That, ironically, could get very expensive for the Warriors.
Golden State would need to clear cap space to pay Durant his max – the system working as intended to limit spending. But if Durant takes less than his max, the Warriors could operate as an over-the-cap team, sign players like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston with Bird Exceptions and spend into the stratosphere.
Just how high could Golden State’s payroll get next season? Let’s make a few assumptions:
- The luxury-tax line is the projected $121 million
- Durant opts out and re-signs for the Non-Bird Exception ($31,848,120 starting salary)
- Stephen Curry re-signs on a designated-veteran-player contract (more than $35 million projected starting salary)
- Iguodala re-signs for a starting salary of $18 million
- Livingston re-signs for a starting salary of $9 million
- Zaza Pachulia re-signs for the full Non-Bird Exception ($3,477,600 starting salary)
- Ian Clark re-signs for the full Early Bird Exception (about $6.5 million projected starting salary)
- David West re-signs for the full Non-Bird Exception ($2,794,382 starting salary)
- JaVale McGee re-signs for the full Non-Bird Exception ($2,540,346 starting salary)
- Golden State keeps its players already under contract (Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney, Damian Jones and Patrick McCaw)
- The Warriors use the full taxpayer mid-level exception ($5,192,000 starting salary)
- Golden State rounds out its roster with a minimum-salary player
That’d give the Warriors a payroll of about $155 million and a luxury-tax bill about $106 million – a total of about $261 million.
For perspective, the Cavaliers are in line to spend about $151 million this season, about $127 million on salaries and about $25 million in luxury tax (rounding explains the seemingly incorrect math).
Now, this is obviously a rough projection, and the Warriors won’t be forced to spend so much. Maybe Golden State re-signs Iguodala or Livingston for less or lets one walk. I doubt the Warriors use the full taxpayer mid-level exception, especially if they keep both Iguodala and Livingston. Golden State might also view Clark as more of a luxury than it could afford. Pachulia and McGee could seek more elsewhere and be replaced by minimum-salary players.
But if Durant is taking a discount, it’s not to save Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber money. It’s to help his team win. Durant shouldn’t take less unless the owners commit not to scrimp around the edges – and that could lead to a monstrous payroll.