51Q: Will anything threaten Kevin Durant re-signing with the Warriors?

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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.

A star-studded free-agent class in 2017 has already taken a major dent.

LeBron James signed a multi-year contract. Russell Westbrook renegotiated-and-extended. Giannis Antetokounmpo and C.J. McCollum signed rookie-scale extensions.

But, as much speculation as free agency draws, one likely free agent hasn’t stirred many rumors: Kevin Durant.

The newest Warriors star signed a 1+1 contract this summer, and he’ll likely opt out to become an unrestricted free agent. Of course, Durant has indicated he intends to re-sign. Financial realities of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, not prioritizing an escape hatch, dictated his contract structure.

But now he has that escape hatch to leave Golden State next summer.

Any chance he’d use it?

The EXTREME likelihood is no. Any chance, though? There are a few ways this could go south:

  • Durant admitted he moped around his Hamptons house after picking the Warriors, seemingly wanting to avoid resentment for his decision. Well, backlash still came – with force. Durant was just booed every time he touched the ball in Vancouver. Vancouver! Some of that will dissipate, but maybe not a lot. Will Durant want to continue being the villain if that’s his image all year?
  • Everyone has said the right things about sharing the ball, but practical realities can interfere. Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green might not get as many touches as each would like. What if Durant is the one who sacrifices the most? After all, he’s sliding into the Harrison Barnes role. So, it could be natural for Durant’s new teammates to treat him as the fourth wheel, even if they know they should adjust to the talent upgrade. How will Durant react if he shoots far less this season than he expected?
  • There are massive expectations on the Warriors this season. They’re the overwhelming championship favorite, and last year’s 73 wins set a baseline for regular-season success, even if the team is trying to distance itself from that type of number. With all the attention on the team, any slip will be magnified. A single slump – especially early in the season, when it’s most likely – will induce panic. Fall short in the playoffs, and the season will be deemed a failure. If Golden State doesn’t win a title, how will Durant handle the scrutiny?
  • A revised Collective Bargaining Agreement is the biggest wildcard of all. Under the current system, the Warriors should have plenty of cap space to re-sign Durant to a max deal then use Curry’s Bird Rights to re-sign him. Where the cap exactly lands could determine whether Golden State can also re-sign Andre Iguodala, but Curry and Durant are clearly the priorities. But in a new CBA, anything is possible. Maybe the cap is lower than expected. Maybe Non-Bird Rights, which the Warriors will hold on Durant, give less of an advantage to the incumbent team.  Maybe Curry’s cap hold will be larger than expected. Maybe there will be limits on signing multiple players to max contracts in the same offseason. Maybe… I wouldn’t count on a CBA so punitively punishing the Warriors, but 29 other owners have incentive to break up Golden State and create more parity. If worse comes to worst, Durant could consider opting in. But would he want to take that unforeseen financial hit?

Again, Durant will very likely re-sign with little fanfare.

But that was also the expectation with Dwight Howard in 2012 (at least the part about re-signing). Yes, Howard was traded to the Lakers rather than choosing them in free agency, but he reportedly helped broker the deal by expressing a desire to stay. Instead, he bolted Los Angeles after only one year.

Once more: I don’t expect Durant to follow that path, but this wouldn’t be completely unprecedented.

The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, which might have helped them sign Durant. We’ll never know for certain, but it seems easier to sell a superstar on joining a team that needs help getting over the top than the defending champions. Now, Golden State is better positioned to win multiple titles over the next several years. Call it a light-years-ahead move.

For it to truly work, the Warriors must retain Durant. They recognize the challenge ahead of them, and that should help them meet it.

The odds of Durant leaving are low. But the stakes are so, so high – which makes his happiness in Golden State worth monitoring throughout the year.