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Kevin Durant’s salary decision cuts to heart of win-vs.-pay matter

UPDATED: Sat., July 8, 2017, 5:05 p.m.

Kevin Durant, a Golden State Warriors basketball player and NBA Most Valuable Player Award winner, shoots T-shirts into the crowd during his recent visit to Spokane for Hoopfest on June 25. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Kevin Durant, a Golden State Warriors basketball player and NBA Most Valuable Player Award winner, shoots T-shirts into the crowd during his recent visit to Spokane for Hoopfest on June 25. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

It would appear that Kevin Durant’s favorite July pastime is shocking the country. At least for the past year it has been. Uber-talented as he is, KD doesn’t need a ball in his hands to have a major impact on the game.

The first jolt came on July 4, 2016, when — much to the delight of Seattleites— KD left the Thunder and joined the Warriors. Whether you thought that was a weak, ring-chasing move is irrelevant to this discussion. The decision transformed Golden State from a Super Team to a Supreme Team and changed the landscape of the NBA.

But it was this most recent jolt that will have longer-lasting implications — perhaps even beyond Durant’s playing career. It happened Monday, when the reigning Finals MVP signed a two-year, $53 million deal with the Warriors that will pay him $25.9 million next season.

The shocking part? That $25.9 million is about $9 million less than a max contract — and it appears KD took the pay cut just to keep the Supreme Team intact.

Granted, this isn’t exactly heroic given that Durant has earned more than $135 million over his 10-year career. He’s not going to have to start using 87 octane at the pump or camp out for Black Friday.

But in the ego-driven sports world, it’s not always about how much you make, but that you make more than the other guy. And Durant just told the world that it’s OK to take less.

Now, not everybody loves what KD did. Some worry that it sets a bad precedent in a league where superstars are already underpaid.

Steph Curry just signed a five-year, $201 million contract, which may seem excessive to the uninformed. But the informed realize that, if not for the salary cap, Curry probably could have commanded about $100 million more.

The thing is, Durant’s choice is independent of salary-cap issues. Under the current collective-bargaining agreement, NBA players get about 50 percent of the league revenue, which is down from the 57 percent they received under the 2005 CBA.

Considering the league is so star-driven, the NBA Players Association should absolutely push for a greater percentage during the next round of negotiations. But right now, the only financial victim of Durant’s pay cut is Kevin Durant himself.

And he’ll probably come out ahead in the long run.

Barring injuries, the Warriors are set up to reign over the NBA for the remainder of the decade. It’s quite possible that this year’s champs were the greatest team in league history, and they should be even better next season given their experience playing together.

If Durant wins four more championships, posterity won’t care that he bolted for a 73-win team — they’ll just see the rings and put him in the company of Magic and Bird.

But what if this pay cut does more than just help Golden State and KD’s legacy? What if other stars look start thinking “I have to do that, too”?

Again — this is not an argument that millionaire players sacrifice for the benefit of billionaire owners. The NBAPA has the leverage to snag a bigger slice of the league revenue, and should do whatever it takes to secure it.

But as long as there is a salary cap of some sort, there are going to be challenges in trying to land as much talent as necessary. And maybe, just maybe, more superstars will start making financial sacrifices to adjust.

It’s not unprecedented. The $20.5 million Tom Brady earns annually makes him the 14th highest paid quarterback in the NFL. He’s been signing less-than-market-value contracts for years, which has allowed the Patriots to sign better role players and, in turn, cement Brady’s legacy as the best to ever play the game.

Before the 2012-13 season, Tim Duncan inked a three-year, $30 million contract with the Spurs — a massive discount that essentially cut his previous paycheck in half. San Antonio won a title two years later, and would have won the previous season had Ray Allen not hit a miracle three-pointer for the Heat in Game 6.

The point is, sometimes a pay cut leads to a big payoff. And off the court, the notoriety that comes with titles leads to big paydays.

Having said all that, it’s doubtful many (any?) stars follow KD’s lead — and that’s fine. There is never shame in trying to get as much dough as you can.

But regardless of whether anybody listens, Durant sent a clear message to those on top of their sport’s food chain: Money is good — winning is better.


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