Any doubts of the veracity of Kevin Durant’s claims of how much he enjoyed his first season with the Golden State Warriors were officially put to rest Monday, when the superstar forward signed a one-year, $25 million deal, with a player option for a second season to remain with the team.
Yes, that is an exorbitant amount of money for anyone to make for a year’s labor. But consider that Durant, who will turn 29 in September, took several million dollars less than he could have to remain with the Warriors, ensuring the team would be able to retain key role players Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, both of whom signed in the opening 24 hours of free agency. That is how much Durant appreciates what he has in Golden State.
As one source put it, “He wants to win and have fun more than anything.”
But the move has a secondary effect. By taking less now, Durant sends a loud and clear message to the team’s management: I did my part. Now you better do yours — now, and in the future.
In the short term, Durant’s decision saves the Warriors huge sums of money. While some of the numbers are fungible, with Durant’s $25 million for next season factored in with estimates of $16 million for Iguodala and $8 million for Livingston (the averages of their three-year contracts) and a roster filled out with minimum contracts, Durant saved the Warriors more than $25 million in combined payroll and luxury tax commitments for next season alone with his decision to take roughly $6.8 million less than what he could have while still allowing Golden State to retain Iguodala and Livingston.
It also doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that the difference between what Durant could have made this year under that scenario and what he chose to take is slightly larger than the taxpayer mid-level exception, which starts at $5.1 million. That leaves the Warriors room to add another higher-quality supporting piece than they had expected to otherwise.
It is yet another coup for Golden State, which took full advantage of the massive cap spike a year ago when it added Durant to its core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Iguodala without having to break up a 73-win team — resulting in the Warriors’ second title in three years.
In the long term, though, this is also about the players on this team making sure ownership does what it takes to keep them together. Two years from now, when Thompson hits free agency, the Warriors will be staring at some truly historic luxury tax bills while also moving into the brand new Chase Center in San Francisco.
Making some assumptions about future signings for the Warriors — including Durant signing a four-year maximum contract next summer and emerging rookie Pat McCaw signing a four-year deal for the equivalent of the mid-level exception when his contract expires next summer — giving Thompson a four-year max deal then would send Golden State’s combined payroll and luxury taxes to more than $300 million for that season. That’s well more than $100 million more than any team has cost in a single season in league history — and that’s with Green one year away from signing a max contract of his own.
Now, to be fair, there are plenty of things that can change in a couple of weeks in the NBA — let alone two years. And doing such cap math in future years does require several assumptions about what players will take, something Durant blew up Monday when he chose to sign for less. But in doing so, it will now come up over and over again in the next 12 months, a constant reminder of both Durant’s willingness to take less for the betterment of the group and these Warriors’ desire to keep this run going as long as possible.
The specter of 2019 — what will happen to Thompson and whether he will be sacrificed to save money — still hangs over Golden State. But Durant’s decision, coupled with Thompson and Green taking less on their current deals, now hangs as a counterpoint.
This is a great problem to have, however, one every team in the league would sign up for without hesitation. But as the Warriors continue moving forward with this team, the universal favorite to win a second straight title next season, this dance with their financial future will persist.