The Golden State Warriors are coming off the best regular season in NBA history, and came within three deciding games of capturing back-to-back NBA titles. While the gut-wrenching home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 remains a painful pill to swallow, the Western Conference champs find themselves in pursuit of one of the game's best players.
Marc Stein of ESPN cited league sources that the Warriors are on the short list of teams to land Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant. Golden State has roughly $20 million in cap space with players like Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli among their unrestricted free agents. The Thunder are still considered the favorites to re-sign the former MVP, but the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs, among other teams, are reportedly in the mix.
No matter where Durant lands, the balance of power will make a serious shift. But the prospect of Durant joining such a talent-rich team like the Warriors would send serious shock waves through the league, and the rest of the Western Conference may all just throw in the towel. Golden State, of course, has two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry, sharpshooter Klay Thompson and triple-double workhorse Draymond Green. Add in Durant’s career 27.4 points per game and lethal game-winners, there’s little doubt Golden State could create a new dynasty in the league.
The Warriors were already the highest-scoring team in the NBA with 114.9 points per game and the best three-point shooting squad with a 41.6 success rate last season, but Durant’s polished and smooth offensive game could make them even stronger and a threat to break their own 73-9 regular season record.
Durant has yet to win a title in nine seasons, and the 27-year-old may receive considerable backlash for leaving a competitive team to join a top contender like the Warriors or Spurs. It would be reminiscent of LeBron James deciding to leave the Cavaliers in 2010 for the Miami Heat, to team up with star players like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Former greats like Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley questioned the competitive spirit of the trio for teaming up to win titles.
"There's no way, with hindsight, I would've ever called up Larry, called up Magic and said, 'Hey, look, let's get together and play on one team,' " Jordan said in July 2010. "But ... things are different. I can't say that's a bad thing. It's an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys."
What if... Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors. Here's how it would look.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 22, 2016
There is still a bit of a waiting game for Durant and his suitors. Teams like the Warriors and Spurs, as well as bigger long shots like the Heat, New York Knicks, Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Lakers, won’t know the full amount they can offer the seven-time All-Star until the NBA releases the official calculations for maximum-level contracts around July 1. Once teams learn those details there should be a busy scramble to figure out how to free up the right amount of salary-cap space, and a flurry of trades could ensue.
No matter where Durant decides to play, he’s guaranteed to pull down an exorbitant new contract after the league announced a $24 million increase in each team’s salary cap for the 2016-17 season. He can expect to make between $26 million and $27 million in the first year of his new contract. Should Durant sign a long-term deal he would receive incremental raises throughout the life of the contract. According to Larry Coon, an expert on the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the league uses different calculations for the salary cap and the proper percentages for maximum salaries, otherwise Durant would command $28.2 million, or a hard 30 percent of the projected cap.
But Durant’s already vastly wealthy and far hungrier for championships. Since he entered the league in 2007, he has made $88.5 million in salary alone. And most recently, he was named the No. 5 highest-earning athlete in the world by Forbes, pulling down $56.2 million in the last year with $36 million from top endorsers like Nike, 2K Sports and BBVA.
And the league will experience a major influx of cash when its new television rights deal kicks in next season, to the tune of $24 billion over the next nine years. Thus, the league raised next season’s salary cap to $94 million from $70 million this past season. Prior to the 2017-18 season, the cap could reach even higher to a reported $108 million and a $127 million luxury tax threshold.
How much a player can command of a team’s cap is determined by their experience in the league. Unfortunately for Durant, he’s about to enter the ninth year of his career and will still command only roughly 30 percent of the cap. Players with seven to nine years of experience are eligible for a max-level contract worth 30 percent of the cap, while 10 or more years warrants 35 percent, and those with six or fewer years can account for up to 25 percent.
The extra year has already been a much-talked-about wrinkle in Durant’s decision. Many believe he could sign a two-year deal with an opt-out clause that can be exercised after the first season. The time would allow him to capitalize on the 35 percent cap stake, and lets him better understand the NBA landscape as well as the intentions of free-agent teammate Russell Westbrook, who can leave next summer.
"I think it really is important for [Durant] to take his time, get away from things," Thunder general manager Sam Presti said earlier this month. "Look, Kevin is a highly, highly intelligent person. He's a mature person. He's a rational person, and he's going to work through the decision in a way that will help him do what he feels is best for him. We'll react accordingly once we have that information, and we'll try to be as prepared as possible."
The percentages can also change if the players union decides to opt out of the current CBA in December, a factor that cannot be overlooked by any player whether they are a superstar like Durant or ride the bench.