We knew Kevin Durant was going to return to the Warriors this summer — he made that abundantly clear throughout the regular season and into the offseason.
The only question surrounding Durant was what kind of a deal he would sign.
Well, we now have an answer: Durant is coming back to the Warriors on what is effectively a one-year, $30 million deal, and it’s the closest thing to a win-win possible for both the player and the team.
Durant will sign a two-year deal that’s really a one-year contract plus a one-year player option — the player option is really only there in case of serious injury, and there should be a full expectation that Durant declines that option and is a free agent again next summer.
And, believe it or not, that’s great news for the Warriors. Durant could have agreed to a four-year deal worth roughly $160 million this summer, starting at $35.5 million in 2018-19.
So yes, Durant, took another pay cut — one worth $5.5 million. But this time, it benefits him first and foremost, though: he maintains flexibility heading into a more robust 2019 free agent summer and sets himself up to sign an estimated $220 million deal over five years with Golden State should he opt to stay.
There’s no guarantee that Durant will sign that full-Bird-rights-empowered five-year deal — or that the Warriors will offer it — but it seems most likely that Durant will be a Warrior for the next six years, making a cool quarter of a billion dollars during that stretch.
That’s good work if you can get it. (I should have been a world-class basketball player…)
But Durant’s one-year pay cut benefits the Warriors as well, though, because it could save them as much as $30 million in luxury tax payments in 2018-19. Durant’s lesser deal (for now) makes it easier for Golden State to use their mid-level exception (worth $5.3 million), though there’s no guarantee they do.
Going forward, the Warriors are going to be deep in salary cap and luxury tax hell — there’s nothing Durant can reasonably do to save them from that — but for the second-straight year he’s taken less than his true max and it should help the Warriors put a better team on the court.
I guess we should be happy for the Thunder?
Not too long ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded away James Harden over a luxury tax bill of $15 million, breaking up a core of Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the 2018 NBA MVP.
Needless to say, that was a bad decision.
The Thunder didn’t make the same mistake again, agreeing to terms with Paul George on a stunning four-year deal when free agency officially opened.
Credit where it’s due: the Thunder made a bold trade to acquire George with one year remaining on his deal and they clearly did a tremendous job in convincing him to stay around. George re-signing for four years — despite the constant conversations about him going back home to Los Angeles and the Lakers — is perhaps as shocking as the Thunder trading for him in the first place.
It’s a big, bold play, and with George, Westbrook, the underrated (but perhaps overpaid) Steven Adams, and the returns of Andre Roberson from injury and Jeremi Grant on a three-year, $27 million deal, the Thunder have a team that could theoretically reach the Western Conference Finals.
The Thunder are also looking at a luxury tax bill of as much as $150 million.
That said, stretching and waiving Carmelo Anthony (notice how he wasn’t mentioned earlier) will save the Thunder a good chunk of change. NBA cap maestro Nate Duncan estimates stretching Melo could save the Thunder as much as $110 million.
So with PG and Grant back, the Thunder would be looking at a salary plus repeater tax bill of $289.9 mm, w/out filling out roster. Stretch Melo, and that drops to $180.3 mm. So they could save over $100 mm by stretching a player who hurt them in the playoffs last year.
— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) July 1, 2018
If the number is anywhere near that estimate, Melo is gone. He’s no Harden.
At the same time, regardless of if Melo stays or goes, the Thunder are going to be paying through the ears to effectively keep together a team that was beaten by the Utah Jazz in six games in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
Yes, it’s great that they made a splash move last summer and that it paid off this summer. After trading Harden and losing Durant, there was no doubt some serious catharsis in someone agreeing to stick with Westbrook for the long-term.
And I like a lot of what the Thunder have going on, but, let’s be honest — there should only be only one goal in this league: beat the Warriors.
Are the Thunder a team the Warriors need to lose sleep over?
They’re good — don’t get me wrong — but the Thunder didn’t get any better in the last 24 hours, they just avoided getting a whole lot worse.
The Rockets took a step back
Chris Paul orchestrated a big, bold move of his own last summer — opting into the final year of his contract with the Clippers and then forcing a trade to Houston.
That deal was made so that the Rockets would inherit Paul’s Bird rights, allowing him to sign the four-year, $160 million deal he and the team agreed to as free agency officially began at midnight eastern Sunday (9 Pacific Saturday).
Paul is an all-time great, but he’s also 33 years old with a reputation for getting injured ahead of big moments. Now he’s going to make an average of $40 million for what should be declining years.
Oh, and at the same time the news of Paul’s massive contract was coming to the forefront, the Rockets lost Trevor Ariza to Phoenix, who signed the 3-and-D wing to a one-year, $15 million deal.
So, to sum the night up: A team that felt like it was on the precipice of winning a title just handcuffed themselves to Paul while letting a player critical to their successes last year walk.
Yes, this was a team that took the Warriors to Game 7 — at their place — in last year’s Western Conference Finals, a team that believes it was a historic 0-for-27 stretch from beyond the arc away from playing for a championship, but, like the Thunder, did Houston take a step forward by bringing their Paul back?
The reality, of course, beats the alternative, but one could argue that instead of treading water, the Rockets took a step backward by losing Ariza, and there’s no obvious way to replace his impact going into next season.
Understanding fully that the Rockets did not have true, usable cap space this summer, I still wonder why there wasn’t a stronger push for Paul to take less money or fewer years. I can’t help but think that it would have kept Ariza around — the Rockets had his Bird rights and likely balked at $15 million a year because of luxury tax concerns — and likely would have given the Rockets more roster flexibility in the future.
Durant has taken discounts, including one this weekend, to help win titles — as such, he has two championships, two NBA Finals MVP awards, and a place on basketball’s Mt. Olympus. LeBron took a discount when he went to Miami — sure enough, he won his first two titles and claimed two NBA Finals MVP awards for his trouble.
Paul wanted every penny he could get, though — perhaps because of his status in the player’s union — and while only time will tell, I can’t help but think that decision made his team worse in the short and long term.
The Big 25
Let’s take a look at my list of 25 Warriors free agent targets and see who is still on the board for Golden State:
Jamal Crawford: While the Warriors are more likely to use their MLE now, Crawford still needs to only be considered a minimum contract option.
Rudy Gay: Reportedly agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal with the Spurs, because why not?
Tyreke Evans: Lots of momentum here. Did you know Warriors general manager Bob Myers used to be his agent?
Trevor Ariza: Reportedly agreed to a one-year, $15 million deal with the Suns.
Avery Bradley: As money dries up, more signs point to AB.
Seth Curry: He can shoot and can probably be had on a minimum contract. Defense? We’ll worry about that later. Curry family reunion!
JJ Redick: Hard to see him not getting big money from the Sixers, who look poised to strike out with the big names this summer.
Brook Lopez: Still around. Still capable of shooting 3-pointers.
Wayne Ellington: Momentum around him returning to Miami, but the Heat have a tricky cap situation.
Ed Davis: Reportedly agreed to a one-year, $4 million deal with the Nets. (A real head-scratcher.) Joe Harris: Reportedly signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Nets.
Dwight Howard: Is reportedly interested in signing with the Warriors, who are reportedly wary of him because they have cell phones and read the news.
Will Barton: Was always likely to be out of the Warriors price range — sure enough, he agreed to a four-year, $54 million deal with the Nuggets Marco Belinelli: Reportedly agreed to a two-year, $12 million deal with the Spurs.
Luc Mbah a Moute: Well, the Rockets have to re-sign him now, right?
Ian Clark: Still extremely available.
Michael Beasley: Somehow even more available.
Kyle O’Quinn: The flirting between him and the Warriors is getting gross now. Get a contract already!
Greg Monroe: Super-duper available.
Aron Baynes: Reportedly agreed to a two-year, $11 million deal with the Celtics.
Mario Hezonja: Knicks have reported interest.
Joe Johnson: Preposterously available.
Jerami Grant: Reportedly agreed to a three-year, $27 million deal with the Thunder. Gerald Green: Reportedly agreed to a one-year, veteran-minimum deal with the Rockets.
Jan Vesley: Overseas available (aka, kind of, sort of available).
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