There had been a nagging thought throughout this entire Lebron-a-palooza that crept up more than a few times: Is this what it's going to be like with Kevin Durant in two years?
The whole process has been such a whirlwind of misinformation combined with speculation that there's a good chance Miami fans aren't even totally sure how they got here. How could they be? Four years, four Finals appearances, two championships, and now this, with the worst part about it for those fans being: this decision actually makes a ton of sense when you see it from Lebron James' perspective.
You got the sense throughout James' beautifully-crafted letter explaining his decision (as told to Lee Jenkins) that this was more than just a homecoming. This was a man coming to terms with who he was as a basketball player, as a father, as a husband, as a citizen of Ohio, and everything else he's come to represent to so many people all across the world. You could feel the weight being lifted off his shoulders with each paragraph. Lebron was moving on to the next chapter of his life. At just 29 years old, it seems absurd to already start talking about The End, but it sure came across like this was the last chapter that would involve new scenery.
The question that still lingers is, if this was his decision, and it seemed to be an option for so long, why string along Miami the way that he did? To be fair, I don't know how many people are asking that, or if it's purely a straw man, but it seems to be the one remaining concern paranoid fanbases like OKC (i.e. me) now have entering the final two years of Kevin Durant's guaranteed time in a Thunder jersey.
The reasonable explanation is that James really wasn't sure, and that's understandable. This was the biggest decision of his life. Maybe he felt like he owed Miami more since they delivered him his first championship and firmly established that part of his legacy. From the sounds of things, he also felt like he owed far more than that to his hometown, and that debt obviously weighed more heavily on his mind.
Either way, it's a decision that, no matter how much he thought about it over the past four years, was probably never finalized until Thursday night when he sat down with Lee Jenkins.
That's where KD comes in. 2016 seems so close, yet it's still two excruciatingly long years away. Does Durant think about it? I'm sure he does, because he's human. But there's no way he has given any serious thought to it, nor should he. He's a part of a perennial contender for 2014 through 2016, one that, throughout all of this free agency mania, remains one of the favorites to win the NBA title. That's what's guaranteed, that's what KD is focused on and that's what Thunder fans can appreciate.
In two years though? Durant probably will go through something similar to this. He's already being recruited by John Wall to his own hometown, and while he's always been on record saying he is happy in OKC, you certainly couldn't blame Durant for wanting to experience what free agency is all about.
That's largely what this whole period was for James, Carmelo Anthony and even Pau Gasol. It was a chance for great players to have rich people fawning for their talents. Gasol was far more transparent about it, but that's undeniably a part of it for every free agent because, again, they're human.
Durant's never had that experience. He infamously re-signed in 2010 after a midnight visit by Sam Presti to his doorstep was all it took. A simple tweet later, and that was that: Kevin Durant would be in Oklahoma City for five more years. In many ways, that's what set Durant on this path alongside James for the past four years.
Famously, the same week of that tweet, James did "The Decision," and he became the devil on one shoulder as KD became the angel on the other. The two have been No. 1 and 2 ever since, with James winning back over a large amount of the fanbase through his championship performances, and with Durant making his most serious threat for the crown this year by winning his first MVP. Through all of it, KD has remained in the passenger's seat while Lebron drove the league to new heights of popularity.
That, too, could play a role in Durant's 2016. Ideally, he would win a championship either in 2015 or 2016 and become the king of the league for at least one summer. If that doesn't happen and he remains a firm No. 2, you could understand how being the talk of the NBA world for a couple weeks could be enticing.
Who knows if we will ever become as obsessed over a free agent as we did with Lebron this year. It may have just been perfect storm of the biggest athlete on the planet being a part of the perfect Homecoming narrative that a country desperate for feel-good stories needed. Either way, for a couple weeks, you can bet that Durant would lead Sportscenter every day, be the focus of just about every major sports radio segment and have the entire NBA hanging by his finger as it awaits his decision to make any further moves - you know, the way Lebron did these past two weeks.
There's also the possibility that 2016 will be another lockout, as both sides have an opt-out clause to the current CBA and, given the exponentially-rising value of franchises, is almost certainly an opportunity for the players' union to renegotiate some terms. All that means, of course, is that there could be a whole lot more money to be made for Durant in 2016 in OKC or elsewhere.
All of this, of course, is just speculation, the same stuff that fueled the Lebron hysteria in the first place. That's the world we live in, though, and having perspective on the future sometimes gives a greater appreciation of the present.
A day may come when Kevin Durant is faced with the biggest decision of his life. Will he opt for a change of scenery? Return to his home? Or will he stick with the organization he's come to love that brought him into the league? Is he more LeBron or Tim Duncan, a guy who, when all is said and done, will have played 2 decades with the same coach in the same city? No one knows, Kevin Durant doesn't even know.
You can bet that, throughout the process, Thunder fans will feel the same pit in their stomach that so many Miami - and Cleveland, for that matter - fans felt throughout this entire thing. It's just sports, and maybe we're stupid for caring so much, but that's the power our favorite athletes have over us.
It's the power that comes with being a great player, too. Great players deserve to be reminded of their greatness from time to time, and that can come through hearing reputable franchises pitch for their services, as well as entire fanbases holding their breath awaiting a decision. Camping out outside of a vacant home is probably - OK definitely - overkill, but that passion is a powerful thing, something a guy like Durant certainly understands.
That's what Durant has earned - the right to go out and test the waters and be the talk of the NBA the way Lebron James has been for the past two weeks. It doesn't make him a coward for hearing them out, and it doesn't make him a coward f he - gulp - actually decides to move on.
The decision will be his and his alone, and to think he owes the fans any more than he's already given is selfish. He's been a beacon of humility and refreshing honesty throughout his entire time in OKC, never more beautifully embodied than in his MVP speech. A brief dalliance with other front offices will never change that, nor should - again, gulp - an actual departure.
Still, that's all two years from now. Two long, hopefully successful, years from now. Today, Kevin Durant is the reigning MVP of the league and his biggest rival just stayed in the Eastern Conference. The West is still wide open for his rule.
For two more years, at least.