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Kevin Durant’s willingness to take discounts could be huge for the Warriors

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A look at what Durant’s generosity might mean for the Warriors salary cap situation.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Atlanta Hawks
Kevin Durant deep in thought
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Music to everyone’s ears, free agent-to-be Kevin Durant recently let it slip that he expects to be with the Golden State Warriors long-term. The Athletic’s Anthony Slater also coaxed out the following intriguing snippet.

“The money is not important to me. I’ve made so much over my career. But I do know that I want to be here, I love playing here.”

Admittedly for the haters, that music probably sounds like nails scratching down a chalkboard mixed with white noise, but whatevs. No doubt they were hoping for him to come out with something more akin to maybe the greatest hip-hop track of all time...

For Durant though, he has found his happy place. Last year he backed up his incredible on-court performances with an almost-as-important off-court sacrifice.

Durant’s track record of genorosity

His willingness to take less than the maximum contract he was entirely entitled to, especially after his stellar play in the Finals, opened a path for the Warriors to retain crucial veteran team-mates Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala.

If he had insisted on the maximum, the Warriors would have had to create room under the cap, and that would have meant renouncing Livingston and Iguodala’s Bird rights, making them free agents. The Warriors would not have been able to re-sign them with anything other than the taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (around $5.2 million).

Iguodala, in particular, was approaching his contract negotiations like Eric B & Rakim and that would have made things very difficult.

By going even further than necessary, he saved the Warriors’ owners a chunk of money, which no doubt played into their willingness to use the aforementioned taxpayer MLE to get swagalicious with Nick Young.

At the time everyone thought this was a one off thing to demonstrate some generous leadership and keep the Warriors intact. But Durant’s comments opened the door to some new possibilities.

Ultimately it’s totally Durant’s choice what he decides to do. If he offers a discount on his next contract, fantastic. That’s what happened last summer. But if he wants the full whack, of course you pay him without a second thought.

What a Durant discount could mean for keeping the core together

Overall this year any discount won’t make too much difference as the Warriors will still have a good chunk of the team under contract and limited flexibility.

Where it may get interesting is if Durant takes another one year contract. That would line him up for a five year deal at the end of the 2018-19 season to give him real long term security through ages 30-35.

Crucially, it would line him up as a free agent alongside Klay Thompson (and Jordan Bell) when the front office will need every penny with the repeater tax imminent.

As it stands, currently in the summer of 2019 it’s likely the Warriors will have to trade Iguodala on his final year at $17m (and 36 years of age) and waive Livingston’s mostly non-guaranteed final year in order to keep the bills down.

If Durant took a long term deal in 2019, but discounted from the $35m+ he could get to around $25-30m for the full 5 years, with Thompson signing for a similar amount (a smaller discount as his max would be around $30m), then that would make a pretty big difference to the numbers overall.

It would set the expectation for Draymond Green the following year to help retain the core four. It could maybe even allow the Warriors to hold on to Iguodala if he still has some juice in those legs, and ownership is willing to dip deep into their pockets or use the taxpayer mid-level to add a depth piece such as a center.

Enter the Capulator

Here’s some proper calculations, courtesy of Mark Deeks’ fantastic Capulator (seriously that thing is like catnip for us cap nerds).

The first sheet demonstrates what those crucial years could look like with Durant and Thompson taking that discount. The second is my calculation from earlier in the year with Durant at a full maximum contract.

You can see straight away that the combined salary and tax bills are much closer to the $200 million mark than the $300 million mark. That’s some serious savings for ownership.

So you’re saying there’s a chance?!

It is theoretically possible, though highly unlikely, that the Warriors could get mighty close to actually ducking under the luxury tax line in 19-20. That really matters because it would postpone the dreaded repeater tax for two years until the 21-22 season.

That also happens to be the last year of Curry’s megadeal, so avoiding the luxury tax in 19-20 could turn the Warriors’ much vaunted salary cap hell into a much shorter trip. So perhaps more akin to a vacation where the hotel’s terrible, the food inedible, and it rains all the time. Not fun, but better than spending all eternity in burning flames.

To get there it would need Bob Myers to work some magic to close the final gap and for several things to break their way:

  • Durant and Thompson’s contracts would need to start closer to $25 million than $30 million
  • The tight free agent market in 2018 and 2019 would need to squeeze either McCaw or Bell’s contract values a little more
  • The luxury tax line would need to be at the higher end of reasonable projections
  • The rest of the roster would need to be veteran minimums and second round picks. No Iguodala, Livingston, or taxpayer MLE could be used.

It would not quite fit the Warriors’ M.O. to penny pinch. So far they’ve been all about putting the best possible team together and paying what it takes to do that. And, as discussed recently, what really matters in all this is the value produced on the court.

But if the chips fell the right way, it could be something that would make a significant difference to the financial situation going forwards.

Durant the philanthropist

This is of course just one illustration of what this might mean for the Warriors. Durant is well within his rights to take the money he is due - after all it would still be a tremendous value contract.

And of course, as charitable as this would be to ownership, Durant has some wider philanthropic interests that need funding. He recently gave $10m to a program to help disadvantaged kids get into college.

Now that’s some real California Love.