Dan Feldman

Oklahoma City Thunder Sign Kevin Durant to a Multi-year Extension
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Kevin Durant arrives at Thunder’s arena for what can’t legally be contract negotiations (video)

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Kevin Durant was reportedly set to meet with the Thunder today, but I figured it’d happen closer to midnight.

That way, Oklahoma City wouldn’t so blatantly skirt NBA rules banning teams from negotiating with free agents until July 1 (even their own free agents).

But Durant has already arrived at the arena, greeted by general manager Sam Presti and assistant general manager Troy Weaver.

Keaton Fox of Fox 25:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Durant is still under contract with the Thunder another day, so he can show up at their arena. Maybe he’s just there to work out (wink, wink). I doubt anyone will investigate whether Oklahoma City is breaking league rules. Glass houses and such.

But maybe my attempting to at least toe the line today and limit discussions, the Thunder convince Durant another meeting is necessary.

I wouldn’t want Pat Riley getting the last word, either.

How many players will get max contracts in free agency? Over-under: 13

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 04:  Jeremy Lin #7 and Chandler Parsons #25 of the Houston Rockets (R)wait in dress clothes near the bench during the game against the Phoenix Suns at Toyota Center on December 4, 2013 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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How many players will sign max contracts this summer?

Here are the 23 players, in order, I think have the best chance:

1. Kevin Durant

2. Andre Drummond

3. Bradley Beal

4. Hassan Whiteside

5. Nicolas Batum

6. Mike Conley

7. Harrison Barnes

8. Al Horford

9. DeMar DeRozan

10. Chandler Parsons

11. LeBron James

12. Evan Fournier

13. Kent Bazemore

14. Allen Crabbe

15. Jeremy Lin

16. Bismack Biyombo

18. Courtney Lee

19. Marvin Williams

20. Ryan Anderson

21. Rajon Rondo

22. Dwight Howard

23. J.R. Smith

Thoughts:

  • How many players will get 2016-17 max salaries (so contract length doesn’t matter)? I’ll set the over/under at 13.
  • Max salaries are determined by years of service with three tiers: 0-6, 7-9, 10+. So, Evan Fournier’s max is lower than Dwyane Wade’s. That makes a big difference.
  • Some players might get max offers and take less for one reason or another. That’s the trickiest part to predict.
  • It’s a good year to be a wing. As teams play smaller, they need more of shooting guards and small forwards — and there’s a shortage of good ones available.
  • Few teams need point guards, but there are even fewer starting-caliber point guards on the market. The top free agents at that position, even below Mike Conley, might come close to naming their price. The decline in talent is steep.
  • It’s harder to command big money as a big, because teams need fewer if just is playing at a time, and it’s a deep free-agent class at center.
  • LeBron can get a max salary if he wants. He might prefer the leverage a one-year deal creates, and that won’t be for the max with the Cavaliers.
  • J.R. Smith shares an agent, Rich Paul, with LeBron. The Cavs have no way to replace Smith with comparable talent if he walks. Good luck navigating that minefield, Cleveland.

Report: Rockets extend qualifying offer to Donatas Motiejunas, not Terrence Jones

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 17:  Julius Randle #30 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts as he loses the ball out of bounds between Terrence Jones #6 and Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets during a 107-87 Rockets win at Staples Center on December 17, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Rockets didn’t extend the contracts of Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones last fall, a wise move to maximize cap flexibility.

Now, Houston will have to deal with those two in free agency, and here’s the first step.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

The Rockets project to have more than $40 million in cap space without Jones’ hold ($5,720,513). This just gives them more flexibility to upgrade.

Motiejunas will be an interesting case. The Pistons voided a midseason trade with Houston when Motiejunas failed a physical, and that will certainly scare teams. But he’s a productive inside-out player when healthy, and he’ll draw suitors.

Jones’ star has fallen quickly due to injuries and underwhelming play. He’s talented and just 24. I’d taker a flyer on him, especially now that he’s an unrestricted free agent.

LeBron James’ contract decision

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Kevin Durant has attracted the most attention in free agency, but an even better player hits the market tomorrow:

LeBron James.

LeBron has spent the last two seasons with the Cavaliers on 1+1 contracts, and he again opted out this year. He has said he plans to return to Cleveland.

But that still leaves a major decision: one-year contract or a two-year contract?

We’ll make two assumptions from here:

1. The Cavs won’t go under the salary cap. As much as he wants a few extra million dollars from Dan Gilbert, LeBron isn’t going to destroy a championship team to get it. Cleveland is so far above the cap, it’d take major moves to get below.

2. LeBron’s next deal will include a player option as insurance in case something goes wrong, but his intent will be to opt out. So, what I call a one-year contract will actually have a player option for the second year, and what I call a two-year contract will actually have a player option for the third year.

The Cavaliers have LeBron’s Early Bird Rights, meaning they can exceed the cap to re-sign him at 175% of his previous salary up to the league-wide max. LeBron earned $22,970,500 last season, so 175% would get him to the max — projected to be a little more than $30 million.

However, there’s a catch. Early-Bird contracts must be for at least two years (not counting option years). So, LeBron couldn’t maintain his maximum leverage while earning a maximum salary.

To give him a one-year contract, Cleveland would have to partially renounce LeBron and sign him through Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights). A Non-Bird contract is limited to 120% of a player’s previous salary. For LeBron, that’d mean $27,564,600 — about $3 million shy of the max he could get by signing into cap space with any team. Then, with Cleveland holding his full Bird Rights next summer, he could re-sign for the max.

So, would LeBron rather have the leverage of a one-year deal or more money up front?

If he signs a two-year deal, he’d project to make about $30 million this year and $33 million next year — $63 million over the next two seasons.

If he signs a one-year deal, he’d make $27,564,600 this year and about $34.5 million next year — $62 million over the next two seasons.

The difference is even more negligible than it appears. His projected max of $34.5 million for 2017-18 is based on the NBA’s latest cap projection ($107 million), and those tend to be conservative. If the cap comes in higher, so would LeBron’s max.

Another consideration: Would LeBron rather sign a long-term deal in 2017 or 2018? He obviously can’t in 2017 if he signs a two-year deal this summer. The salary cap is slated to dip from $107 million in 2017-18 to $105 million in 2018-19, which, at face value, would make 2017 a better time to lock in.

However, the projected cap reduction is based on a clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that adjusts the cap if teams spend too much or too little on players the previous year. The upcoming season could be the final one of the current CBA, as either side can opt out by December 15, 2016.

LeBron, as players union vice president, should have insight into what the CBA will look like in coming years.

So, LeBron’s decision will give us a clue about the league’s future — and inform us how to time rumors about LeBron leaving Cleveland.

Report: Many around NBA believe Adam Silver pressured 76ers into hiring Jerry Colangelo

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 7: Jerry Colangelo (R) is introduced as special advisor to managing general partner and chairman of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers by general manager Sam Hinkie (L) and owner Joshua Harris (M) on December 7, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver reportedly played a significant role in the 76ers hiring Jerry Colangelo — effectively ending Sam Hinkie’s Process — after other owners complained.

Silver said he only made introductions, but many around the league remain unconvinced.

Jordan Brenner of ESPN:

Adam Silver admitted to reaching out to Jerry Colangelo on behalf of the Sixers’ owners in December. But interviews with more than a dozen league sources — including GMs, other executives and agents — suggest that the commissioner’s involvement in that regime change may have been greater than he has let on.

Some sources claim Philly’s ownership group had grown impatient with Hinkie’s lack of a clear timetable to be competitive and had been worn down by constant criticism. Others suggest Silver pressured the 76ers into making a change.

The league has never hidden its distaste for tanking, and sources around the NBA say Silver grew more irritated after the Sixers lost their first 18 games last fall and Okafor was involved in multiple off-court incidents. Ultimately, those sources say, it is likely that a combination of all those factors led to Jerry Colangelo’s hiring. (The NBA declined to comment for this story.)

The 76ers were bad for business — a large-market alienating paying fans through years of tanking. It might have been a sound plan for building a championship contender, but it wasn’t great for revenue.

Silver never hid his distaste for Hinkie’s Process. The commissioner tried to pass lottery reform to curb incentive for tanking, but it didn’t get enough votes. Is it that unreasonable to think Silver might have taken other steps behind the scenes?

There’s a fine line between meddling and protecting the interests of the league you’re charged with running. If 76ers owner Josh Harris wanted to resist Colangelo, Harris probably could’ve.

Instead, it seems everyone in charge was ready to move on. How much does it matter where the push for change originated and how strong it was?