I firmly believe this: Kevin Durant doesn’t know right now what Kevin Durant is going to do in 2016 when his current contract with the Thunder is up.
This is the other thing we know about 2016: with the increased salary cap due to the new TV deal money coming in, Durant will have even more options than expected — teams that might have had space for just him can now add a second max player at the same time, should he want to team up. Durant is going to downplay all of this and no doubt he would like to win a ring with the Thunder the next two years (which would make him leaving less likely) but right now he’s just letting the situation play out and come July 2016 he can deal with it.
That doesn’t mean the rumors have stopped. Zach Lowe at Grantland caught us up on the latest buzz around the league as part of a “you really shouldn’t count out the Thunder” piece he put up (as always his stuff is a great read).
That intel (on Durant’s leanings) is all over the place, by the way. Some teams are optimistic it will be open season, and others have heard rumblings that Durant has already made it known it will come down to the Thunder and Wizards. Nobody really knows.
There is also the wild-card possibility that Durant signs a one-year deal so he can enter free agency again in the summer of 2017 — when he’ll have 10 years of experience, and thus be eligible for a larger max contract.
The Thunder and Wizards are the likely frontrunners, but again Durant doesn’t even know what he’ll be thinking and want to do 21 months from now.
That second idea is very interesting, however.
A player with less than 10 years in the league can command up to 30 percent of the salary cap, once he gets past 10 years the max is 35 percent. To put that in numbers, if the league smooths in that television money as expected and the cap in 2016 is in the $80 million ballpark as projected, Durant could command $24 million his first season with raises after that. However, if he inks a one-year deal (likely in OKC) in the summer of 2017 with the cap likely at least at $85 million he could get a salary that starts at $29.8 million (and again, that is a very conservative estimate on the cap). Plus he would still have his options open to go anywhere.
Of course, there are risks there with the one-year deal. Injury, obviously, is the biggie but also remember we likely will see a lockout in the summer of 2017 and that puts all kinds of variables in play when trying to plan long term.
All of this is just speculation. But the only thing for sure is that the rumors and speculation are not going to stop around Durant until 2016.