Kevin Durant is leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder when his contract expires.
This is what Charles Barkley believes. The TNT analyst exclaimed this opinion prior to Game 6 of Oklahoma City’s first round series versus Memphis. It’s not a belief that Barkley holds sole ownership of. The national superiority complex clashes again with the local inferiority complex. In the eyes of some pundits, Durant is Julia Roberts and Oklahoma City is Lyle Lovett. Other teams lurk like predators, ready to pounce when the time is right and attempt to rip Durant away from the Thunder’s grasp. It’s a nightmare scenario that jolts Thunder fans awake from a dead sleep.
(OK, it jolts me awake from a dead sleep. I shouldn’t speak for the rest of you.)
What if Durant silenced that chatter by signing an extension with the Thunder? Like, this summer?
It’s a possibility. Durant is eligible for an extension this summer. However, it may not be in his best interests to do so.
To recap, Durant signed a 5-year extension with the Thunder that went into effect after the 2010-11 season. Durant’s contract famously does not include the ability to opt out early, therefore he is under contact through June 30, 2016. Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the owners and players, an extended contract can be extended again three years after the original extension was signed. Since it’s been at least three years since his last extension, Durant could ink another extension with Oklahoma City after July 1 of this year.
Someone get Sam Presti some paper, a pen and solid surface, posthaste!
But of course, there is a catch. While Durant could sign an extension this summer, it could only be for up to two additional seasons. Factoring in the NBA’s maximum salaries, such a hypothetical two-year extension could be worth a shade under $45 million. And while that kind of money isn’t exactly a pittance, it’s kind of an underwhelming offer for the league’s reigning MVP, a 25-year old star with at least a decade of play ahead of him. By comparison, Kobe Bryant signed a similar 2-year extension with the Lakers in November. However, that contract will be Bryant’s last in the NBA and is widely viewed as a salary cap-crushing gift to the aging superstar.
As explained by Larry Coon in his Salary Cap FAQ, “Veteran extensions are limited to four seasons, including the seasons remaining on the current contract”. Similarly, if Durant declined an extension this summer he would be eligible for a 3-year extension worth almost $70 million after next season. But if Durant declined all extension offers and became a free agent after the 2015-16 season, he could sign a 5-year contract with the Thunder (as opposed to a 4-year contract with any other team). This is a puzzling quirk in the new CBA: veteran stars like Durant in the prime of their careers have to hit the free agent market in order to get the longest contract and maximize their earnings. Teams aren’t in a good position to proactively lock up their star players unless they are coming off of rookie scale contracts.
In theory, Durant could sign an extension this summer and extend again in another three years, and every three years after that until existence ends. But the current Collective Bargaining Agreement can be terminated after the 2016-17 season. The current rules could change moderately or radically under a new agreement. But the most significant factor is that Durant would likely sell himself quite short by signing an extension. The first year of Durant’s hypothetical extension would be worth “only” $21,670,519. If he waits until his contract expires, he could be eligible for a much higher maximum salary in that same year. That’s because the NBA’s national TV contracts also expire in 2016. Some predict the new deals will increase by at least 50 percent, and perhaps even double in value. The national TV contracts greatly impact Basketball Related Income, which is a key variable in determining the salary cap and maximum salaries.
Durant could also decide to take less than he’s eligible to receive. Given his humble nature and appreciation of his teammates, this would not come as a total shock. But there would be no shame if he did decide to collect every last dollar that he and his fellow NBA players bargained for.
It’s a virtual lock that the two sides will at least discuss the possibility of an extension this summer. But if it doesn’t happen, it’s not necessarily a sign of an exit strategy.
Jon Hamm is a NewsOK contributor, a life-long Oklahoma resident and contributor to www.dailythunder.com.
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