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Occasionally asked questions about the Thunder’s salary cap situation

Occasionally asked questions about the Thunder’s salary cap situation
AP Photo

AP Photo

Kevin Durant’s free agency has been written about and talked about and videoed about ad nauseam for the past year (including a recent piece in the Oklahoma Gazette by some weirdo). If there’s anything you feel like you’re missing, just google “Kevin Durant Free Agency” and read away. You’ll find all the info on Durant’s various options this summer.

Some lingering questions remain and some really creative people have ideas. Here are a few paraphrased concepts that I’ve come across recently:

“Can the Thunder use cap space to sign a free agent and THEN re-sign Durant?”

No. At least, not realistically. Though Durant will no longer be under contract with the Thunder after July 1, he will have a “cap hold” of almost $25.9M. That alone will more than absorb any theoretical cap room the Thunder might have.

(In the interest of being thorough, Dion Waiters will have a cap hold of $12.8M and Randy Foye’s hold will be just under $6M)

In essence, here’s the formula: if Durant stays: no cap room. If Durant leaves: some cap room, which the Thunder can increase by also letting go of Waiters and Foye.

“Wait, I’ve seen other teams do this!”

True. In the past, the trick has worked when a team has a free agent with a low cap hold, as the Spurs did last summer. Kawhi Leonard had a relatively low cap hold of $7.5 million because he was a former 15th overall pick coming off his rookie scale contract. The Spurs left that hold in place in order to have enough room to sign LaMarcus Aldridge. Then they were able to exceed the salary cap and re-sign Leonard to his 5-year, $90 million deal.

“OK, so how does a team get rid of that cap hold?”

The cap hold goes away when the player signs a new contract (either with his former team or a new one) or if the team renounces the player’s rights. If the player re-signs with his former team, his new salary becomes the cap hit. If a player’s rights are renounced, the cap hold goes away but the team can no longer use the player’s “Bird Rights” to exceed the salary cap to re-sign him.

“Can’t Durant just sign for less, like the minimum, so the Thunder can sign other free agents?”

In theory… sure! Also, in theory, if I jump high enough I can reach up and leave a palm print on the moon.

There are certainly ways the Thunder and Durant could open up cap space. We could pore over dozens of scenarios that might work but just aren’t realistic. It’s more realistic to think in terms of sign-and-trade scenarios than salary dumping trades to create cap space (and I’m not sure how realistic THAT is, either).

“Why wouldn’t Durant take less? The Spurs stars did!”

I hear about these Spurs players that supposedly acted pro bono publico over the years. It’s a yarn that lacks a ton of context.

Tim Duncan has been in the league so long that people forget he made maximum contract money from 2000 – 2010. In 2000 he re-signed with the Spurs for three years with a player option for a fourth season at the then-max salary. He opted out in 2003, after the Spurs won their second title, and signed a new 7-year max salary deal. Duncan didn’t start taking discounts until he was 33 years old and had three NBA championships on his résumé.

Manu Ginobili has been in the league so long that people forget he earned over $90 million from 2004 – 2013. He earned $14.1M in 2012-13 when he was 35 years old. He’s taken less money only in the last three years.

Tony Parker’s contract has gone up every season of his career. He never made max money, but he did just get a 3 year, $43 million extension in 2014 that could be seen as way to pay him back for the years that the Spurs got a bit of a discount on him.

That’s not to say Durant wouldn’t work with the Thunder front office and negotiate a deal that would help keep the core together long-term. But Durant is a 27-year-old NBA superstar. If he wants to collect every dime he’s eligible to receive, he’s kind of worth it.

“OK, fine. LeBron and Wade and Bosh took less to team up in Miami!”

Debatable. The HEAT used Florida’s lack of state income tax to its advantage. Yes, the Big 3 took less than maximum money to team up. But the difference in net income after taxes was likely not that significant. And no, I don’t know how to do your taxes.

“Oklahoma should eliminate income tax so we can compete with the Florida and Texas NBA teams!”

Actually, I haven’t heard that one yet. I’m a little surprised it hasn’t come up though, even though the state is $9.6 bajillion dollars in the hole.

“If Durant insists on the Max he’s greedy and doesn’t prioritize winning!”

These two things are not mutually exclusive.

“If I had the money Durant had I’d…”

Stop it. I know that peons like us that make less than 6 figures could take $1 million, invest it properly and probably live off the interest for the rest of our lives. But Durant is one of the faces of an industry that will rake in over $6 billion in 2017 and possibly more than $8 billion in 2021. Go get paid, big fella.

The NBA is an entertainment product with organized labor. Think of it like the movie industry. Tom Cruise gets over $20 million per film because his movies generally make tons of money. He reportedly earned $23 million for “Edge of Tomorrow”, which collected over $370 million globally at the box office. Did anyone suggest that Cruise take $12 million so they could get Tom Hardy to play Master Sargent Farell instead of Bill Paxton?

(No, there’s no salary cap system in Hollywood but every project has a budget)

“I just want Durant to come back and I want the Thunder to win everything!”

I get it. Covering this team is a lot more fun with Durant around and they make deep playoff runs. Just don’t be this guy.