Rent Will Soon Be Due For Thunder

I love the Thunder. You love the Thunder. Everyone except Seattle loves the Thunder. Who didn’t like what they saw last season, and then again in the season opener last night, when they flexed their potential against Orlando and a disengaged Dwight Howard?

Kevin Durant got his MVP campaign off in a hurry with 30 points and Oklahoma City put away Orlando fairly easily. As expected, there was a fine display of starting-five strength, of depth (which will go over well in a compacted season) and of overall excitement surrounding this team. We might be looking at 50-plus wins (in 66 games), a division title, a deep playoff run … and maybe even more?

It all looks swell until you read the fine print and understand the bill will be due very quickly. And then what?

Prosperity comes at a price, is what we’re saying. And that means the small-market Thunder must spend generously to keep Russell Westbrook beyond this season, followed by financial decisions involving Serge Ibaka and James Harden, among others. This is something David Stern discussed prior to the Orlando-Oklahoma City game, making it pretty clear what might take one day for the Thunder to rise to a championship:

Minutes before the Oklahoma City Thunder tipped off what is expected to be a promising 2011-12 campaign, NBA commissioner David Stern conceded that if the franchise wants to win big with its current core, it eventually would have to be a luxury tax payer.

And the commissioner considered that a good thing.

“That means you’ve arrived and you’re out there being competitive,” Stern said as he both addressed and stood behind several topics in the league’s ratified collective bargaining agreement.

The NBA opened its regular season on Christmas after a five-month lockout pushed back the start of the season and shortened the customary 82-game schedule to 66 contests. Stern traveled to Oklahoma City for the Thunder’s opener against Orlando after attending the Dallas-Miami game earlier in the day as the defending champion Mavericks raised their championship banner.

The labor dispute, the second in 14 years to cause the league to forfeit regular season games, made sweeping changes to such things as the league’s revenue sharing model, the overall split in total revenues between owners and players, the luxury tax, and player contract lengths.

“The way this deal was constructed, everyone knows that teams are going to be tax payers for a given period of time, when it’s time to “Go for it,” Stern said. “The teams that are not going to be considered smart are going to be the Knicks when they were a taxpayer and had nothing to show for it, and Portland that had a $57 million tax bill with nothing to show for it. So you’re going to have to decide as a team, ‘Do we have the roster that’s ready to go for it?’”

Having locked up Durant for the max, the Thunder will undoubtedly be pressed to do likewise with Westbrook, especially if he has a big year and learns to conform better to the gameplan (meaning, don’t wave off Durant). They gave Kendrick Perkins money last season, so it’ll be a challenge for a small-market team to keep five fairly-high-priced players on the roster and steer clear of luxury tax issues. Actually, this may be next to impossible, unless OKC wants to commit financial suicide.

Also, you must wonder how much love Oklahoma City will continue to show the Thunder if ticket prices rise substantially as a result of a hiked payroll. Anything involving disposable income is always tricky to measure in this economy, although if the town is as basketball-crazed as it seems, that won’t be too much of an issue. Especially with the limited entertainment options, in terms of pro sports, in Oklahoma City.

Maybe this talk is too premature. Hey, the season just started, and OKC would rather enjoy it now and deal with the details later. That’s fine. Until then, we will witness the continued growth of a likable superstar, one of the top five or six point guards in the game and a love affair between a basketball team and football town. It’s a success story in the making. Hopefully for the sake of everyone involved, this success can stay the course.

8 Comments

  1. lee says:

    There’s no reason you won’t like this team….Hats off to the management and coaching staff in putting up this team. I’m really excited this season beacuse they have a good shot of making it to the finals….fingers crossed.

  2. mattman says:

    OKC has the right pieces to make a deep playoff run…kendrick perkins and james harden are their x factors..when they play well, the Thunder play well..I see no reason at this point why OKC should not be considered a contender..

    mindofmattman.blogspot.com

  3. Todd P says:

    Oh, I understand now Craig H. Your point was made because your dad will watch a college basketball game over an NFL playoff game “every time!”. Trust me, he’s definitely in the minority in this state. It’s not that Oklahomans don’t love their basketball, but they LOVE their football, especially of the college variety. Heck, just compare the football versus basketball facilities at OU and OSU. Not even close how much money the universities spend on the football programs in relation to basketball, which is a reflection of where they get their revenue, which in turn is a reflection of where fan demand is most concentrated. In your comment you pretty much summed up the entire history of college basketball in Oklahoma in a couple of sentences. It would take a couple of books to do the same for college football in Oklahoma. Bottom line, Oklahomans love basketball as evidenced by the Thunder’s fan base (I’ve been a season ticket holder since day one and include myself in this group), but no way would anyone characterize our state as a basketball town over football.

    • Craig H. says:

      I didnt say “over football”.. My point is that OKC/Oklahoma is not a one-sport city/sate, and never has been. The national media have it intheir heads that were a “football state” And Im tired of their ignorance, and Im tired of hearing it over and OVER. So Im trying to educate them..

  4. Craig H. says:

    Let me put it another way: in January, if theres a good college basketball game on (not necessarily our teams) and an NFL playoff game on at the same time, my dad will watch the basketball game every time!

  5. Matt says:

    Craig, it is true that our state has had a bit of basketball history as you state, but when you compare it to the college football history and where it currently is, it is easy to see that we are a football state.

    • Craig H. says:

      A bit? Let me put it this way: Oklahomans are very knowledgeable basketball fans, not because of the Hornets, but because weve been going to HS games for decades and watching the Aggies/Cowboys and the Sooners for decades. A bit? LOL ROTF PAL

  6. Craig H. says:

    You are wrong when you say that OKC is a football town. Basketball has a rich tradition in this state. OKC is home to the oldest college tournament in the country. Bill Russell played in it when he was at USF. Henry Iba won 2 NCAA titles and had four Final Four appearances as OSU men’s basketball coach in the 40s. Iba is responsible for the addition of goal-tending to the rule book. He was the first coach to teach his players to squat while playing defense. Billy Tubbs brought big-time college basketball to OU in the 80s. You should do your homework.