HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If the Oklahoma City Thunder thought making The Finals with home court advantage and losing in five games was excruciating work, they haven’t seen anything yet.
James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Eric Maynor are all eligible for contract extensions on their rookie deals and Thunder boss Sam Presti has to come with a way to keep his roster intact.
With the changing landscape in the league and the new salary cap structure of the new collective bargaining agreement to consider, the Thunder will need a serious plan to keep Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook surrounded by one of the best supporting casts in basketball.
At their exit meetings over the weekend the players involved spoke of continuing a franchise trend of sacrificing their own financial ambitions for the greater good, surely a unique (and some might say foolish) approach when you talk about the business of basketball.
But if we’re to take them at their word, that is exactly what they are prepared to do, per Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman:
“Sacrifice,” said Maynor, “if we really want to continue. It feels like we got something special here. I feel like if guys sacrifice to get something done then everybody will be here still.”
Talk about a tough sell.
Harden is widely considered to be a top five shooting guard. He won Sixth Man of the Year honors after averaging 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists, all career-highs.
Ibaka is a rising defensive star. He led the league in blocked shots per game this season after leading the NBA in total blocks last season. He finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting behind New York center Tyson Chandler.
Maynor, meanwhile, is perhaps the best backup point guard in the league. Though he sustained a season-ending knee injury early in the year, Maynor’s floor-general skills are recognized throughout the league as being elite.
Each player easily could net more cash and, quite likely, better roles elsewhere.
Harden, however, said, for him, winning trumps dollars.
“This is something special here,” Harden said. “A dynasty could be, is being, built here. So we’re winning, we’re having fun and we’re brothers. The other stuff, you can’t buy it.”
Technically speaking, this is yet another lesson the Thunder have learned from the Heat team that schooled them in The Finals. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all took less than market value to play alongside each other and chase championships.
Don’t laugh. They did actually leave millions on the table to join forces in Miami. And it paid off.
Obviously, the Thunder players up for contract extensions this summer wouldn’t necessarily have commanded maximum extensions. But in a small market where Durant, Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins are already owed large sums of money in the coming years, the price tag on the franchise’s future is a hefty one.
Sacrifice is absolutely the only way this team stays together without the Thunder having to go into the deep end of the league’s salary pool.