” Wizards point guard John Wall said at the media day.
Fully recovered from injury, Durant will be under a great spotlight all season long, from opening night to free agency next July. In his first game back with the Thunder, he will face the San Antonio Spurs on Oct. 28.