In order for the Warriors to keep their core together, Durant is willing to sign an extension using the NBA’s non-Bird exception, which would pay him $3.5 million less than the 10-year veteran max deal he can command come July, according to a report from ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Chris Hayes.
We should not shed a tear for Durant, who can command a $31,848,120 starting salary — a 20 percent raise from his current salary — while making it possible for the Warriors to retain core free agents Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston at whatever rate another team might offer on the open market.
The most likely scenario for Durant, then, would be to sign two more one-year deals (with second-year options for some additional security) in hopes of being eligible for the five-year $200 million-plus designated player exception in 2019-20, according to Shelburne and Hayes. That would take Durant, who has made clear his intention to remain in Golden State, through his 35th birthday.
It’s a complicated bit of salary cap minutiae, but if Durant declines his $27.7 million player option for 2017-18 this summer — which it now sounds like he certainly will — the Warriors would have to renounce their rights to Iguodala and Livingston in order to create enough cap space to retain Durant at a $35.35 million max salary. Golden State could then only offer Iguodala and Livingston $6 million between them — a significant pay-cut from the almost $17 million they’re making combined in 2016-17.
However, if Durant accepts the non-Bird deal worth $31.85 million in Year 1, the Warriors can use the Larry Bird exception to retain Iguodala and Livingston at whatever cost, salary cap space be damned.
Because they drafted Stephen Curry, the Warriors can still offer the two-time NBA MVP and impending free agent the designated player exception — starting at $35.35 million in 2017-18 and worth roughly $205 million over the next five years — with little to no bearing on the deals Durant, Iguodala and Livingston will sign this summer. (You know, in case you were wondering why Curry, the league’s most underpaid player since 2012, wouldn’t also take less money to keep a potential dynasty together.)
Considering $3.5 million is a drop in the bucket for someone who has already made $132.2 million in his career, it’s easy to dismiss Durant’s reported generosity. Still, we should recognize the absence of ego here, since NBA players have long measured each other by dollars, and Durant will most likely be making less than teammate Stephen Curry next season. Likewise, it’s no small gesture for a player who nearly suffered a career-ending foot injury in 2014 and had this season threatened by a knee sprain.
It was through those injuries, though, that Durant finds himself so unburdened by competition, basketball or otherwise. In a wonderful ESPN Magazine profile by the incomparable Jackie MacMullan, we learned that the series of foot surgeries in 2014 and 2015 as well as the knee scare this past March taught Durant to appreciate life beyond basketball, and for him that means soaking up everything the Bay Area has to offer, from the wine in Sonoma County to the tech industry in Silicon Valley.
“I think it has been liberating for him to be here,” Livingston told MacMullan. “He’s living on his own terms, maybe for the first time ever.”
Funny enough, those terms might also come with better terms for both Livingston and Iguodala.
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