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Kevin Durant taking a discount to help the Warriors is another form of player power

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Durant’s decision saved his franchise owners money, but the whole point of free agency is that it provides him the choice to make that call himself.

2017 NBA Finals - Game Five Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Kevin Durant took a sharper discount than expected upon agreeing to a new deal with the Golden State Warriors this week. Reports indicate he’ll sign for two years and $53 million, a good deal less than the $63 million over two years he was expected to take. Even that is a haircut on Durant’s natural max of two years and $72 million, which any team with cap space (which the Warriors do not have) could offer.

The implications of Durant’s decision have been warred over since the news broke. This is actually refreshing for someone who has been writing and talking about player agency, the nature of financial sacrifice, and the true meaning of loyalty in sports for more than a decade. The dominant voice in these discussions used to be those lamenting when players didn’t make a financial sacrifice to help a team be built around them.

Now the status quo has flipped. Durant actually received some blowback from those upset he saved franchise owner Joe Lacob some dough. The Warriors had the structural ability to pay Durant fully while retaining Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala — it just would have cost Lacob a boatload more money. That Durant took a haircut saved the Warriors an estimated $25 million in salary and luxury tax.

Those who lament Durant’s discount ask simply, “Why?” Why cut a break to Silicon Valley tycoons raking in gobs of cash off your brilliant work?

This strikes me as an overcorrection

What Durant did is ensure that two complementary players — Iguodala and Livingston — could be retained. Durant’s primary interest in joining the Warriors while leaving money on the table a year ago was to win championships while playing a beautiful style of basketball. This discount decision furthers that aim.

Taking the full amount he could have received would not have structurally prevented the Warriors from keeping Livingston and Iguodala at their price points. But financially, that could have been too much for Lacob to bear. So Durant — perhaps with some prodding from the Warriors — took the haircut to ensure the core of the team stayed together and potentially enable it to somehow improve.

This is player agency every bit as much as Durant leaving Oklahoma City is player agency. This is power. This is what pioneers like Oscar Robertson fought for: a player’s right to choose his team and negotiate a salary both team and player feel is appropriate.

That Durant left money on the table does not damage the rights players have won over decades. It is simply another choice.

Some have expressed concern that Durant’s decision will set a precedent for other stars to do the same in a quest to compete for titles. However, this does not do that: Superstars have been taking less than market value to boost the team’s fortunes for years.

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili did this throughout their title-filled run of excellence in San Antonio. Dirk Nowitzki did this before winning a championship in Dallas. LeBron James took less than the max in Miami, where he won two crowns. This is almost as normal as superstars in their primes signing for as much money as possible.

No other superstar should feel any pressure to do what Durant has done: not by fans, not by their teams’ owners, not by teammates. It’s a personal choice. It’s a priority check. And it’s perfectly legitimate to prioritize ensuring you’re making every dollar possible during your brief NBA career.

In this realm, the right choice is the choice that makes you happiest. Durant has no responsibility to anyone but himself. If he chooses to take less to maintain the status quo for the Warriors without pushing Lacob into perhaps untenable financial penalties, so be it. If he chooses to take every dollar possible even at the potential cost of tough decisions by management on the rest of the roster, so be it. It’s his choice.

As with all things in sports, you can love it or hate it. But you can’t take it away. Praise be to the Big O for that.