ESPN is reporting that Kevin Durant, who may well be the most valuable player in the NBA given his age and ability, is thinking about taking a pay cut this offseason in order to allow the Warriors to keep their core together for the next few seasons.
By taking approximately $4 million less than his max next year and waiting to get his long-term extension for at least another season, Durant would allow the Warriors a chance to use their Bird rights to re-sign their own free agents (mostly notably Iguodala and Livingston) to deals far more comparable to what they’d likely see on the open market.
This is a perfectly reasonable thing for Durant to do. Keeping a historically great team together in order to compete for multiple championships is probably worth a pay cut from his perspective—even cynically, winning a title or three is worth more to him than $4 million a year that has no functional utility to an already-wealthy man, because of how much it would enhance his brand—but it’s important to remember that Durant, like every other NBA superstar, is already taking a massive pay cut every year because of the NBA salary cap.
In a world without a salary cap, the Warriors would end up paying Durant whatever salary the open market demanded, or decide that he isn’t actually worth that much money and risk losing him to another high-spending team, in which case he might still choose to take a pay cut to stay with Golden State. The key difference between either of those hypothetical scenarios and the one he currently finds himself in is that both would leave him considerably richer than he is right now.
We beat this drum all the time, but the NBA’s salary-cap rules, which ostensibly exist to increase league parity, actually exist to take money out of the pockets of great players like Durant and put most of it into the owners’ pockets. Durant taking a pay cut in an uncapped league might amount to him making 75 percent of his actual value; Durant getting a max contract in a capped league amounts to him making around 45 percent of his actual value.
The NBA is a league that offers its greatest players this choice: Be criminally underpaid while playing for a bad-to-good team, or be slightly more criminally underpaid while playing for a great team. It’s not Durant’s job to change this, and so there’s nothing wrong with him deciding to take this particular pay cut. The problem lies with the NBPA, which should have never negotiated a CBA that put him in this position to begin with.