We knew the new CBA made life a little sweeter for the NBA’s superstars, but it’s a dense thing to parse, and explanations have been dribbling out slowly. ESPN’s new Q&A with salary cap expert Larry Coon argues that the most noteworthy development is the owners’ new weapon to keep their superstar players locked in.
Even though the chaos of free agency electrifies fans, owners are obviously a little less keen to see their stars flirt with other options. This CBA offers new incentive to superstars to stay home rather than fleeing during free agency, via what’s informally called the “Kevin Durant Rule,” which allows teams to offer sweeter deals to their franchise players so long as those players meet a set of extremely specific criteria. To reap the benefits of the Durant Rule, a player must have been in the league for eight or nine seasons in the league, and must be re-signing with the team that inked their rookie contract or took on that contract via trade. He must also satisfy one of the following conditions:
- Make an All-NBA team the preceding season or two of the last three seasons
- Win the MVP in the last three years
- Win Defensive Player of the Year in the last three years
Under these rules, the Warriors can pay a player like Stephen Curry $209 million over five years when he becomes a free agent in 2018, $76 million more than the best contract opposing teams could offer, $133 million over four years. And though the cap numbers for next year have yet to solidify, it’s possible that they could start him at $36 million for that first year vs. opposing teams’ $30 million. Every team gets to lure two stars under these terms, so either Draymond Green or Klay Thompson is likely to see a big payday soon. (Durant no longer satisfies these criteria because he just switched to a new team.)
Assuming players aggressively pursue their financial interests, we may see a major shift in the trajectory of superstars’ careers. As Coon puts it:
The life cycle of an NBA superstar will now look like this: After being drafted, he signs a four-year rookie contract. Before that contract ends he signs a four or five-year extension. Before that contract ends he signs a five-year extension. A superstar who wants to maximize his salary may not hit the open market until he’s played 14 seasons in the league.
The other possibility, as Coon suggests, is that budding superstars will jockey harder than ever to get traded while still on their rookie contract, so that they can be eligible for these same veteran benefits on a team they prefer. The CBA has clearly set a certain incentive structure in place, but it remains to be seen how player behavior actually shakes out.
The other main takeaway here is that everything has played out tragically for the Thunder. Had this rule come a year earlier, they could have kept both Durant and Westbrook on the books by offering them both juicier deals than any other team could. Instead, the Warriors were able to lure Durant away with a comparable salary. And even worse, the Thunder just signed Westbrook to a two-year extension; when that’s up in 2018, he’ll have played 10 seasons, not the eight or nine needed to give them an advantage over other suitors per the new rule. Oklahoma City got boned.