Bernstein: Kevin Durant Should Skip The Rio Olympics

By Dan Bernstein

Kevin Durant already has an Olympic basketball gold medal, a ton of money and his good health. Of one of those, he has enough. Given the risks and rewards of a trip to Brazil in August with Team USA, the 27-year-old free agent should sit this one out, protecting both his oft-injured feet and his full market value for years to come.

Before even considering the frightening conditions in Rio, look only at the fact that Durant just finished a 90-game slate in which he averaged 35.8 minutes per game, ninth most in the NBA. This followed a season that included three separate surgeries on a right foot that could probably use some time not being pounded on a hardwood floor.

The 2014 FIBA World Championships left us with the sickening image of Paul George’s compound ankle fracture, a sight only slightly less gruesome than the ensuing photo-op staged for Mike Krzyzewski to get a tweetable picture of himself hugging George on his hospital bed. That injury sparked the completely reasonable debate about the need to send pros in the first place, but did nothing to change the plan of USA Basketball for this round.

Whether any negative health outcome for Durant is something acute like that or merely needless wear and tear, it’s easily avoidable.

His upcoming negotiation with suitors around the NBA coincidentally lines up with the windfall of the league’s new television deal. And that creates all kinds of new options, with so many franchises convincing themselves that they are in play. The timing will be tight with the free-agent period beginning in July and the Olympics August 5th, an unnecessary complication as he contemplates offers for the next stage of his professional life.

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Beyond his personal considerations, there’s everything else going on in Rio, with the declared world health emergence of the Zika virus, rampant crime, a crumbling government and an infrastructure undermined by corruption and lax oversight. A bike bridge has already collapsed and killed people, the trains don’t work and the builder of some of the venues was just arrested Monday on bribery and fraud charges related to shoddy work already done.

Take it from Pau Gasol, as proud a national representative as there is in basketball. Spain’s center told the AP, “I’m thinking about (whether or not to go). Just like every athlete, or any other person considering going to Rio, should be thinking about it.”

Durant has millions and millions of reasons to think harder than most as he negotiates a new contract, since he may be incentivized to create some kind of opt-out wherever he ends up. With nine years of NBA service, he’s entitled to a salary worth 30 percent of a team’s cap. If he’s a free agent again as a 10-year veteran, that number jumps to 35 percent, and even more TV dollars (from $92 million to $108 million) are expected to swell payrolls before the 2017-’18 season.

He could sign a one-year deal with Oklahoma City for $25.8 million, then his the market again to sign a max deal there for five years and $205.7 million. If he just wants to be done with the process now, he could get $148.8 million over five to stay.

In either case, his “Bird” rights granted in the CBA allow him to make considerably more money if he stays right where he is, and that’s similarly sound advice regarding the Rio Olympics.

Dan Bernstein is senior columnist on CBS Chicago and co-host of “Boers & Bernstein” on Chicago’s 670 The Score.

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