Financial Futures for Five NBA Superstars

Financial Futures for Five NBA Superstars © Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

*All figures below are based on a $101M league salary cap

Kevin Durant (GSW, Early Bird Rights)

Durant has already stated he’ll opt-out of this current deal with the Warriors - no surprise, and a no-brainer, as this has become the norm for elite players who are looking to make great money, but retain control of their immediate future.

Last summer, Durant was in a position to max out at $34M, with a non-bird rights max of $31.8M. He opted for $25M, allowing the Warriors to fit other pieces into their cap, and keep the unit afloat for another year.

This summer, Durant’s early bird max salary will be $35.35M. His non-bird max comes in at $30M (120% of his current $25M salary). It’s hard to imagine him taking anything less than this $30M mark, adding in a $31.5M player option for 2019-20, a figure he’ll once again opt-out from. Looking forward, Klay Thompson’s contract will expire in 2019-20, opening up a chance for Durant to cash in with a long-term, historic (projected) 5 year, $220M maximum extension.

  • Max 2018-19 Salary (Early Bird Rights, not likely) = $35,350,000
  • Max 2018-19 Salary (Non-Bird Rights, likely) = $30,000,000
  • Max Contract (GSW), 4 years, $158,400,000 (minimum 2 years)
  • Max Contract (elsewhere), 4 years, $152,000,000
  • 1+1 (GSW, Non-Bird Rights) , 1 year, $30M ($31.5M player option in 2019-20)
  • 1+1 (elsewhere), 1 year, $35.35M ($37.1M player option in 2019-20)


LeBron James (CLE, Bird Rights)

The arguable GOAT is putting his hometown on his shoulders yet again, primed for another deep playoff run before he gets to his summer of decisions. He’ll have plenty.

James holds a $35.6M player option in 2018-19, which is actually $300,000 more than he can make should he opt-out and sign any kind of contract with any team (including Cleveland). In other words, the only reason for LeBron James to opt-out, is if he plans to play elsewhere next season. 

LeBron’s last three contracts have been a 1+1, 1+1, & 2+1 (where the +1s represent a player option). Should he leave, he can max-out on a 4 year, $152M contract with a new team, or continue his 1+1 trend with a $35.35M salary for 2018-19 + a $38.8M player option in 2019-20. He can also take as little as he wishes should he be looking to help squeeze in additional salaries to build up his current or new roster.

It’s perfectly possible that he continues this trend to finish out his career, regardless of where, but from a financial standpoint, it might just make the most sense to opt-in to his $35.6M salary next season, then sign a more long-term contract (after 7/1/19) and finish off his career where it all began. James will be 34 years old in the 2019-20 offseason. Due to the restriction of the Over 38 rule (no max contract can run into age 38), he'll be limited to a 3 year deal worth a projected $122.4M. 

  • Current 2018-19 Salary (opt-in): $35,607,969
  • Max 2018-19 Salary = $35,350,000
  • Max Contract (CLE), 5 years, $205,000,000
  • Max Contract (elsewhere), 4 years, $152,000,000
  • 1+1 (CLE) , 1 year, $35.35M ($38.1M player option in 2019-20)
  • 1+1 (elsewhere) 1 year, $35.35M ($37.1M player option in 2019-20)


Chris Paul (HOU, Bird Rights)

Paul turns 33 this month, and despite initial doubts, has fit in beautifully to a James Harden-dominated offense. His contract will expire on July 1st, giving him full control over his decisions going forward. At this stage it appears the logical assumption would be for Paul to remain in Houston, on some sort of new deal - which can max out at 5 years, $205M after July 1st. But Houston has other fish to feed, as Clint Capela is set to be a restricted free agent, and vital role player Trevor Ariza is also starting down unrestricted free agency. There’s also that not so ridiculous rumor about LeBron coming to town…

A 1+1 max contract for Paul would bring him a $35.35M salary for 2018-19, + a $38.1M option in 2019-20. Some form of this structure seems a likely next step for Paul, as neither he nor Houston should want to pin themselves into a long-term situation with so many pieces moving each summer. 

  • Max 2018-19 Salary = $35,350,000
  • Max Contract (HOU), 5 years, $205,000,000 (after July 1)
  • Max Contract (elsewhere), 4 years, $152,000,000
  • 1+1 (HOU) , 1 year, $35,35M ($38.1M player option in 2019-20)
  • 1+1 (elsewhere) 1 year, $35.35M ($37.1M player option in 2019-20)


Paul George (OKC, Bird Rights)

The Thunder’s attempt at throwing three great players together for a 1-year run bombed out early this postseason, putting the franchise in a bit of question going forward, starting with the future of Paul George. George holds a $20.7M player option for the upcoming season, nearly $10M less than the maximum salary he can obtain by opting-out of this current deal (likely).

The good news for OKC? By trading for George last summer, they acquired his Bird Rights, meaning they can offer him a 5 year, $175.7M extension this summer, $45M more than any other team will be able to provide. Should George decide to play elsewhere, the most he can sign on for will be 4 years, $130M. If he chooses to play the 1+1, he’ll be looking at a maximum $30.3M salary for 2018-19, with a slightly higher player option for 2019-20. 

Rumors about George to the Lakers have been swirling for 2+ years now, and it can finally become a reality this summer should the two sides come together. His financial outcome likely hinges on who goes (or comes) with him. If he’s the lone big dog to sign in LA, look for a maximum contract to come with it. 

  • Current 2018-19 Salary (opt-in): $20,703,384
  • Max 2018-19 Salary = $30,300,000
  • Max Contract (OKC), 5 years, $175,700,000 (after July 1)
  • Max Contract (elsewhere), 4 years, $130,300,000
  • 1+1 (OKC) , 1 year, $30.3M ($32.7M player option in 2019-20)
  • 1+1 (elsewhere) 1 year, $30.3M ($31.8M player option in 2019-20)


DeMarcus Cousins (NOP, Bird Rights)

After falling out of favor in Sacramento, Cousins came back to life in New Orleans, posting 25 points, 13 boards and 5 assists per game before his season ending injury took him out of action. The Pelicans are clearly a great fit for the big man, but are currently winning regularly without him - putting the leverage for his next contract in a bit of peril. 

Why sign him back? 

  1. The Pelicans gave up a LOT to bring Cousins in this year (Hield, Evans, Galloway, 1st, 2nd)
  2. New Orleans is a small market, and filling Cousins’ shoes with minimal cap space will prove very difficult.
  3. Teams that can offer him a max. contract likely aren’t in the position to win that New Orleans is in.

It’s plausible to assume a maximum contract might be available somewhere, but not in New Orleans, though the Pelicans will likely come in with a very competitive below-max offer (possibly around $25M per year). 

  • Max 2018-19 Salary = $30,300,000
  • Max Contract (NOP), 5 years, $175,700,000 (after July 1)
  • Max Contract (elsewhere), 4 years, $130,300,000
  • 1+1 (NOP) , 1 year, $30.3M ($32.7M player option in 2019-20)
  • 1+1 (elsewhere) 1 year, $30.3M ($31.8M player option in 2019-20)


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