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The Best Way to Pay Kevin Durant is With Two One-Year Deals

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A lot has been made of paycuts, but there might be a way around it.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

If you've been paying attention to twitter, you know that Kevin Durant shouldn't even be considering the Clippers.  According to the media, they're a second-rate organization that can't get out of the second round, and they can't even afford to pay him.  By all accounts, they might as well have not even gotten a meeting.

Or, well, not by all accounts.  Only by the accounts of people who weren't in the meeting and have no idea of what the meeting is like.  You know, the accounts of people who either have a national audience who enjoy "lol it's the Clippers" or the accounts of people who are Thunder fans and have quite the resentment for the idea that he was "blown away" by the Clippers' meeting.

The only accounts of today's events that matter even a little bit are from Kevin Durant's camp, and the Clippers' camp.  And even the tales of #wentwell from the Clippers' front office is pretty worthless.  Hearing that Kevin Durant said he was "blown away" by the Clippers' meeting?  Well, I won't read too much into it, but at least Doc Rivers and company didn't botch the meeting so badly that Durant forsook professional courtesy to insult them--something that plenty of national writers with unprofessional and insulting takes didn't seem to care about.

There's been a lot of talk about the money that Durant would have to leave on the table, which is an incredibly valid and overriding point, and exactly why I don't personally think that he will join the Clippers.  However, Durant can't entirely hate the idea of a paycut, because he's meeting with teams like the Clippers, Warriors, and Spurs.  He's already held two of those meetings, and he left without completely eliminating the Clippers and Warriors from contention.  Let's not act as though Kevin and his agent are so stupid as to take mistakenly take free agency meetings with teams that can't give him the maximum salary.  Let's not act as though Kevin and his agent are so stupid as to walk out of free agency meetings without realizing that teams have offered him less than the maximum salary.

Kevin Durant and his agent know exactly what they're doing.  They know exactly how much money is on the table and how much they'd have to give up.  It's Kevin's choice from there, and the fact that he's taking these meetings is about as clear an indication as possible that he's at least willing to talk about giving up money, even if he doesn't end up doing it.

Now, let's talk about how the Clippers can make that paycut as small as possible.

If Kevin Durant re-signs with the Thunder on a one year deal for $26.6 million, and then takes a five-year maximum contract next summer for 206.8 million, he'll maximize his six-year salary at 229.3 million, and it'll look like this:

Year 2016-2017 2017-2018 2018-2019 2019-2020 2020-2021 2021-2022
Salary $26.6 million $35.6 million $38.3 million $41.4 million $44.2 million $47.5 million
Reasoning Max (94M cap) Max (108M cap) 7.5% raise 7.5% raise 7.5% raise 7.5% raise

If Kevin Durant comes to the Clippers on a one-year deal, and then re-signs next summer, they won't be able to give him his maximum salary either year.  If the Clippers trade or release everyone on their roster except for Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, they can offer him just over $23.5 million--barely $3 million under his maximum salary.  It's a paycut, but it's not unreal for a man who will make well over half a billion dollars in the next decade to sacrifice $3 million to land on a team he wants, if he picks the Clippers.

The problem comes next summer, when the Clippers would only have Durant's non-bird rights after one season.  Those non-bird rights come with a possible 120% raise, which would mean a salary of $28.2 million--now $7.4 million less than his maximum salary.  The only way to give him more than that number would be to sign him using cap room, which would be next to impossible, because Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are also free agents, and they'll be able to demand massive raises--Paul from his $22.9 million salary to his new $35.6 million max, and Griffin from his $20.1 million salary to his new max of $30.5 million.  Those two contracts, along with DeAndre Jordan's salary of $22.6 million, total $88.7 million.  Nine roster holds give the Clippers about $5 million that they can't use. The result?  Only $14.3 million in cap room, meaning that Paul and Griffin would need to share $14 million in paycuts before the Clippers could even raise Durant's salary to a dollar over his non-bird rights.  To get him to his max, Paul and Griffin would need to share almost $22 million in paycuts, which translates to sharing a loss of $130 million over their five-year deals.  That's presumably not an option, so Durant would have to re-sign for his $7.4 million paycut.  Here's what it looks like for him to do that:

Year 2016-2017 2017-2018 2018-2019 2019-2020 2020-2021
Salary $23.5 million $28.2 million $29.5 million $30.8 million $32.2 million
Reasoning Cap room Non-Bird Rights 4.5% raise 4.5% raise 4.5% raise

That's a total of $144 million over five years--decidedly less attractive than $229.3 million over six years.

Fortunately for the Clippers, they can get a little creative and do better than that five-year, $144 million offer.  All they have to do is have Durant sign two one-year deals instead of just one.  After two years with the Clippers, he'd have his early bird rights, which gives them the ability to pay him 150% of his previous salary (the 28.2 million).  That number easily exceeds what his maximum salary will be, and let the Clippers max him out, even though they'll only be able to offer him a four-year deal with 4.5% raises instead of the five-year deal and 7.5% raises that come with bird rights.

The issue is determining what exactly Durant's max salary will be in the summer of 2018.  The cap is projected to dip from 108 million in the summer of 2017 to 100 million in the summer of 2018, but I'm not sure that it'll happen.  The NBA will still be making massive amounts of money from the television deal, and I doubt they'll stop selling tickets and jerseys.  In fact, if the players negotiate a higher BRI split when the collective bargaining agreement is up, the cap could end up far higher than anticipated.  For the purposes of this, I'll assume that the cap stays constant at 108 million in 2018.  Here's what the Clippers can give Durant over the course of six years, with two one-year contracts followed by a four-year contract:

Year 2016-2017 2017-2018 2018-2019 2019-2020 2020-2021 2021-2022
Salary $23.5 million $28.2 million $35.6 million $37.2 million $38.9 million $40.6 million
Reasoning Cap room Non-Bird Rights Early Bird Rights 4.5% raise 4.5% raise 4.5% raise

That totals $204 million over six years--a $25 million pay cut over the course of six seasons for a man who'll make over $200 million either way, has already made over $100 million in the NBA, and has a $300 million endorsement deal with Nike.

A team with max room this summer (but not KD's bird rights) could at most offer him $174.8 million, but over five years.  Is the Clippers' pitch competitive with that, should Durant decide to leave Oklahoma City?  I think so.

Does this mean Kevin Durant leave $25 million on the table to join the Clippers' three stars and a bunch of minimum-salary players?  Probably not.  But this offer at least gets you in a room with him.