When Kevin Durant chose to sign with Golden State as a free agent this summer, in some ways, it was the league's worst nightmare. The Warriors didn't end up winning the 2016 title, of course, but they broke the all-time regular-season record for wins that had stood unchallenged for 20 years -- and they were able to add Durant on a max-level contract while keeping the core of the team intact. NBA commissioner Adam Silver is on record as saying that he doesn't believe it's good for the league to have one team stacked with so much talent, so let's take a look at a few things the NBA could do to make it far more difficult for superstars to join forces like this in the future.
NBAE/Getty ImagesNBA Photos
Eliminate max salaries for individual players
The NBA's collective bargaining agreement artificially caps how much an individual player can earn not only in a given season, but also over the life of a single contract. Currently, a player with 10 years of service is eligible to receive 35 percent of the salary cap, with built-in raises over the life of a deal that can be for a maximum of five seasons if he re-signs with his current team, or four seasons if he signs somewhere else. If the salary cap were to remain in place and we removed this artificial limit so that there were no maximums, players would be forced to face much tougher free-agent decisions. For example, what could LeBron James or Stephen Curry command on an annual basis? $50 million per season doesn't seem outrageous when you consider all that they bring, and with one player eating up so much of the available salary, it wouldn't leave much room to construct a team filled with stars who would be capable of contending for one or more titles -- unless a huge (and highly unlikely) financial sacrifice was made.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY SportsKyle Terada
Put a hard salary cap in place
The Cavaliers weren't seen as a superteam last season, but they were able to surround LeBron James and Kyrie Irving with enough talent to upend the Warriors in the NBA Finals. That championship came at a great cost, however, in the form of a luxury tax check Cleveland had to send to the league in the amount of $54 million for exceeding the salary cap. If a hard cap was in place, teams would need to be much more careful with how they structure players' salaries, and the lack of available funds would have plenty of players choosing guaranteed money over the chance to contend for a title in exchange for leaving millions on the table.
Getty ImagesMike Lawrie
Give players more incentive to stay with their teams
Mike Conley was an unrestricted free agent this summer, but he chose to re-sign with the Memphis Grizzlies. And because of the fact that he could get one more year on his deal with his current team than he could have if he had chosen to play somewhere else, Conley got himself a contract worth $153 million over five years that is officially the largest in NBA history. That one additional year, though, wasn't enough to entice Durant to stay in OKC -- especially since he was willing to sign a two-year deal with an opt out after the first year with Golden State for next season, after which he'll presumably re-up on that five-year max if all goes according to plan. The league could make it so that a current team could offer far more money than a new team could on any kind of max deal, or could put limits on what a player could make in the first year or more of a free-agent deal with a new squad -- all in the name of making guys think long and hard about the money they'd leave behind in order to play somewhere else.
Justin Ford-USA TODAY SportsJustin Ford
Will any of these things happen?
The short answer is, "Probably not." While Adam Silver knows that having a top-heavy league with one or two teams so far ahead of everyone else isn't ideal for business, there's not much he can do about it without being willing to go through a significant work stoppage -- and he's doing everything in his power to avoid missing any games due to a lockout in 2017. The players' union wouldn't go for the elimination of max salaries (without significant changes to the salary cap), because while that would be great for about 10 guys, there are 440 other players in the league who would be less than pleased with the dollars that were left. The union similarly would never go for a hard salary cap, because it would further limit the earning potential of its players. And, since players have no control over where they play to begin their careers, the union will make sure players continue to have fair and reasonable options once they enter free agency, without the deck being financially stacked against them in a way that would make staying in their current situation the only logical choice.