Here is the conventional wisdom around the league on Kevin Durant‘s free agency this summer:
After a deep and impressive playoff run by the Thunder, he will re-sign with the Thunder on a two-year contract with an opt-out after one (a one-plus-one, what LeBron James signed last summer in Cleveland). He’ll do it for two reasons. One, he can make one more serious run at a title in Oklahoma City with Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, and the Thunder core. The second is financial: His base max salary this summer will be around $28 million per year, but because he will have been in the league 10 years and because of another salary cap spike, in 2017 that first-year base salary will be at least $37 million. That’s a lot of cash to leave on the table.
You can see the logic in why Durant does a one-plus-one.
“He is not the kind of guy who wants to fiddle around in free agency and sort of play the system that way,” said one source who has worked with Durant. “That is not his personality. He likes stability and it is kind of a gamble to be taking a short contract and then trying to come back and do it all over again in a year. That’s the other thing. He is not someone who wants to go through this twice, I really don’t think. It’s no sure thing.”
That’s a common theme around the league, the notion that Durant wants to make a decision now, ensure his security and not have to worry about being a free agent again until he is in his 30s. During the Thunder’s end-of-season media session, Durant told reporters he has no interest in a high-profile free agency tour: “That’s not who I am. I’m not that type of person.”
Last summer a number of players — Kevin Love was the most prominent name — took the security of longer deals rather than chasing future money with shorter deals. There’s a risk of injury, and in the case of 2017 there also could be a lockout that will alter the economic landscape for players. For Durant, a five-year deal to stay in Oklahoma City would mean more than $150 million guaranteed.
Durant needs to sit down with Russell Westbrook and have a talk. If they both stay in Oklahoma City, that team will contend for years (even if players such as Ibaka or Dion Waiters are lost through free agency). But does Westbrook, who is a 2017 free agent, want to stay? If he’s leaving, does Durant want to stay? There are no simple answers.
I’d still bet on Durant taking the one-plus-one deal. But it’s far from a sure thing.