Not-so Trivial Pursuit: the Durant Payback

April 11, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) signals during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The City Thunder defeated the Warriors 116-97. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

A little financial news went out a bit ago that the league’s Board of Governors voted to repay the Oklahoma City Thunder part of the difference in Kevin Durant’s contract between what he would have earned under the old CBA and what he makes now. Because Durant signed his max deal under the old CBA he was either going to be grandfathered in, like Shaq and KG’s contracts before ’99 and kill the Thunder’s flexibility going forward or he’d be subject to the new CBA and earn around $3 million less per season. The fact the league is giving Durant that money back is an apology not without controversy.

How easily could the Wolves have built around Kevin Garnett if his salary were shrunk down to league-max standards? Wouldn’t the penny pinching Thunder be less cash strapped if they had stayed in the 14th-biggest tv market instead of moving to the 40-something? I lose patience so quickly with this stuff, but it’s ironic the Kendrick Perkins-clutching Thunder couldn’t afford to keep the league’s best shooting guard or his replacement and the league will help foot the bill for their MVP.

Zach Lowe has a nice article about it at G-land:

The Durant Payback (which sounds like a Bourne movie title) has resulted in grumblings at various volume levels across the NBA, and a fun bit of speculation. The grumbling, straight-up angry in some places and more playful in others, centers on the idea that David Stern’s little pet in itty-bitty OKC received an unfair bit of special treatment — that the relationship between Stern and Clay Bennett, that old Seattle turncoat, is a bit too comfy.

The speculation is simpler: If Oklahoma City had known this cash was on the way, or if they could have kept Durant’s original salary number on their cap sheet, might they have kept James Harden for the long haul? And you can trace the ripple effects from there — from Oklahoma City, to Houston, to the Lakers, and to other franchises who might look very different if Harden were still a Thunder today.

Both lines of thought are a little misguided, at least at their extremes. The extreme of the anger and jealousy from the other 29 teams amounts to something like this: “The new CBA sort of screwed us all, since we’re all carrying over remnants of the old CBA that look ugly in this new light. Why should the Thunder get special treatment? What does Bennett have on Stern?” The idea that the Lakers have enough cap space to sign two max-level free agents next summer, for instance, dies the moment you take 10 seconds to notice Kobe Bryant is already on the books for a cap hold worth nearly $32 million — a charge linked to Bryant’s ginormous max salary, built up over multiple CBAs that are no longer in effect. The same general point could be made on behalf of any team about to negotiate with a veteran player requesting a new maximum-level salary based upon his current salary — Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Dwight Howard (just completed), and others.

The Heat voted against the new CBA in part because the harsh new tax rates threaten Miami’s ability to maintain the triple-max roster it constructed under the old CBA’s friendlier tax regime. Micky Arison and Pat Riley aren’t dumb; they knew the revamped CBA would likely carry a hard cap or stepped-up tax rates, and the league gave everyone a two-year grace period under the old dollar-for-dollar tax. But it wasn’t lost on the Miami contingent in Las Vegas during Summer League that the Durant Payback occurred just about 48 hours after the Heat had to slice away Mike Miller via the amnesty clause.

Topics: Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Martin, Minnesota Timberwolves, Nba Free Agency, Oklahoma City Thunder, Shaquille O'Neal

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