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How much will it cost to keep ‘Big Three?’ A lot! And big decisions approach

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Tsai’s net worth is back on the rise. It’s close to $13 billion, according to estimates. After some ups-and-downs earlier in the year, things have stabilized and that’s a good thing. Because if Tsai wants to retain his “Big Three” over the long term, he may have to commit a not insignificant piece of his fortune to them over the next few years.

As we wrote back in February and Mike Mazzeo of Forbes Sports Money wrote this week, the numbers needed to extend Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden could be staggering — and have no precedent in NBA history.

How much we talking about? Try more than $700 million IF, IF each of the three get max extensions over the max number of years .. and that doesn’t even include luxury tax payments! Decision time approaches, as Mazzeo notes.

James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are eligible to opt out of their current contracts and become free agents following the 2021-22 season. However, the trio is extension eligible starting in August. “We’re definitely committed to these guys,” Brooklyn GM Sean Marks said on WFAN back in January.

Indeed, one narrative that came out of the Harden trade was that Marks wanted to keep KD and Kyrie happy over the longer term and give the Nets a wider window to win (having lost one year of the duo’s deals to injury and the pandemic).

Here’s how it breaks down, again at max levels both in terms of money and length of contracts: Harden (three years, $161.1 million), Durant (four years, $192.5 million) and Irving (four years, $181.6 million), per Mazzeo. That’s a total of $704.3 million over the next five years.

If you’re interested in the details and you want to get into the (very expensive) weeds, here’s Mazzeo’s numbers which like ours from February were based on research by Hoopshype capologist Yossi Gozlan...

James Harden (currently on a supermax)

2021-22: $44,310,840

2022-23: $47,366,760 (opt-in)

—Possible Extension

2023-24: $49,735,098

2024-25: $53,713,906

2025-26: $57,692,714

Total: $161,141,718

Five years: $252,819,318

Kevin Durant

2021-22: $42,018,900

—Possible Extension

2022-23: $42,964,845

2023-24: $46,402,033

2024-25: $49,839,220

2025-26: $53,276,408

Total: $192,482,506

Five years: $234,501,406

Kyrie Irving

2021-22: $35,466,200

Possible Extension

2022-23: $40,525,100

2023-24: $43,767,108

2024-25: $47,009,116

2025-26: $50,251,124

Total: $181,552,448

Five years: $217,018,648

That’s a total five-year commitment for the “Big Three” of $704,339,372.

One big issue of course in laying out all that money over all that time is the age of the three players at the end of the extensions. As Mazzeo writes...

Under this scenario, Harden (age-36), Durant (37) and Irving (34) would all make more than $50 million in the last year of their respective deals, 2025-26.

That matters in a lot of ways beyond the obvious. The Rockets bet on Marks et al being unable to sustain their success over the course of the next six years. If the Nets can’t, the draft picks and swaps will become painful reminders of another trade.

Would the “Big Three” be willing to compromise here and there? KD and Kyrie did agree in 2019 to take a little less to help accommodate DeAndre Jordan’s contract needs and Harden turned down a two-year, $103 million offer from the Rockets just before the trade so he could join the Nets.

And what about Tsai? Every indication is that the Nets owner is in it for the long-term and has shown in a variety of ways that he’s willing to spend from going deep into the luxury tax to bring in Harden to paying arena workers their full salary for months. He also spent money on improving the Liberty in the WNBA off-season, signing two of the league’s top defenders. Obviously, that was a tiny fraction of what he’d have to pay his NBA players but it showed his commitment ... and it’s paying off.

Of course, we won’t have to be concerned about any of that until August and (hopefully) a lot of basketball will be played between now and then.