With the Brooklyn Nets embarking on their third offseason in Brooklyn, I figure it's time to get this out of the way: in striking deals this offseason, the Nets will likely avoid any transaction that commits them to major salary beyond the 2015-16 offseason because of good ol' Kevin Durant.
Kevin Durant is very good at basketball. He won the MVP Award this year. He's lead the league in points scored for five straight seasons running. He set a career-high in assists per game this past season. He's tall enough to shoot over anyone and skilled enough to drive past most. He's as close to unguardable as the NBA has ever seen. He also has an expiring contract after 2015-16.
Every major Nets contract expires by the end of the 2015-16 season, with the exception of Deron Williams, who has an early termination option for $22.3 million. That's not a coincidence: like they did in the 2010 offseason, the Nets have geared up for a run at the 2016 offseason free agent class, led by Durant, who will be 28 in the 2016-17 season.
It's not a slam dunk. The biggest obstacle for the Nets isn't preserving cap room, it's not having him already: per the CBA, the Nets (and any other team with cap room) will be able to offer Durant a four-year deal worth about $91 million, but the Thunder can offer him a five-year deal worth $128 million. For those of you that think Durant will turn down $37 million extra, I hope you also thought Deron Williams might've signed with the Dallas Mavericks, when turning down the Nets max offer would've cost him $24 million two summers ago.
Durant doesn't seem like the type of guy who's going to leave Oklahoma City, not after his touching MVP speech this month. But anything is possible, and a lot can change in two seasons: there was a time when LeBron James promised Cleveland he wouldn't leave until he brought them a title.
Here's a list of other potential 2016 NBA free agents. As you can see, there's no shortage of big names if the Nets strike out on Durant. It's similar to the 2010 NBA free agency draft class, except the Nets are banking on the cachet of Brooklyn enticing someone more appealing than Travis Outlaw.
For the record, if the Nets somehow end up over the cap (again: not happening), a team that doesn't have the cap room can work a sign-and-trade for Durant. But that would only get Durant four years and $71 million, a little over half of what the Thunder can offer him. So that's not going to happen.
One thing that may also be a factor: the 2016-17 season is also the last season before either the NBA or the player's union can "opt out" of the current collective bargaining agreement in the hopes of getting a better deal for their side. That last happened in the 2011 offseason, a year after 2010 free agency netted six years and $124 million for Joe Johnson. If it looks like collective bargaining might end after that season, the free-spending Nets might look to take advantage of teams unwilling to spend in the hopes of getting a better deal in future free agency.
But most importantly, the Nets have very little money committed beyond the next two seasons. They'll probably stay that way, or at least sign players that won't impede their ability to offer a max contract to Durant, which would start at around $22.3 million in 2016-17. Though the salary cap isn't set for 2016-17 yet, the projection for 2015-16 has the cap the year before at about $66 million, and that's a figure they can use to make a few assumptions.
So when you're looking at potential options for the Nets and contracts they can sign this offseason, just remember: barring a careening change of course, aren't going to commit to major money beyond the next two seasons, because of this guy.