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5 theories why Kevin Durant only signs short deals with the Warriors

There’s something odd about Durant’s refusal to commit.

Kevin Durant agreed to yet another so-called 1+1 deal with the Warriors as NBA free agency began early Sunday. The 1+1 refers to a two-year deal with a player option on the second season. The player who signs it is under contract for one season, and can extend that for one additional season, or become a free agent again at the end of the year.

Durant is signing nothing but these low-commitment, short contracts with the Warriors. Why? Most other superstars who want some freedom to move if things go sideways, go with a 2+1 deal to maximize their salaries. If things get really bad, they can always request a trade.

There’s something a little peculiar about Durant’s refusal to commit to the best team on the planet, especially given his apparent love for life in the Bay Area and connection to his teammates and the community.

So what gives? Here are five theories.

1. KD’s still not sure about these guys

Typically when people won’t commit to relationships, there are some lingering doubts about the partnership’s prospects locked deep in the recesses of their minds. Perhaps that’s the case with Durant and the Warriors.

Perhaps KD really still doesn’t understand Stephen Curry’s easy-going, pleasant personality. Perhaps KD is flummoxed by Klay Thompson’s temperament, sense of humor, and cult hero status. Perhaps working with Draymond Green is every bit as loud as it looks, and that isn’t KD’s perfect cup of tea.

Maybe, just maybe, Durant isn’t sure if he actually likes being a Warrior yet.

The awkward jokes at the championship parade show that certain members of the Warriors organization don’t get Durant yet. There’s still a weird vibe between Durant and Curry on the court. Durant still gets yelled at by Green — which is fair, because Green yells at everyone and Durant isn’t the type of superstar who bristles at being called out by a teammate. But still, for all the talk and evidence of harmony, this is a weird set of personalities as far as high-end NBA players go.

Maybe Durant just isn’t sure yet.

(The serious version of his theory says that three championships in Golden State will be plenty and Durant will seek new challenges next summer.)

2. KD is waiting for Bird rights

This theory wouldn’t explain why Durant signed 1-year deals in 2016 and 2017, but there is a financial explanation for taking a 1-year deal in 2018. If he opts out next summer, the Warriors will have KD’s Bird rights, which greatly increases the size of the long-term contract he could sign.

If Durant did want to commit long-term to the Warriors this summer, and they were willing, he could sign a four-year deal starting at his max. But next year, the Warriors will have his Bird rights on account of him being with the team for three consecutive seasons. That means Golden State can sign him to a five-year deal at the max.

Durant will turn 30 before the season begins, and may want to lock up a long-term deal. The best he could do this summer is a deal to secure his contract through 2021-22. Doing so next summer potentially gives him security through 2023-24.

3. KD is helping the Warriors now for a payoff later

The read the writers closest to the Warriors have taken is that by taking less money on a short-term deal, Durant is allowing Golden State to use the mid-level exception for taxpaying teams without an extraordinary luxury tax payment.

Durant is, essentially, saving the franchise owners some money taking $30 million instead of the $35 million he’s eligible to receive, and they are using those savings to re-invest in the team.

If Durant gave that discount while signing a long-term deal, he’d be consigning himself to taking a haircut for multiple years. By doing it on essentially a 1-year deal, he’s allowing the Warriors to give him the full max in the near future. He’s not locking in a pay cut, just taking one for now.

That said, this will now be Year 3 of discounts for Durant in Golden State.

4. Per the memes, KD will join whichever team beats the Warriors

We live in meme culture now, and the dominant Durant meme since he left the Thunder for the Warriors two years ago states that if your team beats Durant’s team but fails to win the championship, KD will join your team. He is, for lack of a more artful word, a frontrunner.

He can’t leave for the Rockets or Lakers or whoever if he’s under a long-term deal, though. The memes must be obeyed.

5. KD is prepared to join a reborn Seattle SuperSonics franchise

Seattle SuperSonics v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Relocation isn’t happening any time soon, but expansion has been on the lips of powerful people in the NBA for a little while now. Remember that Durant began his career with the Seattle SuperSonics and somewhat frequently mentions the Emerald City wistfully.

What if Durant refuses to sign long-term with the Warriors solely because he wants to be prepared to jump ship to the Sonics if and when they are reborn?

Let’s take this one step further: Would a supermajority of NBA franchise owners immediately grant an expansion team in Seattle if it meant Durant would leave the Warriors? That would immediately solve the biggest competitive balance issue in the league and give the squad in a high-revenue market a huge early splash. Even the fans most sour over the decade-old betrayal by Howard Schultz, David Stern, and Clay Bennett would come back if it meant rooting for KD again.

The downside is that Seattle expansion also comes with Spencer Hawes joining the Sonics. You win some, you lose some.