Kevin Durant just might be in the most unprecedented situation in NBA history. He might be the best basketball player in the world, but he also just suffered the most devastating injury in basketball. He’s also a free agent, yet somehow, teams will likely pay him full value even if he misses all of next season. That's what happens when you’re a master at your craft.
Durant’s ruptured Achilles tendon may have thrown a wrench in his (and the league’s) plans, but at the bare minimum, the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, and Golden State Warriors are still expected to offer him a maximum contract extension, ranging anywhere from $164 million to $221 million.
Durant’s free agency is important. He’ll turn 31 before the start of next season, so this is likely the last big long-term contract the Warriors’ star will receive. Last summer, Durant signed a two-year deal to return to the Warriors in hopes of three-peating as NBA champions. His contract included a player option in Year 2, which gave him flexibility to either leave Golden State in free agency, or re-sign at the max and create a Warriors dynasty for years to come.
But no one could have anticipated a ruptured Achilles coming. Now, what are his options?
1. Opt into that final year with Warriors
UPDATE: Durant will not be doing this in the end. He’s elected to opt out, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Durant’s Year 2 in Golden State would have come with a $31.5 million salary. Signing a new max contract — either with the Warriors or a new team — starts with a $38.1 million Year 1 payout.
So exercising his player option would have almost been like giving the Warriors the finger. He suffered a career-altering injury on their dime, so he might as well have used their dime to sit out a season and recover.
On the other hand, the salary cap is projected to rise to from $109 million to $118 million next summer. That means Durant’s max would have increased by eight percent if he had delayed his contract extension to a year from now.
2. Re-sign with Warriors for five years and $221 million
This move keeps the Warriors’ dynasty alive, as well as Durant’s pockets. Yes, Durant has already made life-changing money both on-and-off the court, and his next contract will do nothing more than pad his pockets.
But the Warriors can give Durant a five-year, $221 million deal on account of this being Durant’s 10th year of service. (For reference, that’s exactly how much the Hornets can offer in a supermax deal for Kemba Walker.) Other teams can only offer Durant four years and $164 million. That’s precisely $77 million Durant would leave on the table if he chose to join a new team.
2a. Re-sign for the max with the Warriors, then facilitate a trade
Under collective bargaining agreement rules, the Warriors must wait until Jan. 15, 2020, before Durant is eligible for a trade. But Durant technically could re-sign with the Warriors for his five-year max, with a wink-wink agreement to trade him elsewhere after the six-month ban is lifted.
This ensures at least two things:
- Durant gets his full money.
- The Warriors don’t lose Durant for nothing.
But this unprecedented arrangement could get messy, especially because Durant is coming off a devastating Achilles injury. Teams are willing to pay Durant his full value in free agency, that much is clear. But will they be equally as eager to part with significant assets in a deal? That remains to be seen.
3. Sign with New York Knicks: four years, $164 million
True or not, Durant had been linked to the Knicks for most of the season. They provide him an opportunity to call a team his own, and he was expected to join forces with Kyrie Irving in the big city to potentially bringing championships to Madison Square Garden. Irving now seems set on signing with the Nets, though that could change.
The Knicks are still reportedly in the running for Durant, and they would sign him even if he misses next season with his ruptured Achilles tendon. They could take their lumps next season, acquire another high draft pick, then welcome a healthy Durant back in 2020.
Winning a championship in New York is unlike winning anywhere else. If Durant could pull it off, he would become a legend in the biggest basketball city known to man.
3a. Sign with Brooklyn Nets: four years, $164 million
What if Durant doesn’t want to go to the Knicks? The Nets have somehow become the front-runner for both his and Kyrie Irving’s services. Unbelievable.
Brooklyn’s shown an ability to build a winning culture, culminating with their first playoff appearance last season since 2015. They, too, are willing to pay Durant his max money whether he’s available to play next season or not.
Joining the Nets would give Durant an opportunity to join a playoff program that has a leg up on a Knicks franchise with history on its side. But winning in Brooklyn isn’t the same as winning in New York. Durant’s personal endgame could dictate whether he settles for the city’s other team.
4. Take a pay cut and play with LeBron James
If Durant wants more championships, there’s probably no clearer path than joining forces with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
But he would almost certainly need to take less than the maximum salary to do. The Lakers, as it is, will need to perform some magic to even free up more than $30 million in max cap space. Durant’s max, as I wrote earlier, is $38.1 million.
We have no idea what actually matters to Durant, but two things about this Los Angeles situation stand out:
- If money matters, he’d have to take a pay cut.
- If having his own team matters, joining James wouldn’t be the move, either.
If championships alone matter, though? This would be the clearest path — though a return for the 2020-21 season would mean shaking the rust off alongside a 36-year-old James. Davis, however, would still be in his prime.
4b. Sign with Los Angeles Clippers: four years, $164
Maybe Durant wants Los Angeles, but not the Lakers? Hi, Clippers. Here’s your new star.
The Clippers proved they can win without star players when they traded Tobias Harris and still gave the Warriors a run in the first round of the West playoffs. With a coach like Doc Rivers, a sprinkle of Durant’s star power is all they need to elevate themselves to the NBA’s elite.
Durant’s availability would be delayed, no doubt. But he’d be a talent that could lift them to that level, and the Clippers, for sure. And if Kawhi Leonard decides to head that way, too, Los Angeles could have another super team on its hands.
5. Sign with a mystery team
Here is a list of teams not mentioned that can also clear cap space to fit Durant’s max in:
- Philadelphia: Durant joining Joel Embiid? That would be so, so good for all the non-basketball reasons. However, the 76ers would need to say goodbye to at least two of Jimmy Butler, Harris, and J.J. Redick.
- Sacramento: In case he wants to stay in California, but not with any of the three better teams.
- Dallas: Luka Doncic is a stud, and Kristaps Porzingis is returning from his injured ACL. Does Durant make them contenders?
- Boston, Indiana, Memphis, and New Orleans can each get close, but can’t clear the full $38.1 million in needed cap space
It all boils down to one question: What the heck does Durant want? Only one person can answer that. All we can do is lay out his options and let the cards fall where they may.