We’ve known for months that if all went well with Golden State’s title bid, Kevin Durant would be coming back for the 2017-18 season at a relative discount. That was the cost of keeping a great team together; because Durant had only been on the Warriors for a single season (and thus didn’t have his Bird rights), any push for a long-term, big-money deal would have required that the Warriors actually clear enough room under the cap to make that contract fit. Andre Iguodala would be gone. Shaun Livingston would be gone. Had Durant demanded the max, Stephen Curry wouldn’t be able to sign his own five-year, $201 million deal else one of Draymond Green or Klay Thompson would be gone. The only way for the Warriors to remain the Warriors was for Durant to take less than he could.
Specifically, Durant had to accept a deal starting within 120% of his previous season’s salary ($26.5 million) to qualify for a non-Bird cap exception. Not only did Durant do that (sacrificing millions in the process), but he forewent another $7 million or so in agreeing to a two-year, $53 million deal. Durant will make $26 million this season – half a million less than he made last year and $1.7 million less than the player option he declined. And according to Sam Amick of USA Today, Durant was prepared to leave even more money on the table in the event that Iguodala signed elsewhere and the Warriors had to replace him.
The millions Durant gave up will multiply several times over in luxury tax savings. It was ultimately the responsibility of Joe Lacob and Peter Guber to pay up to keep a once-in-a-generation team together. Durant, for his own reasons, simply made their decisions easier. It may have been Durant’s concessions that allowed the Warriors to bump up their offer to Iguodala. It could have been the millions he left on the table and the tens of millions more it saved that prevented the Warriors from even having to consider choosing between Iguodala and Livingston. It also just flat-out saves the billionaire owners of the Warriors millions more, though those savings do apply a certain political pressure. Durant taking so much less than he could is unselfish. It also amplifies the pressure on ownership to pay the hefty tax bills necessary to keep the Warriors together. The millions that Durant gave up are a sort of equity.
This decision also speaks to how quickly Durant has integrated himself into Golden State’s cultural fabric. Stephen Curry, who turned out to be grossly underpaid on his last contract, needed to be made whole. Iguodala and Livingston – utterly essential Warriors – deserved to get theirs. Durant made a choice to not get in the way of that. The root of these choices go back to last summer when Durant first became a Warrior. He knew what he was getting into financially, not to mention the practical realities of keeping such a loaded roster together. Still it was a choice; while most of the basketball world used Durant’s joining with the Warriors as a character study, he had already all but agreed to make financial sacrifices in year two. One of the NBA’s true max talents chose this course and in doing so, has made it all but impossible for the rest of the league to keep up with what the Warriors have built.