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Making sense of Durant’s dollars

Making sense of Durant’s dollars


Sam Amick of USA Today broke down a couple of options for Kevin Durant’s future and looked at his potential future earnings. You can read that article here. The article kicked off a minor Twitter conversation between Carson Cunningham of KOCO and ESPN’s Zach Lowe, one that I was brought into. Because if there’s anything Zach Lowe needs, it’s this guy’s two cents.

The numbers Amick used in the article are accurate. Well, as accurate as they can be based on current information. I’ll dive into that later. Also, Amick was writing an article, not a thesis. His article had almost 1,300 words and he may have needed two or three times as many to cover every single base. Instead, he narrowed the scope down to a couple of much more digestible paths.

Amick explained that Durant can choose a path to stay in Oklahoma City and earn as much as approximately $227 million over the next six seasons. It would involve Durant signing a one-year deal this summer so he can re-enter free agency in 2017 when he will have 10 years of service in the league and the salary cap is expected to take another trampoline bounce from $92 million to $108 million. Remember, first-year maximum salaries are tied to the salary cap and vary depending on years of service.

Or, Amick writes, Durant could leave Oklahoma City and take a 4-year deal with another team this summer and collect around $110 million. That would require him to skip the fun of 2017. Likewise, Durant could still sign a one-year deal – be it in Oklahoma City or elsewhere – and then choose to sign with a non-Thunder franchise in 2017 and pocket around $150 million over the following 4 years.

So Path A could net $227 million over 6 years. Path B could net over $175 million over 5 years. Case closed, right?

Not exactly. This is where diving into salary cap minutia gets fun and maddening at the same time. And given the time and space to elaborate, I’m sure Amick would have done so.

Path B only accounts for five seasons. Hopefully Durant’s career will last longer than that. If we want a fair comparison, then tack on another season worth around $42 million onto Path B. That brings the total package to $217 million over 6 years, or only around $10 million less than Path A.

There are other factors to consider as well:

  • If Durant leaves OKC in 2016 and takes a 1-year deal with another team, that team will have only Non-Bird rights on him in 2017. In short, they will have a limited ability to exceed the salary cap to re-sign him. Most likely, said team would need to create ~$35 million in cap room to fully execute this plan.
  • Taking a short-term deal comes with risk, and I’m not referring just to 2016 and 2017. What if something unforeseen impacts Durant and he doesn’t have maximum salary market value when he arrives at the end of Path B? Most, but not all, players like the idea of locking in as many years as possible.
  • Salary Cap projections in 2017 and beyond are crap shoots. There will almost certainly be a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that kicks in before the 2017-18 season. Current projections have the salary cap spiking to $108 million in 2017 and then going DOWN in 2018. It’s possible the owners and players agree to address this and a more sane salary cap figure is introduced in 2017.
  • The rules regarding Bird rights and changing teams as a free agent could be different in 2017. Could give the home team more of an advantage to keep players. Could level the playing field even more for all teams and encourage player movement. For more, let’s turn to DT correspondent Kevin Garnett.
  • Maximum salaries could become extinct in the new agreement, and suddenly Durant’s new contract could start at $50 million (I’m not exaggerating). Imagine the Thunder having to make a Sophie’s Choice between Durant and Westbrook.
  • Durant is one of the most marketable athletes playing professional sports. There are a number of ways Durant could recoup any money theoretically left on the table.
  • All of these numbers are rough estimates and could swing a few million in either direction. Just a disclaimer in case Freezing Cold Takes is lurking.

Make no mistake, money is a huge driver for

professional athletes

human beings. A little security is nice too, if you can get it. These two factors will undoubtedly play into Durant’s decisions in the coming years, but as you can see, the Thunder’s advantage may not be that significant after all.