LAS VEGAS -- NBA commissioner Adam Silver expressed concern about the impact of Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors and indicated that changes are needed in the collective bargaining agreement to maintain the league's competitive balance.
"Just to be absolutely clear, I do not think that's ideal from the league standpoint," Silver said during a news conference after the league's annual board of governors meeting, referring to Durant's decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder to be part of a so-called super team with Golden State. "For me, part of it is designing a collective bargaining agreement that encourages the distribution of great players throughout the league. On the other hand, I absolutely respect a player's right to become a free agent and, in this case, for Kevin Durant to make a decision that he feels is best for him. I have no idea what's in his mind or heart in terms of how he went about making that decision. ...
"In a way, the good news is that we are in a collective bargaining cycle, so it gives everybody an opportunity -- owners and the union -- to sit down behind closed doors and take a fresh look at the system and see if there is a better way that we can do it. My belief is we can make it better."
The league's current CBA, negotiated during the 2011 lockout, runs through June 30, 2021. However, either side can opt out June 30, 2017, if it notifies the other party by Dec. 15.
Silver described the discussion regarding this year's free-agency cycle -- and specifically Durant's decision to join a Golden State team that already featured three young All-Stars and is coming off two consecutive Finals appearances -- as "robust" and "with various views" among the owners and team executives attending the board of governors meeting. Silver clearly said that he believes it's in the league's best interests to make changes to the CBA regarding free agency.
"There are things and corrections we can make in the system," Silver said. "Of course, I'm not going to negotiate here with the union, but it requires two parties to make those changes. I think we've had very productive discussions with the union so far, and we will continue to do so."
Silver mentioned that he did not "necessarily want to overreact to a particular situation," referring to Durant's decision. He added that part of the discussion in the board of governors meeting was about how much of what happened in free agency was an "anomaly," created in large part by the unprecedented spike of the salary cap.
Because of revenue from the NBA's new television agreement, the salary cap soared from $70 million last season to $94 million this summer, allowing the Warriors to create cap space to sign Durant to a max contract while maintaining their core of All-Stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green as well as sixth man Andre Iguodala. The cap is projected to rise to $102 million next summer.
The NBA had approached the players' union with a "smoothing" proposal that would have resulted in much more gradual increases to the salary cap -- and would have eliminated the Warriors as a realistic option for Durant in free agency -- but was rejected. Silver acknowledged that the league "did not model for such a large spike in the cap," enabling teams such as the Warriors to make moves that otherwise would not have been possible.
"We all knew all this money was going to come into the system and many of these things could have happened," Silver said. "The fact that it's now in front of us and we're looking at how the money is being paid out and we see a particular player move, yes, without suggesting I'm negotiating, there's no question that those are things that will be discussed in future meetings with the players' association."
A major emphasis during negotiations of the current CBA was to give every team, regardless of market size, an equal opportunity to compete for a championship. For example, the CBA allows a team that owns the Bird rights of a player to offer its free agent a five-year contract with 7.5 percent annual raises, with other suitors limited to offering four-year deals with 4.5 percent annual raises.
In the case of Durant, the Bird rights weren't a factor because it made sense for him to sign a short-term deal with the salary cap continuing to rise and him a year away from reaching 10 years of experience, making him eligible for the highest tier of a maximum contract. Durant signed a two-year, $54.3 million deal with the Warriors that includes a player option for the second season.
"My sense is some of the player movement we just saw isn't necessarily a function of market size," Silver said. "It's clearly a case of one particular player's desire to be in a situation with a group of players that all have already proven that they can win [a championship]. By the way, I don't mean to be so cryptic. In the case of Kevin Durant, I absolutely respect his decision, once he becomes a free agent, to make a choice that's available to him. In this particular case, he operated 100 percent within the way of the system, and the same with Golden State.
"Having said that, I do think to maintain those principles that I discussed in terms of creating a league in which every team has an opportunity to compete, we do need to re-examine some of the elements of our system so I'm not here next year or the year after that talking about anomalies."