Welcome to the offseason, NBA fans. Now that the Finals are over and the Golden State Warriors are the champions of the league again, it’s time to look ahead. That means we’ll be breaking down free agent profiles all week.
And while we’ll get to the big fish next week, it’s all about the positional breakdowns this week. Monday brought us our restricted free agents. Yesterday we tackled centers and power forwards. Therefore, today is all about small forwards.*
*LeBron James and Paul George will be covered in more depth before free agency
The most important free agent who won’t change teams this summer could impact the next several seasons more than any non-LeBron James free agent with his choice in July. It’s not a matter of where he’s going. He’s staying with the Golden State Warriors. But for how much, and how long, will be one of the biggest stories of the offseason.
Durant left money on the table two years in a row to accommodate the Warriors. There will be pressure from the player’s union, not coincidentally led by Chris Paul and LeBron James, not to do the same this summer. Durant has every right to demand the max. If he does so, the Warriors are pushed even higher above the tax line. If he takes a multi-year max contract, the Warriors will be the most expensive team in NBA history in the 2019-20 season, when Klay Thompson has a new contract while Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala are still playing out their old ones. In the 2020-21 season, they will be subject to the punitive repeater tax. The financial stakes here are extreme.
Golden State will acquiesce to whatever Durant asks for. They have to. He is one of the five best players in basketball and deserves the contract of his choice. But if Durant continues seeking short-term contracts, questions about his future will get louder. Once LeBron returned to Cleveland, anything became possible. The Thunder could get to max cap space in the summer of 2020, giving Durant a four-year stint in Golden State. Exactly the amount of time James spent with the Miami Heat. Durant might simply want to try something new. He can play wherever he wants. And if he doesn’t commit to a long-term deal, people are going to wonder if Golden State is really where he wants to be.