NBA AM: The Kevin Durant Free Agency Circus
Its a ways down the road, but will Kevin Durant’s free agency circus be bigger than LeBron James’ was in 2010?… Bulls VP John Paxson talks about the Bulls free agent process and the perception his team won’t spend.
You Can Always Dream, Right?: In the game of kick the free agency can down the road, there is no bigger possible free agent in 2016 than Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant. While some fans are dreaming of the gems of the 2015 free agent class as their franchises saviors – yes that’s you Lakers fans – such as Minnesota’s Kevin Love or Boston’s Rajon Rondo, the name to watch in 2016 is without question Kevin Durant.
Durant hung another monster number last night in Miami – 33 points, seven rebounds and five assists on 12-of-23 shooting from the field. Durant put another exclamation point on this season, one where he might actually be the MVP of the league, an accomplishment that has eluded him for the last two seasons.
»In Related: The Oklahoma City Thunder Salary Page
Durant’s all-around game has improved dramatically every year he’s played, and this year not only is he scoring at an elite level from all over the floor, he has also embraced the leadership role most wanted to see him take on.
As humble as Durant is as a person, and as much as he wants to say there are no class differences on his roster, what’s showing up on the floor is a polished and mature player that’s taking ownership of his situation.
Durant has two more seasons fully guaranteed on his contract after this one, so his free agency is as far away as almost anyone in the NBA, but that’s not going to stop the speculation from taking on a life of its own.
Some around the league point to Durant’s decision to part with Landmark Sport’s Rob Pelinka as his agent to sign with rap mogul Jay Z’s RocNation Sports last summer as a big red flag. However, sources close to the situation say that Durant’s decision was not about Oklahoma City, but about building his off-the-court brand outside of the traditional sports marketing world.
Durant has almost everything a player can get in the sports marketing world, raking in an estimated $14 million a year from deals with Sprint, Gatorade, Nike, 2K Sports and BBVA. His circle points to opportunities outside of sports as the biggest reason for the change in management.
At every step of the way, Durant has pledged his loyalty to Oklahoma City and talks frequently about how the small-town vibe suits him. So painting Durant as seeking a bigger stage, does not line up with what he’s said since arriving with the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
»In Related: The Possible 2016 NBA Free Agent Class
However, the ugly specter of free agency is very real for smaller market teams. The Thunder unfortunately are on the clock to deliver another trip to the NBA Finals before the voices in Durant’s life try to steer him toward brighter lights or bigger cities. It happened with LeBron James. It happened with Dwight Howard.
So while Durant’s free agency is a ways down the road, you can bet that the larger market teams will be trading and constructing contracts to make sure they have $20 million in available space in July of 2016, in the off chance that Durant’s mindset on his future in Oklahoma City changes.
For almost two and half years, teams in the NBA jockeyed contracts and made bad trades to make sure they could get a seat at the table with James in 2010. The pool of would-be suitors trying to pry Durant out of Oklahoma City in 2016 is likely going to be even bigger.
As unlikely as Durant leaving Oklahoma City seems today, remember both James and Howard had similar stances about their former teams when they had three years left on their deals too.
Paxson OK With Rose Not Recruiting: Chicago Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said he was OK with his star Derrick Rose not taking an active role in recruiting players to the Bulls in free agency, saying that when he was a player he wouldn’t have been comfortable doing it and he doesn’t expect Rose to do it either.
“I personally would not have been comfortable doing that as a player. That was me, so I expect and appreciate where Derrick is coming from,” Paxson said on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” yesterday.
“I would never tell a player, I don’t think Jerry Reinsdorf or Gar (Forman) would tell a player, ‘Look, you have to do this.’ If a player wants to do it, great. If he doesn’t, that’s his choice.”
»In Related: Chicago Bulls Team Salary Page
Paxson said he understands that Rose has relationships around the league, especially with possible free agents, but that he does expect him to play the recruiter role and does not think that will stop the Bulls from landing players.
“I know that Derrick has relationships with a lot of guys around the league. He spends his summers in L.A. working out with a lot of guys and I know he’s got great relationships with people,” Paxson said. “I do firmly believe that when you’re around people you can sell yourself just being the person that you are, and we all know Derrick is a terrific young man.
“I don’t see that as an impediment to us getting players here. I think at the end of the day people know who Derrick is and there are a lot of guys who would like to play with him.”
Paxson also talked about the perception that the Bulls organization won’t spend the money to be true title competitors.
“The way I look at, having been around Jerry Reinsdorf a long time, he’s been more than fair. When I was a player and contract situations came up, with me personally, those were always done in a fair manner,” Paxson said.
“I don’t think there is anything we can do necessarily… There are so many people out there now through talk radio, TV, the internet, everything. There are just a lot of people that have a voice and the perception is that we’re cheap.”
Paxson resigned himself to the fact that he can’t change what people say about his team in the media, but he did try and explain why his team made the move to trade Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I can tell you about what’s happened recently,” Paxson said. “We came into the season with a high payroll; in the tax for the second straight year. With Derrick’s injury and other things we made the decision to move Luol and get under the luxury tax this year to give us some flexibility for years going forward. From the business standpoint we felt it was the right thing to do and you have to think that way; it is just a reality of the business.
“You hear those things (being cheap) but to feel like you have to go out and respond to everyone you just end up chasing your tail and it’s really not worth it. I know we work for a terrific owner and an organization that is willing to spend, we just don’t want to spend foolishly and I think 90 percent of the teams in this league think that way.”
The 23-22 Bulls are currently the fifth seed in the East and have won six of their last ten games.
»In Related: Current NBA Standings
Assuming the Bulls do not add any salary before the NBA trade deadline, they are looking at the possibility of having cap space this summer, if they opt to use their one-time amnesty provision on forward Carlos Boozer. If that’s the case, the Bulls could have roughly $16 million to spend on possible free agents this summer.
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