Kevin Durant is a free agent, if you hadn't heard. And, seeing as he's one of the best basketball players in the world, there are a lot of teams bidding a lot of money for his services. Lots of factors will weigh into Durant's decision--loyalty to the Thunder, the appeal of a ring, the desire to leave a legacy, and the money on the table. There's been a lot of speculation about where he'll land based on all four of those, and although loyalty and legacy are very abstract, winning and money are quantifiable. Now, we can't waste much time dwelling on winning, because we clearly know what the stakes are there--Golden State is the best team he's meeting with, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and Los Angeles all offer him a chance to join an elite team, and Boston and Miami have lesser rosters but in a weaker conference. The hard part is knowing what's important to Durant--does he even want to win an "easy ring" with the Warriors? Is he looking for the best challenger to join? We can't possibly know.
What we can know is the money. Durant may or may not be open to taking paycuts of various amounts, and he may or may not be in search of a one-year deal so that he can get a larger salary next off-season--we don't know what he values. We can figure out how much he stands to make (or leave on the table) with his different options.
Table A: Kevin Durant's potential one-year maximum salary:
Table B: Kevin Durant's potential two-year contract with Oklahoma City (opt out after year one):
|Salary||$26.6 million||$28.595 million|
Table C: Kevin Durant's potential two-year maximum contract with another team (opt out after year one):
|Salary||$26.6 million||$27.797 million|
The difference between tables B and C is bird rights--Oklahoma City has them, and can offer Durant raises of 7.5% annually, while a new team that doesn't have them can only offer raises of 4.5% annually.
Table D: Kevin Durant's pay cut salary to join the Clippers' big 3 as outlined here:
As you can see, his one-year salary with the Clippers would take a hit of about $2.5 million. His dilemma is whether or not that cut (and the long-term cut) is worth playing with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan.
Table E: Kevin Durant's two-year pay cut contract (opt out after year one):
Table F: Kevin Durant's five-year maximum contract with Oklahoma City's bird rights. This offer gives Durant $154.5 million over five seasons.
|Salary||$26.6 million||$28.595 million||$30.74 million||$33.05 million||$35.52 million|
Table G: Kevin Durant's four year maximum contract with another team. This offer gives Durant $113.8 million over four seasons.
|Salary||$26.6 million||$27.797 million||$29.05 million||$30.36 million|
Table H: Kevin Durant's four year pay cut salary with the Clippers. This offer gives Durant $102.95 million over four seasons.
Table I: Kevin Durant's salaries in 6 years with Oklahoma City: a one-year contract this summer followed by a five-year max next summer. This offer gives Durant $244.9 million over six years.
|Salary||$26.6 million||$37.58 million||$40.4 million||$43.43 million||$46.69 million||$50.19 million|
Table J: Kevin Durant's salaries in 5 years with another team: a one-year contract this summer followed by a four year max next summer. This offer gives Durant 187.38 million over five years.
|Salary||$26.6 million||$37.58 million||$39.27 million||$41.04 million||$42.89 million|
Table K: Kevin Durant's salaries in 5 years if he takes a one-year paycut with the Clippers, and signs a four-year contract with them next season. This is the hardest one to figure out, because he'd have to take another paycut next summer, as would Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Figuring out KD's paycut this summer is easy--it's all of the space that the Clippers have to offer. Figuring out his paycut next summer is much more of a guessing game.
The salary cap next summer should be around 114 million, although the projections could increase as we get closer (it's happened each of the last two years). Even if the Clippers follow my blueprint for this summer and get rid of everyone but Chris, Blake, and DeAndre to open up $24 million in room for KD, and they only one-year contracts beyond that to maximize cap room for the summer of 2017, they'll be in an incredible bind. Jordan's $22.6 million is guaranteed, and the Clippers will have the following cap holds for their free agents: 36.4 million for Chris Paul, 32.06 million for Blake Griffin, and 28.88 million for Kevin Durant. They'll also have 4.5 million in roster holds.
Chris Paul's maximum salary is $37.58 million, the same as Kevin Durant's. Blake Griffin's is a lower number, $32.21 million. If we subtract the roster holds, Jordan's contract, and the cap holds for Griffin and Paul from the 114 million dollar salary cap, the Clippers are left with just $18.44 million in space, less than Durant's cap hold. So, they could sign Durant to a $28.88 million dollar starting salary (a bump from what he would make if he signed a multi-year contract with the Clippers) using his cap hold, or they could take big cuts from Chris Paul and Blake Griffin's salaries (combined $19 million in cuts) to give Durant the max. The compromise is somewhere in between, but the salaries have to be decimated--$30 million each for Durant and Paul, and $28 million for Griffin would work, more or less, but then Durant is only getting an extra million at the expense of $7.5 million from Chris Paul and $4.2 million from Blake Griffin. In all likelihood, the best scenario is for Durant to sign a 1+1 deal with the Clippers this summer for his $28.8 million cap hold, then opt out and sign a 2+1 deal next summer with the higher cap. After those two years, he could opt out again and get a full five-year max from the Clippers. Here's what that would look like:
|Salary||$26.6 million||$28.88 million||$30.18 million||$31.54 million||$117.19 million|
Everything involving next summer is completely unpredictable due to the NBA's expiring collective bargaining agreement. The way the salary cap is calculated could change, leading to higher or lower caps. The way maximum salaries are determined could change, leading to higher or lower maxes. The league could alter their free agency rights (meaning teams could have more or less flexibility for their bird free agents as well as their early bird and non-bird free agents). Basically, anything could change, but as it looks now, the Clippers' money situation is pretty bleak, but not because of their inability to reach this year's maximum salary, where they only come about $2.5 million short. They'd be in a tough spot because of their inability to meet Durant's maximum salary if he opts out and goes for the big payday next summer, where the Clippers would be able to offer him $9 million less than max by using his free agent rights, but would need to cut $19 million from Blake Griffin and Chris Paul's new contracts to open up the space for Durant's max.
The Clippers would love to reach an agreement with Durant to team him with their big three when they meet with him Friday, but unless he really doesn't care about money, it'll be a tough sell. It's feasible to think that Durant could prefer being a Clipper to staying in Oklahoma City, but is that worth downsizing his future salaries by over $100 million? Even for a guy who has hundreds of millions rolling in from Nike (which, by the way, is why he won't be going to play second fiddle to UnderArmour's Stephen Curry in Oakland), that's a big pill to swallow. The only alternative (if Durant wants to opt out and cash out next summer) would be for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin agreeing to take similar cuts... which would still be a pretty big shock.