Kevin Durant must be still on a savage euphoric high from winning his first ring, agreeing to not only take less money to facilitate re-signing Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, but taking even less money on top of that. Durant has agreed to re-sign with the Golden State Warriors on a two-year, $53 million deal, which is nearly $10 million less in Year 1 than he was eligible for, $6.8 million less than expected, and nearly $150 million less in guaranteed money.
Durant’s first season with the Warriors was mostly seamless and easy, yet it also felt like only 80 percent of what he could be on offense within this team. Durant and Stephen Curry had issues maximizing each other’s gifts to the degree most expected when they conceptualized it heading into his 2016 free agency. But by the end of The Finals, we began to witness Durant become magnitudes better within the framework of the Warriors’ democratic universe and the chemistry of their two best players was becoming an unstoppable force.
Durant was festooned with the ‘champion’ label and nobody can deny it was the most intelligent and safest decision he could have made, even if they have reservations about what it means to the NBA as a broader entertainment and parity engine.
Durant had a career high .651 True Shooting Percentage, but a .700 season for him still feels possible the way LeBron James became hyperefficient in Years 3 and 4 with the Heat. The only difference between Durant and James on that count is James topped out at .649. With Durant’s three-point shooting and dunks opened up within the Warriors’ offense, it is hard to envision him living below .650 for the foreseeable future.
Durant readily adapted to the Warriors’ offense of moving the ball as ideological mantra while also giving them that isolation scorer when the game slowed down and a quality look needed to be generated individually. The imprints of the Thunder on his game vanished quickly and he became weaponized in a whole new way with Golden State’s impeccable spacing and ball movement. Durant gets to operate in heaps of space in the midrange all the way to the bucket like it’s an exhibition game.
Durant became increasingly attuned to creating within a spaced floor that perfectly utilizes what makes him special as a ball handling 7-footer. Durant was worn out from seeing multiple help defenders whenever he beat his man with the Thunder and he routinely had open lanes for dunks with the Warriors. Durant had 107 dunks in 2,070 minutes with the Warriors compared to 106 over 2,578 in his final Oklahoma City season. Durant had one dunk every 21 minutes in the 2017 playoffs compared to one dunk every 40 minutes in the 2016 playoffs.
Durant’s commitment to defense was perhaps the biggest single takeaway, as the effort and output on that end of the floor was way more consistent than it ever was with the Thunder. Perhaps that’s due to Ron Adams’ culture, or the fact that he doesn’t have to work as hard or with as much frequency on offense, maybe the infectiousness of Draymond Green, or an inevitable evolution of his game he was beginning to unlock at times during the 2016 playoffs.
Durant fit right in with the way the Warriors switch everything and have a lot of similarly sized players. Durant also became a rim protector using his length effectively.
Durant became the all-around player he was always capable of actualizing. There was joy in his game and swagger that was intermittent with the Thunder.
Durant joining the Warriors and following through with what was promised has made the NBA feel mundane and predetermined for some. The Warriors improved while depopulating one of their biggest rivals. Durant's willingness to compromise on his contract makes sustaining that run even more probable.
Things happen, whether it’s injury, ego, boredom or something else, but the Warriors feel like they will continue to be unreachable-- winning titles without serious challenge until the primes of the Big 4 are exhausted.
Despite the short-term benefit of the Warriors being able to keep part of their supporting cast together due to Durant’s short-term contract, there is some level of risk in case of an injury or personality issue arising between now and July 1st, 2018. The tradeoff is an easy one for them to accept.
But this level of financial sacrifice by Durant not only helps financially with the luxury tax, but could establish a precedent for the next contracts of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. For Stephen Curry, he gave up way too much money on his 2012 extension to take less than the full max, though he did accept a contract without any options and without a no-trade clause.
The entire NBA is looking at this Golden State operation where they're printing cash, saving cash, and are set up to continue winning at such a high rate of probability and wondering how this is even happening.
Grade for Warriors: A++
Durant certainly has basketball reasons for taking less money and less guaranteed seasons even if it does leave him vulnerable if he suffers another foot injury. No player in the NBA is as close to LeBron in that category of being a max player in every realistic imaginable scenario, but LeBron’s unblemished injury history is unique.
Durant is harvesting the psychic and economic benefits of winning as well as doing so in one of the world’s richest economic areas. Durant has grown as a person over his first year with the Warriors and seems to be more comfortable with himself than he was previously. He's found his basketball nirvana.
Props to Durant for feeling compelled to take so much less money for the sake of team building, but he inexplicably went beyond that for the sake of ownership paying the luxury tax. This is an extraordinary and seemingly unprecedented level of sacrifice and discount from a player of his caliber.
Grade for Kevin Durant: B-
It bears repeating how the Thunder gave up their own opportunity to have a homegrown superteam due to a fear of $4 million on the contract extension of James Harden. It was a foolish, shortsighted decision, particularly with a new CBA in place benefitting owners and a new television deal in the immediate future that would lead to an increase in the cap. While a basketball argument could be made that Harden would never be a role player in the Thompson vein and that there was too much ball dominant overlap with him, Durant and Russell Westbrook, this was an atrocious business decision.
Oklahoma City was protective of Durant and of shaping the narratives around him. As evidenced by Durant’s decision to take less money with the Warriors, he’s a deeply loyal and trusting person. This is the same part of Durant that led him to not get any options on his extension with the Thunder in 2010 despite seeing how critical it was for LeBron to get himself to a winning situation. That faith was lost when Oklahoma City traded Harden, made other salary and tax conscious moves until his walk year, and could never sign impactful free agents.
Grade for Thunder: D