- Thearon W. Henderson/Getty
Kevin Durant left the only franchise he had ever known to chase a title with the Golden State Warriors, and he wasn’t going to let the team’s championship window close just one year after his arrival.
Durant was up for a new contract this offseason and could have secured a deal worth as much as $34 million per year, a sum that would make him one of the highest-paid players in the NBA. Instead, the 28-year-old former MVP signed a deal that will pay him $25.9 million for the 2017-18 season, more than $500,000 below what he made last year.
That move had far-reaching effects on the Warriors’ offseason plans, as it gave them the financial flexibility to re-sign important pieces like Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston to deals worth much closer to market value.
In a recent interview with Anthony Slater of The Athletic, Durant explained the logic behind his decision to leave nearly $10 million on the table:
“Well, I’m a smart guy and I want to keep this thing going and looking at Andre and Shaun [Livingston] and Steph [Curry] – they all should make the most money that they can make and get what they deserve. Because they were all underpaid and I knew at some point they’d want to get what they deserve. So I just took a step back and let the chips fall where they may. Then I took it in my hands. I wanted to keep the team together and I thought it was going to help the ownership bring all the guys back.”
While some praised Durant’s decision as a selfless move, others criticized him for it. Some critics bemoaned the lack of competitive balance in today’s league, citing the Warriors and their overstuffed roster as a chief culprit. Furthermore, the NBA Players Association typically prefers that its stars take as much money as they can, an approach that leads to higher salaries for all players.
But Durant feels that any criticism of his decision is a case of sour grapes. He based his choice partly on how members of past NBA dynasties handled their contract negotiations.
“A lot of players have [taken pay cuts],” he said. “It wasn’t that I wanted the praise. I’ve learned from Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki and how it has helped them over the years, and I thought, if they did it, why can’t I? Why shouldn’t I sacrifice? People wanted the money to break us up, and I didn’t want that to happen.”
Durant has made over $135 million in his NBA career, so an extra $10 million wouldn’t have made a huge difference. Still, his willingness to take a pay cut revealed a fascinating team-first mentality in a league that is becoming increasingly driven by superstars alone.
Durant wasn’t the only Warrior who attracted headlines with a new contract this offseason. Curry, who signed a five-year deal, will make $34.7 million in 2017-18, the highest salary in the league.