"Just to be absolutely clear, I do not think that's ideal from the league standpoint," Silver said during a news conference on Tuesday of Duran't decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for 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."
The league's current CBA ends in June of 2021, but either side—the players or the owners—can back out of the deal after 2016-17 if they inform the other of that decision by December 15.
"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," Silver continued. "My belief is we can make it better."
It required a perfect storm for a team with three All-Stars coming off two straight NBA Finals appearances to land another superstar in Durant. Due to an influx of cash thanks to the league's new television deal, the salary cap increased from $70 million in 2015-16 to $94 million in 2016-17, giving just about every team—including stacked ones—cap space to add a star this summer. With the cap rising to $102 million next summer, and Durant one year away from achieving 10 years of experience—allowing for the highest possible tier of a maximum contract—OKC's ability to give Durant more money over a five-year deal wasn't much of an advantage over what other teams had to offer.
The players union had a chance to avoid such a storm, but they voted against a proposed "cap smoothing," in which the salary cap would have rised gradually so as to not give a team like the Warriors this advantage.
"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."
There have been two central proposals to improve parity in the league. One is eliminating maximum contracts altogether. With the current rules, max deals artificially lower superstars' salaries. This change would lead to the Warriors stars being paid more, making it more difficult to fit Durant under the cap as well; it also creates the possibility of a team with more cap space than anyone to offer Durant way, way more than Golden State could have offered—don't think for a second teams wouldn't have offered him $50 million or more.
The other option is a hard salary cap. As of now, teams can go over the cap to bring their own players back into the fold, leading to tricky machinations that led to the Cleveland Cavaliers dishing out a over $110 million to their players in 2015-16 despite a cap of $70 million. In other words, with no cap, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and LeBron James likely couldn't fit on a team without taking massive salary cuts, which likely would have meant at least one of them joining a lesser team and raising the overall level of competition in the league.
"Having said that," Silver continued, "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."