Some Thoughts on Kevin Durant’s Pay Cut

(Full Disclosure: I’m a Warriors fan.)

1. The best thing I’ve read about Durant’s decision to take a 2-year, $53-million contract, about 25-30% less than what he could have earned with his “max” contract, is this comment on a Deadspin article:

“Choice is not the same as freedom. The league presents superstars with two garbage choices. Take an already below market value max contract and play on a shitty team or take an extra pay cut on top of that and play on a championship caliber team.”

What Kevin Durant is “worth” isn’t currently reflected in the marketplace. Nor is LeBron James’ worth or Steph Curry’s worth–the same Curry who signed a 5-year, $201m contract that is a massive discount. The NBA’s undervaluation of the best of the best, because of both the salary cap and the max contract system capping players’ individual earnings, proves that these players are not operating in a fair marketplace.

When viewed from a behavioral perspective, any contract Durant signs will be inadequate (that is, less than what he ought to get, which is in the ballpark of $40m per year), and there’s a diminishing pain with each subsequent dollar sacrificed: As Kahneman and Tversky would explain, the first million he sacrifices is much more emotionally resonant than the ninth million. If Durant is resigned to making less money than he should–which, given that the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) won’t get rejiggered until at least 2023–then it can be rational, from a personal utility standpoint, to try to maximize his team’s likelihood of winning by taking less money. But he is, of course, under no obligation to do so.

What matters is what Kevin Durant wants. His decision last 4th of July cemented that his focus was on winning, at the modest expense of higher (yet still unfair) paychecks. (He has the luxury, at this point in his career, to not need to demand the most robust contract.) By moving from Oklahoma City to Golden State, he took an initial pay cut  and, knowingly, set himself up for less impressive sums in the future, as subsequent raises would be based on his first-year salary with the Warriors. What he’s doing now is consistent with that decision last year: His focus remains on winning. If he’s okay with it–which he apparently is, given that he took a much larger pay cut than expected–then it’s totally fine. He’s a grown man; he can decide for himself what he wants to do.

2. The worst thing, as always with these contracts, is the arrival of comments from mouth-breathers about how either A) an annual pay cut from $34m to $25m is inconsequential, as Durant’s still a millionaire regardless or how B) they, the mouth-breathers, would be willing to play NBA basketball for free. After all, it’s just a game.

Both of these points are never not funny to me, and I always want to know who is making this argument. I bet they are fascinating individuals, and I would love to know how they see the rest of the world.

3. The second-worst thing about Durant’s decision, though, was the pearl-clutching from The Ringer and Yahoo! Sports about the precedent this sets for other players.

There’s an idea that now, because of Durant’s pay cut, other owners will expect this behavior out of their star players in order to save them, the owners, massive luxury tax payments. From The Ringer:

“It’s noble in a way, but taking demonstrably less than his full market value hurts the players union as a whole (since most players don’t have the same access to alternative avenues of income that Durant does). Durant’s decision makes it painfully clear that it will always be the players who have to make ‘sacrifices,’ never the owners.”

Some temperance is required. Call me crazy, but I’m not too concerned about a precedent set by a player on a team that boasts, well, an unprecedented collection of talent. For a player like Durant to be able to join an already-historically great team like the Warriors required an incredible confluence of events–most notably, Curry signing a 4-year extension that paid him like Corey Maggette just before Curry blossomed into a top-3 player in the league; the salary cap exploding just when Durant became available; in the 2016 playoffs, both Durant losing to the Warriors and then the Warriors losing to the Cavs in heartbreaking fashion to make such a move feasible for both sides; the one weak spot for the Warriors being occupied by a perpetually disappointing Harrison Barnes, who happened to play the same position as Kevin Durant, etc. etc. Point is, the slippery slope fallacy is always worth questioning, doubly so when the ground appears, beyond a doubt, flat.

Moreover, the idea that Durant’s decision affects the players in future CBA negotiations in a negative way, six years out, or even down the line as some sort of top-tier trust-busting is ludicrously preemptive. (That Ringer line about “Will always be”? Good lord, that’s a stretch.) If anything, I predict the opposite result (a version of the Streisand effect) will come into play–by highlighting how even players of his caliber can end up grotesquely underpaid, and how restrictive the current cap / max salary system is, Durant may have brought overdue attention to the inequity of the battle between players and owners.

Finally, of course, there’s the implied yet comical idea that these analysts are impartial. (Again, see my disclosure at the top.) The NBA doesn’t know how to grapple with a superteam like the Warriors, both from a tactical perspective and an editorial one. Based on the finals, it seems like the gap between them and the rest of the league is further than the average fan would hope, and with both the Cavaliers and Warriors sprinting through these playoffs, the league risks becoming roundly uncompetitive. It’s in everyone’s best interest if that doesn’t happen; either the Warriors need to decline, or the rest of the league needs to catch up. (And despite the activity of free agency, it’s doubtful any moves amount to more than mere deck chairs on the Titanic.) Durant’s decision frustrated folks, in part because he alleviated the financial threat inevitably waiting for GM Bob Myers and, mostly, owner Joe Lacob: How far is Lacob willing to go into the luxury tax; how many of his many, many millions is he willing to spend to keep these guys together?

4. What we can all agree is that this favors Lacob (and Peter Guber, but mostly Lacob, who is annoying as hell and a totally valid reason to hate the Warriors), and that’s a bad thing.

Durant just saved him, likely, $30-40m in luxury tax payments this year alone.

To be clear, there’s nothing inherently noble about taking a pay cut. Durant’s move isn’t altruistic; it benefits Durant to make sure his teammates Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston get theirs and return to Golden State, which they did. But ultimately that pressure ought to be felt by the owners. Durant has made the life of Lacob, an egotistical billionaire who made the infamous “light years ahead” comment to The New York Times last year, easy. And Durant’s and the Warriors’ collective leverage to get Lacob to pay the check, coming off a dominant postseason, might never be higher; perhaps this is a mistake on Durant’s part.

But at worst, it’s a short-lived mistake–he takes a decreased salary for one year while locking Iguodala and Livingston up for three. Alternatively, maybe the hope is that Durant will bite the bullet this year, Lacob will do so next year when he pays Durant’s larger contract, and when Klay Thompson’s contract expires after 2019, then maybe he picks up the tab. In some sense, perhaps Durant is playing the long game here, as Tim Kawakami describes here: Durant’s making a small-ish sacrifice now to prove his long-term commitment and to keep the team together, and he’s signalling to Lacob and Myers that both had better be reciprocated in the years to come. No one really knows, which is why the rush to judge Durant–to excoriate him–is incredible.

Honestly, I think it’s great that a lot of fans are pro-player and anti-ownership, and that they claim to be in favor of players getting everything they can from teams in terms of salary. Beyond the proliferation of taxpayer-funded stadiums and excitement over fantasy sports–the commodification of players for the fans’ sake, not to mention the deification of general managers–it’s a viewpoint that seems fairly unique to the NBA. And yet, even these fans have a limit to their embracing of players’ actions: when it no longer suits the fans’ interests.

5. The larger, more interesting debate here is about player power. It’s been a simmering topic in the NBA sphere for most of the last decade, with the players holding the cards in free agency more so than the team ownership; it’s led to pushback, most notably from older generations of players and fans. After all, the only difference between the Warriors superteam and, say, the Bulls of the 90s is that Durant, the final puzzle piece, chose the Warriors in free agency. Had he been traded, it would’ve been heralded as a coup for the ownership, rather than a reason for seething claims of softness, inadequacy, and a dearth of self-reliance.

What Durant’s moves show, though, are that even when making his own decisions and being beholden to no one–the most definitive stake to power that a player can have–the NBA star will perpetually be perceived as lacking power or failing to wield it properly. Durant’s move to Golden State was regarded as weak, his pay cut last week seen as either a shortcut to domination or a betrayal of his NBA peers, rather than the reflection of the reality for NBA stars. Never mind that other players across other sports get regularly praised for this behavior–just search “Tom Brady pay cut” or “Dirk Nowitzki pay cut” and see the response. (Without diving too deep down this rabbit hole, race, just maybe, might be a factor here.) Never mind that the alternative–taking everything he could from Golden State–would kneecap his own goals and open himself up to claims of selfishness and greed. Even when the NBA star has power, he faces a chorus of paternalistic pitter-patter, a slew of “what-you-should-have-dones” from those with much less knowledge of the situation.

LeBron faced this chorus when he took a pay cut to go to Miami and play with his friends. Durant’s facing it for the foreseeable future. Now that these stars hold the cards, a lot of folks sure seem willing to tell them they’re playing their hands all wrong.

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Duke Post-Bowl Facebook Status Template

Folks,

It was announced today that Duke will be playing in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl on December 26th, a scant 3 weeks away, in the program’s fourth straight bowl game appearance. Which is a big deal in and of itself, but an even bigger deal because it brings us into the heart of an important season for Duke football fans: the time of the year when—even after the Blue Devils fall just short in an absolute f—— knife twist of a bowl game, and you’ve very likely blacked out and awoken to the cavalcade of felonies you committed in your blinding rage—you can say on social media that you’re proud of your school’s team.

So, to assist you in the crafting of this not-even-worthy-of-a-Hallmark-card, pathetically-pandering-self-serving-missile that’s a shadow of a sliver of a genuine sentiment—barely an eighth of the feels, if anyone’s counting—I’ve created a template. Feel free to fill in to your heart’s content, or in the manner that you think will garner the most likes.

Wow / Man / Shit. What a game / battle / complete nightmare.

We all know that Duke isn’t a football school. But today, we really showed some spirit / pride / onions on that field. And yes, I’m using “we” even though I don’t play football for Duke / don’t know a forward pass from a MetroPass / can’t connect to humans on an emotional level, because that’s how proud I am. It’s crazy to think of where this program was and where it is now. As Drake would say, “started from the bottom now we here” / “you used to call me on my cellphone” / “Duke University is now a football school.”

Coach Cut is really doing a bang-up / heckuva / personally-arousing job leading this program. I mean, if he were twenty years younger and I were twenty years older, I’d let him buy me a nice seafood dinner and never call me again / dance the Charleston with him in the rain outside the pool hall where we’d always run into each other (accidentally, we’d tell our friends, but in our heart of hearts we knew it was no accident) / tell him about that one thing I did back in ’83 and then suddenly become a blubbering mess as, one after one, all of my other secrets come pouring out of this shell I’ve constructed around myself—the shell we all construct, really—and I’m forced to rely on him to nurse me back to a contributing member of society.

So even though we lost today on a hail mary / on a last-second end zone interception / on a play the ESPN announcer–to convey the level of tragedy–literally compared to the Bay of Pigs invasion, I’m still proud of our team. Here’s to next year, when we’ll be in the College Football Playoff / slightly older, slightly wiser / probably dead, thanks to Trump (amirite?).

DDMF.

Miles in a Marathon, Ranked by Difficulty

In ascending order.

1. Mile 1

2. Mile 2

3. Mile 3

4. Mile 4

5. Mile 5

6. Mile 6

7. Mile 7

8. Mile 8

9. Mile 9

10. Mile 10

11. Mile 11

12. Mile 12

13. Mile 13

14. Mile 14

15. Mile 15

16. Mile 16

17. Mile 17

18. Mile 18

19. Mile 19

20. Mile 20

21. Mile 21

22. Mile 22

23. Mile 23

24. Mile 24

25. Mile 25

26. Mile 26

Debauchery, Discomfort and a Day at the Races

It’s not about the ponies, it’s never been about the ponies, and it never will be.

The Preakness Stakes is unadulterated idiocracy, fermented at a damn-near molecular level, on an extravagant stage of self-abandon. It’s a place where inhibitions go to die, where long-dormant sins find defibrillators, where moderation posts up in the corner and waits for someone, anyone, to ask it to dance.

It sticks out, surviving as its own entity, a Xanadu of excess that manifests in the dilapidated confines of Baltimore. The quote-unquote problematic socioeconomic and political undercurrents here aren’t lost on anyone*–really, you’d have to be fitted with blinders to ignore them–but all in all, the race’s presence foments nothing malicious. Besides the final stretch of the drive into Pimlico Race Course, we don’t see much of the city, just a handful of streets lined with entrepreneurial folks trying to earn a buck from the droves of racegoers. The contrast hits hard, those with minds scheming to make money so neatly juxtaposed with those showing a brazen disregard for fiduciary conscientiousness.

Luckily, at this point most folks on our bus aren’t displaying any form of conscientiousness, so little heed is paid to this disparate situation. Soon enough, we’re deposited inside the premises, given our marching orders, and following a brief delay as one of the undercard races completes–the only time that actual horse racing infringes upon our delightful Saturday–we’re in the infield.

The dirty little secret about the Preakness, or at least the subhuman component of the Preakness that is InfieldFest, is that you’re paying to see not a lot of anything. The name/rank/serial number of the “festival” is free beer, appropriately lukewarm performances from Childish Gambino and Armin Van Buuren, and general food atrocities like the Crab Pretzel, which I hope to Christ is banned in most of the continental U.S. Noticeably absent from the list is horse racing, which, when paired with betting houses, represents just another potential sinkhole in our wallets, cleaving us from our money with the allure of the transcendental Superfecta. No, in commodified terms, the value of the Preakness simply isn’t there; rather, it earns its billing through the most priceless of arts: people-watching.

Because by taking a literal spin around the grounds of the infield–and there’s a good chance you’re spinning for one reason or another–you’re apt to see humanity at both its worst and its Holy Sh*t Worst. You’ll see folks passed out, folks throwing up, folks deciding just which one of these is the path for them. Dancing happens, in some form at least, arms and legs moving in a manner that could diplomatically be described as “uncoordinated.” Not to mention the cult-like banging of pink cups, proof of one’s admission to the free beer pavilion, the arhythmic jangling on the railings as you wait in line for another serving of Up For Whatever lager.

The attire, which obviously bears mentioning since we’re at a horse race, is easily bucketed into subsections, representing the predominant forms of assholery in the general populace. Roughly speaking, it’s one part throwback jerseys, one part comfort wear, one part classy and a final dose of “classy.” I’m in the final category, boasting suspenders, bow tie, and fedora, looking like a cross between off-brand Oktoberfest and a bit player in There Will Be Blood. My compadre, similarly clownishly dressed, and I spend the afternoon eying the crowd for our doppelgangers, snapping the suspenders of any fools who wander in our vicinity. By the end of the day, we finally meet two folks who are wearing their suspenders in perhaps a more supportive manner than is necessary, and they waste no time explaining–in pretty graphic terms–exactly what they’re supporting.

But that’s really it–this is how we spend our afternoon, a whirlwind of stupidity and marveling at even greater stupidity. We spend time satisfying needs that Maslow would consider “pretty basic” or “completely unnecessary.” We take the little–nay, negative–betting knowledge we have and formulate the most complicated bets possible. With a bit of time to spare, we make our way to the final turn of the track, hedging our bets to see a fair amount of a moderately crucial part of the race, about the best one can hope for in the infield.

Then, rain. And thunder and lightning. We head for a food tent, first being told that we can’t stand there as “they’ll have to let everyone stand there,” then watching as the vendors eventually let everyone do just that. It’s intimate, a bunch of soaked, strangely-clad individuals trying to find the parts of the tarp that aren’t actively leaking to then stand under. We witness poor souls stranded underneath a tiny tent in the middle of the infield, first gathering there, then making the executive decision to drag the structure underneath the umbrella of a parent tent.

This is all a prelude to the most spontaneous moment of the afternoon, when we see on the videotron the horses being led out onto the slop, loaded into the gates, and then, following the bell, turned loose on the course. We take a moment to realize the implications of this, then sprint back to the final turn in the driving rain, catching the horses as they thunder around the bend, an anonymous blur of jockey pastels and kinetic energy. It’s a brief sweep, and we run alongside and then behind the horses, maximizing our time and adjacency to greatness, joyous and fluid on the trodden grass under the now-purple sky.

And like that, it’s all over. We gather our things–bow tie, suspenders and all–and pile back on the bus. The return trip bleeds away, everyone exhausted and shells of their morning selves, Baltimore left in the rearview. The day’s a marathon and a flash, full of everything and devoid of importance. I don’t feel shortchanged, though, as I was never promised a life-changing experience. Much like American Pharoah’s coasting to victory, the day ran true to expectations–no deeper meaning lay hidden inside the walls of Pimlico, and perhaps the simplest phrase is the best way to describe it.

The Preakness Stakes: it is what it is what it is.

_____

*It’s almost obligatory to mention these events in a blog post revolving around Baltimore, but it’s a hard sensation to miss, that omnipresent queasiness given the locational and temporal proximity to the recent events in the city. The thought that a few miles from the scene where Freddie Gray was fatally assaulted, from where the resulting protests brewed and spilled over, the Establishment could get together and throw Itself a party, no holds barred, the only risk to health and general wellness being whether one could hold his liquor. It’s not objectively wrong to do so, and I didn’t expect the city to postpone or move a race of this magnitude. There’s a gulf of difference, however, between objectively wrong and out-of-touch, and the presence of the race here gives the impression that the purveyors of White Privilege woke up, poked their heads around a little, and then decidedly returned to the lodgings in their own respective assholes.

The Two-Minute Chipotle Bag Essay to End Two-Minute Chipotle Bag Essays

For context, if you haven’t eaten at a Chipotle in the past six months or so: Chipotle has adorned its bags with brief, “two-minute” pieces by notable authors–Michael Lewis, George Saunders, Jonathan Safran Foer, etc. The pieces themselves range from fine to very good, but I can’t help but thinking the goal here–ostensibly to “cultivate thought”–outkicks its coverage, leading to essays tackling major, systemic societal problems, such as limited resource allocation, when a man’s just trying to get away from it all and enjoy some goddamn barbacoa and sour cream. So, to help Chipotle out and cater more to their customer base, I followed my friend “Tuck”* to the neighborhood Chipotle and gathered his thoughts to create an essay with a more appropriate/representative level of discourse.

*All names here have been both made up and subsequently changed.

____

The Two-Minute Case for Time Travel

By Tuck Chester

Time travel would be so sweet. If we got time travel really going, and we can–we put a man on the moon for Chrissakes–I could definitely stop Hitler. Like, I would just hop in my pod or whatever–yeah, I’d have a pod, Ricky. Why would you even say that? Obviously once time travel develops and is on the up-and-up, we’re gonna all have pods next to the fireplace that we, like, spin inside and just hop back 80 years. …OK, it doesn’t have to be the fireplace, Ricky. I was just using an example.

Jesus.

Point is, once we do that, we can all change the bad things in our history. Like with Hitler. We’ll just hop back to the ’30s and find him and say, like, knock it off man. Like what’s the big idea. And if we needed to we could take him out, get the dude in a sleeper hold and suplex the shit out of him. Or we could go back to when there was segregation and everything, and we could…hey, is the guac in here? I asked them for guac. I SPECIFICALLY oh here it is. That would have been bad. Get outta here, Rick. This is my guac. If you wanted some, you coulda paid for it. It’s, like, 2 bucks, man. C’mon.

We’d probably have to do some serious research to get time travel working. For what I’ve read, there’s probably a lot of logistics and kinks that need ironing out. But if we can knock that out in the next decade or so, that’d leave plenty of time for me to go back and just absolutely two-piece Hitler. I could go later, yeah, but I want to go at my physical peak–I bet he’s a wily guy. Oh, bullshit, Ricky. He’d eat you alive. When you fight, you’re all arms. You flail. You lack strategy. …Ok, ok. But what about this: would you rather fight 1 rhino-sized Hitler, or one Hitler-sized rhino?

Holy shit, now there’s a thought.

I’m out of space, but in conclusion, I think time travel could be very helpful to society in general, and I would very much like to fight Hitler at some point in the near future.

Bowl Games Michigan Missed Out On In 2014

The FUBU Bowl

The He Went To Jared Bowl

The 9/11 Truthers Bowl

The Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret Bowl

The South Shall Rise Again Bowl

The Pennsatucky Bowl

The Ceaseless Sounds In My Head Bowl

The Endorsed on LinkedIn Bowl

The Noise When Someone’s Rubbing A Balloon But Not Popping It And Please Someone Make It Stop Bowl

The Monsanto Bowl

The Have You Listened To Serial? Bowl

The Dale From Accounting Bowl

The Definitely Gonna Start Working Out Soon Bowl

The Bring It On: All or Nothing Bowl

The Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Bowl Game Bowl