Words by Phlip
Last season (as in the one that ended 14 months ago, not 2), basketball fans and observers crowned the OKC Thunder as having “arrived,” with the right mix of superduperstar power, second-tier all-star talent, a capable coach, willing role-players and a very interesting defense.This past season, all of those people were shown to have been dead right in that assessment.
I was one of the people who had the Thunder slated to go far this past season, hence my lack of surprise at their presence. Alas, lack of experience on the main stage was a large portion of their demise in the NBA Finals this past year. In so much, they are in the enviable position of comfort where all they SHOULD add in this offseason is come time to learn their craft and be better at being better. As I mentioned previously in the Minnesota Timberwolves post, having their three best pieces in the Olympics alongside other winners should instill some semblance of a winner’s spirit in them with largely the same personnel.
Except it makes unfortunately TERRIBLE financial sense.
See, Kevin Durant is making superstar money in his 5-year/$85million contract, Russell Westbrook is similarly compensated under a 5-year/$80million one of his own. Now, no one in their right mind thinks that Russell Westbrook is as comparatively valuable as is Kevin Durant, but the unfortunate fact of the matter remains that if OKC didn’t, assuredly another sucker would have paid him, probably in their own division. Anyway, back to why this matters… This summer represents Serge Ibaka’s turn to get paid. What I am hearing is that he took a 4-year/$48million contract, which in my opinion is right in line with his stature in the league compared to what he brings to the team.
With OKC seeming to trade good decisions for bad ones, extending Durant early then overpaying Westbrook then properly compensating Ibaka to keep him, we need to look at a couple of things here. They either precluded the above-mentioned moves with a bad one or are damned to make one next if they’re being consistent. I am of the opinion that they made one before the above when they gave Kendrick Perkins 4 years and $38.4million with a lockout looming back in March 2011. The reason why is because NEXT season will be James Harden’s turn to earn a fat check.
And that is why it makes such bad financial sense…
James Harden, as I have stated in a prior post, is as good enough to be a starter on at least 25 other teams in the league, but apparently knows that his place to be is 6th man for Oklahoma City. Looking at the moneys being doled out about the league, he is looking at a contract paying him at least 4 seasons and somewhere in the neighborhood of $50million. This averages out to about 55 million tied up in 4 out of the starting 5 with a looming luxury tax penalty hanging as a specter to the necessity of paying the rest of the team’s players. Someone has to go, simple as that. This is one ugly caveat of building through the draft as OKC did, they’ve cultivated this amazing talent, and when left with the onus of keeping all of it intact, this will likely get uglier than anyone wants for it to be.
Now, I have always touted the Jerry Buss model of “spend now and win a championship, you’ll recoup the tax hit” being absolute. It has worked for the Lakers since he has owned them to the tune of 10 championships, it worked when the Bulls paid MJ $35million a season his last two there, it worked for Dallas in their one championship grab and it worked for Miami this last season. The issue, now, is that other owners in the league cried and the luxury tax itself will make going over and the revenue that winning brings to a diminishing return. Sure, OKC could win it all and sell a ton of merchandise, but they are in the smallest media market in the NBA and the television revenue will just not be there to warrant stacking up the roster and swinging for the fences.
[Phlip note – Miami, LA and NY will ALSO feel this burn with their as-installed rosters]
So just what am I saying?
I am saying that OKC’s window is not NEARLY as wide open as it appeared to be before the lockout. They pretty much have one more as-assembled season, then one “writing’s on the wall” season and then comes time for the roster to begin falling apart due to simple business needs.
The good news for OKC fans, though, is that they WILL be in the conversation right up until that moment and perhaps longer if they can figure out something that I have not thought of already.
Words by Phlip