But if for whatever hypothetical reason Durant wanted to leave, he would have to decline a likely maximum extension next summer, play his fourth season and become a restricted free agent after his fourth season. But since the Thunder could and would match any offer he’d receive from another team, Durant couldn’t even sign an offer sheet if he wanted to leave. Instead he’d have to play for his one-year qualifying offer of $7.9 million, foregoing almost half as much as he could have made in the first year of an extension and the security that comes with a long-term deal. Only after his fifth season would Durant become an unrestricted free agent and be allowed to sign with any team.
Even then, he’d be walking into free agency under a new collective bargaining agreement, which could tilt the chips in favor of the owners rather than the players. For example, instead of being allowed to sign a maximum five-year contract with another team as the current CBA permits, the new rules could lower the maximum length of contracts to four years for teams signing another team’s players. Maximum salaries and annual raise percentages could also take a hit.
So considering the alternatives, and the fact that he enjoys Oklahoma City and the Thunder organization, Durant’s career figures to be headed in the direction of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire, Deron Williams, Yao Ming, Chris Bosh and several other stars who signed extensions with their original teams.
The day may come when Durant really is plotting his exit strategy. But it certainly won’t be after his rookie deal.
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