Understanding Durant’s Complex Financial Conundrum

Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) /

While the Warriors are mercilessly annihilating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals (or disappearing in crucial games), the rest of the NBA is focused on the offseason. After their disappointing loss in the Western Conference the Thunder are in offseason mode as well. Without a First Round Draft Pick, the Thunder’s focus remains on the biggest free agent situation since LeBron’s 2010 Free Agency. With Durant’s free agency comes copious amounts of attention, and much of the attention has focused on four numbers.





For the sake of avoiding boredom, these numbers will take the place of words and symbolize four different stories.

These are those stories.


(Or a Totally Implausible Subplot of Free Agency)

With John Wall playing noticeably better than Reggie Jackson and 40 million dollars in cap space, the Washington Wizards capitalized on Kevin Durant’s hometown favor; signing Durant to a five year max deal worth 110 million. A number oddly similar to LeBron James’s 2010 contract with Miami. DC convinced the injury riddled Bradley Beal to take a discount for the sake of a championship. This allowed the Wizards to sign Durant and left room for the addition of Langston Galloway, a young point guard to help fix a weak bench. Washington won an extremely contested NBA Finals in Durant’s fourth year but was clearly the lesser of the two teams. Washington then experienced the same free agency roller coaster as OKC. DC was eliminated in round one in Durant’s final season and awaited KD’s final decision. When asked if Durant was bothered by the 110 million dollars left on the table in Oklahoma, he responded with clear regret and nostalgia. 

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(Or a Thunder Fan’s Worst Nightmare)

After going 48-34 in the 2016 season, the Boston Celtics awaited the offseason with excitement. Danny Ainge had only one goal in mind; get a super star. With a plethora of draft picks and 53 million dollars of cap space to spend, Ainge made his move. He signed Kevin Durant away from the Oklahoma City Thunder with a two year max deal. After an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, Durant opted out of his final year and extended his contract with Boston. The C’s went on to win several championships while KD took home two more MVP’s. With Isiah Thomas’ team friendly deal, Durant was able to earn 176 million in six years. When asked if Durant was bothered by the 50 million dollars left on the table in Oklahoma, he laughed and pointed out his 300 million dollar Nike deal was an ample substitute.

Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /


(Or a Thunder Fan’s Expectation)

After losing in heartbreaking fashion, Kevin Durant and the Thunder re-upped looking for a second chance to make it back to the finals with the current core. After signing a two year max deal, Durant and Co. finally achieved the illusive NBA Title. Durant opted out of his second year and resigned for five years, taking up 35% of the team cap. With Durant and Westbrook taking up half of the cap the Thunder were forced to trade away Ibaka in a sign and trade. Meanwhile, on draft night the Thunder traded Enes Kanter for a lottery pick, continuing Sam Presti’s goal of constant youth. The Thunder stayed a contender for the following years, but only experienced the joy of one more successful championship run. When asked if Durant made the right decision in the summer of 2017—taking up 35% of the cap—Durant responded with hesitant affirmation.  

Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /


(Or a Thunder Fan’s Summer Christmas Present)

After nearly pulling off the upset of a lifetime, Kevin Durant saw the potential with the 2016 core. He signed a five year max contract worth 150 million. Not only was the thought of another injury on his mind, but the cap flexibility of OKC. He recognized that taking this deal would provide him with max money at a discounted rate for the organization which drafted him. With the new open money, OKC resigned Westbrook and Ibaka the following summer at discounted rates. Winning three titles in five years, the Thunder became a dynasty of length and athleticism. When asked if Durant regretted leaving 77 million the table, he responded with a laugh and a show of his three championship rings. 

Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports /

Now non of these short stories are predictions, just tales to help explain the ramifications of every contract decision which Durant can make. I hope these short fictional anecdotes can help any casual NBA fans understand the financial implications.

Durant has two options this off season, each of which carries to any team. Sign a 1+1 deal, or a two year contract with the option to opt out after year one, and then sign a five year decade veteran’s deal worth 35% of that team’s cap. This 1+1 deal is massively higher—50 million—than his alternative, which is to sign a five year max contract right now. This is largely due to the cap rising from 92 million to 108, as well as the decade veteran’s deal.

While most Thunder fans are aware of these options, very few understand the side effects of each deals. As illustrated in 110, Durant leaves 110 million he could have made if he signs a max contract with any team but the Thunder. By signing a max deal with another team, Durant miss out on doubling his contract worth. To be on a contender would be difficult as well. Boston, Dallas, and Miami are the only candidate with the cap space and roster to make a title run next year, Durant included. Thus this option is the least likely of his four options.

The second least likely option is Durant leaving OKC and completing the 1+1 deal elsewhere. KD would make 50 million less due to Bird rights which OKC owns. This is more likely than the 110 million deal because if Durant leaves OKC he will demand the top dollar at every moment. This option deals with the same issues that will plague Durant anywhere he goes. Adding Durant will result in the subtraction of another player and require sacrifices from all players, something which is very difficult to ask for.

More from Thunderous Intentions

The most likely option is the 1+1 deal, which most Thunder fans and NBA experts assume Durant will take. The reason why? Durant can give you 227 million reasons. 227 million would make Durant the highest paid player in the league and move him up on Forbes’ highest paid athletes list. This option has real flaws though. If Durant occupies 35% of the cap of the Thunder in 2017, how will the Thunder have the space to sign Westbrook, Ibaka, Adams, and Roberson, whom are all free agents in 2017. This is a huge financial conundrum for OKC.

The solution to this problem is the fourth option. Durant can sign the five year max contract with OKC this offseason; thus taking a natural discount without really taking a discount. Durant subsequently takes a 70 million discount which would help save the Thunder’s financial situation. By not taking the 1+1 deal, Durant would allow the Thunder the extra cap space to sign Dion Waiters this summer and Andre Roberson the summer after. That leaves Westbrook, Ibaka, and Adams. These are all three players who take winning seriously and value their personal contract considerably lower than most.

OKC has the luxury of learning from the best in the business when it comes to maintaining a competitive dynasty. Sam Presti, an understudy of San Antonio’s R.C. Buford, understands the importance of players making financial sacrifices. Tim Duncan, Manu, and Tony Parker have all taken discounts to allow the Spurs cap space to sign top free agents and keep young talent in house.

The Thunder must learn from the Spurs, and even the Mavericks; continued success does not come without financial sacrifice. See Kobe Bryant and his record setting final contract for a stellar example of what happens when players seek to pad their pockets rather than sacrifice.

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