Kevin Durant's free agency will teach us a lot about Thunder fans

Stephen Dunn

Oklahoma City was ejected from another postseason without a shot at the title. We're getting close to KD's shot at free agency. What happens with KD could define Thunder fans for generations to come.

SB Nation 2014 NBA Playoff Bracket

In 2012, Dahlia Lithwick wrote one of the seminal pieces of post-modernism: The Unified Theory Of Muppet Types. In it, she explained that we are all Chaos Muppets or Order Muppets, and that classification defines how we react to life's events. Chaos Muppets are emotional and subject to whims; Order Muppets are regimented and neurotic. I've been a subscriber to this theory since I first saw it -- it's so intuitive -- and I immediately grade each new person I meet on the Muppet spectrum.

But it's not particularly applicable to hardcore fans of sports teams. So let me present to you a new theory of partisan sports fans: there are Dogs and Cats.

You have the irrationally hopeful and exuberant fans who believe great things will happen even when the situation looks awful. Think of Celtics fans drooling over Kevin Love or Lakers fans who tell themselves Kobe Bryant's contract won't ruin the club's chances to compete for three years. The sun always shines for these fans, because history has rewarded them with lots of legitimate sunshine. Why shouldn't they expect it?

These are our Dogs. Dogs are addicted to the Trade Machine, have their team's RealGM forum bookmarked and overestimate their team's win total by double-digits every year. They are optimists. The Dogs just happy to be alive, knowing tomorrow will be awesome.

Then we have our Cats: gloomy, moody, brooding and subject to a reality in which the sun doesn't rise most days. They think they are so much smarter than everyone else just because they are cynical, which translate in their minds as "realistic." Think of Blazers fans, Kings fans, Clippers fans and, most of all, Knicks fans. They are nihilists. Cats support tanking. Why try to be good so long as the Heat are around, anyways? Always fearing the worst, always waiting for clouds to mask the sun when things are good, always begging vengeance on those happy-go-lucky Dogs and their annoying happiness. Ninety percent of sports Twitter trolls (myself included) are Cats. Lacking hope in our own teams, we live for the moments during which we can rub failure in the faces of Dogs.

Over the next year or two, we're going to find out how many Cat Fans root for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

It's a young franchise -- no Thunder fans preceded the relocation from Seattle. The Sonics died in 2008 when the Thunder were born, so Oklahoma City as a pro sports fan base is still a toddler. We're still finding out what kinds of fans Oklahomans will be. This is the test that will shape generations to come.

And that test is how Thunder fans will deal with the anxiety surrounding Kevin Durant's future.

Durant can become a free agent in 2016. That's when his second contract is up. Stars don't leave the teams that drafted them until the end of their second contracts, usually. Some make it clear they will bail (Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony), so they end up getting traded a year early. Others demur and leave anyway (LeBron, Chris Bosh). Minnesotans are dealing with this right now with Kevin Love. (And yes, obviously Minnesotans are Cats.)

But the Timberwolves have been bad for the entirety of Love's tenure, and he hasn't made it a secret that he'll be looking for greener pastures. There's legitimate reason to worry in Minnesota: even if the fans were Dogs, they'd have their heads cocked to the side and would warily consider any bones tossed their way. The Cats in Minnesota are cynical and/or realistic, so they are looking at which draft prospects will be available at No. 3 or No. 5 or No. 6, and what players the Celtics, Lakers, Kings, Cavaliers and whoever else might send their way. They have conceded the loss of Love and are looking to see what young men will disappoint them seven years down the line.

Durant is trickier to suss out. He's been to the Finals. He's won an MVP. He has a wonderful supporting cast. He's one of the winningest players of his generation. He likes OKC, by all accounts. He's humble and thoughtful.

But he hasn't won a title. By all indications, that is what motivates him, what drives him. After Saturday's defeat to the Spurs, his seventh season has gone up in smoke.

We're still finding out what kinds of fans Oklahomans will be. This is the test that will shape generations to come.

The Durant we (think we) know will say all of the right things this summer. He'll talk about his love for Oklahoma City, his desire to win championships. He'll support Scott Brooks if he remains the coach. He'll support Sam Presti's decision if Scott Brooks doesn't remain the coach. He'll share his love for Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, especially if the Thunder waive Perk under amnesty rules (because come on already). That much is certain: Durant will handle this beautifully.

Thunder fans are the mystery. Their team is 294-182 (.617) all time, but they have one Finals and no championships to show for it. Some pretty unfortunate injuries -- Westbrook in 2013, Ibaka in 2014 -- have struck them at the worst possible times. How do they react to the specter of Durant leaving in 2016? How do fans treat the chance that their superstar could bail out for the prime of his career, following the path of LeBron?

Will they be Dogs, believing he'll retire with the Thunder? Or will they be Cats, believing the worst will happen? Perhaps the youth of the fan base means that whatever does happen with Durant will define the type of fans Oklahomans will be for the ensuing generations. What creates Cats and Dogs, after all, if not incredible success and/or heart-rending failure?


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