NBA free agency begins today, but the player most coveted by Wizards fans won't hit the market until this time next year. There's a chance he'll be available the summer after that, too.
Washington native Kevin Durant is entering the final season of his contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, making him a free agent in 2016. That's also when the NBA's new TV deal will drive up the salary cap dramatically -- from roughly $67 million in 2015-16 to $90 million in 2016-17.
Under the current CBA, max contracts are set at a fixed percentage of the salary cap in the year the deal was signed. So if Durant agreed to a multi-year max contract next summer, his base salary would be 30 percent of the 2016-17 cap (~$90 million) in the first season and eligible for incremental raises in each subsequent season of the deal.
This is where OKC seems to have the advantage: They hold Durant's Bird Rights, so they're able to offer him a max base salary with a 7.5 percent annual increase for up to five years. Other teams can only offer a max with a 4.5 percent annual increase for up to four years.
But what if a five-year max contract with the Thunder in 2016 wasn't actually Durant's most lucrative option?
Grantland's Zach Lowe laid out a compelling case against it.
Max percentage [of the salary cap] increases from 30 percent to 35 percent once a player logs 10 years in the league ... Those little [CBA] quirks rewarding veteran players were never supposed to mean this much.
We’re a year early, but it’s possible no player in league history will have ever had as much incentive to sign a one-year deal as Kevin Durant next summer. Durant is three years younger than [LeMarcus] Aldridge, and as he hits free agency, he’ll have completed nine seasons — one short of the magic number required to snag that juicy 35 percent max. Durant could sign a one-year deal, re-enter free agency when the cap leaps to $108 million in the summer of 2017, and ink a mega-max at that 35 percent level. Durant would rake in about $40 million more going that route than by signing a long-term contract deal next summer.
Short-term deals carry risk, of course, and Durant has undergone three separate foot surgeries in the last eight months.
Very interesting stuff, folks. Especially for the Wizards.
Durant could re-sign with Oklahoma City in 2016 for one season or check out a new situation for one season. Either way he would become a free agent again in 2017, when he's eligible to make 35 percent of the $108 million cap.
Say the former MVP wanted to come home, but was hesitant about the demands and expectations of old acquaintances. He'd have a full season in Washington to consider making a long term commitment.
Even if he's set on staying put, taking a five-year max with the Thunder in 2016 doesn't make as much financial sense as re-upping for one year before inking a multi-year max extension in 2017. This is the same logic behind LeBron James not signing long-term contracts with the Cavaliers.
Perhaps serious health reservations could induce Durant to choose job security over an extra $40 million.
If not, the Wizards could get two chances to lure the former MVP.
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