Kevin Durant was already working on a below-market-value contract, but on Monday, the reigning Finals MVP and unrestricted free agent signed a new deal that will pay him nearly $9 million less per year than he could have received with a max contract. This was Durant’s best move to ensure the Warriors were just as strong as last year, and it’s another indictment on the league’s salary system.
The details of Durant’s new contract are reportedly as follows: 2 years, $53 million, with a player option after the first year. That deal will give him $25.9 million this year, which is about $600,000 less than he made last season and substantially less than the potential $34 million he could have made for 2017-18 had he sought a max contract.
In a league where the onus of building teams is as much on superstar players as it is on GMs, Durant’s pay cut will be seen as a necessary sacrifice, as the Warriors were beginning to feel the pressure of the NBA’s attempts to enforce parity. If Durant had signed a max deal, his team most likely won’t have been able to keep hold of Andre Iguodala and/or Shaun Livingston, who were also recently re-signed free agents and key role players on this title-winning team. JaVale McGee is drawing interest from other teams as well, and Steph Curry just signed the largest deal in NBA history.
But as we noted over the weekend, the Warriors are still coming out of free agency with fantastic bargains. They have Curry and Durant both at well below their true value, they’re paying Klay Thompson less than the Wizards pay Bradley Beal, and Draymond Green is earning less than Ryan Anderson. The punitive nature of the salary cap will almost certainly start handcuffing the team’s roster moves in the future, but for now at least, everything is breaking perfectly for the Warriors.
It’s bullshit how the league requires its labor force to tighten their belts on sweetheart deals Durant just cut for Golden State in order for players, owners, and fans to get what they all want—the best possible team—but at this point it is a fact of life, and is an environment the players themselves are to an extent complicit in bringing about through their collective bargaining negotiations. It’s insane that Kevin Durant, who over the span of his career will have something like two decades to maximize his earning power, feels compelled to take $9 million less this year so that team owners like Joe Lacob don’t have to dip too far into the billions of dollars they have and will continue growing for the vast majority of their lives.
But at least Lacob is upholding his limited end of the bargain as it does exists, and is set to pay out the nose in luxury tax fees even with the team-friendly contracts many of his employees have taken. Unlike the situation with Durant’s former employers, Lacob appreciates that he has an amazing team of players that want to stay together and appears willing to pay as much as it takes to keep the good times rolling. Still, make no mistake about it: As expensive a team as even these discounted Warriors players amounts to, nobody is making out better here than Lacob himself.