HANG TIME, Texas — The Thunder have ponied up $48 million over the next four years to keep Serge Ibaka in the fold. So they’re down to the last piece of the puzzle, James Harden, who could become a free agent next summer.
Based on everything they’ve done to this point, does anyone really think general manager Sam Presti is going to stop now, one step short of keeping the whole together for a run at the NBA championship?
Zach Lowe at SI.com breaks down all of the numbers and the dollars and the amount of luxury taxes the Thunder will be forced to pay:
The tax line is at $70.4 million now, and it will go up as league revenues rise. But most projections have the tax line somewhere around $75 million in the 2015-16, and very solid growth (about 3 percent) would have it jump only to $72.5 million in 2013-14 and $74.6 million in the following season. Note again: These are estimates.
Under the harsh new tax rates that kick in for the 2013-14 — just in time! — the Thunder would be paying a tax bill ranging from $7.5 million to $12.5 million or so, depending on the exact tax level and how much the team’s ownership is willing to spend on the back of the roster.
Is Oklahoma City, the league’s second-smallest market, willing to spend something like $85 million or even $90 million to fill a team?
My hunch is that they are — at least for those two seasons. Deals attached to Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison expire after 2014-15, leaving the Thunder in 2015-16 with about $66.5 million committed to the four stars in and all their draft picks between now and then — and the ability to slide under the tax or nuzzle right up against it. Of course, there are huge unknowns here, including the Thunder’s place in the league’s revenue-sharing system and the financial state of Aubrey McClendon, a minority owner whose energy company (Chesapeake) has come under increased scrutiny for its financial state and internal practices.
Still, you own a team to chase titles, and the Thunder might be willing to swallow hard and pay the tax for two seasons of title-chasing — a precious commodity, really. The use of the amnesty provision on Perkins would be a game-changer, tax-wise, and it will be interesting to see if Perry Jones develops fast enough to at least make Oklahoma City think about going to battle with a three-man big rotation of Jones, Collison and Ibaka, plus flotsam on the bench. It’s a risk, especially with the the Lakers bulking up, but the notion that Perkins is a Dwight Howard stopper became a bit outdated by the end of the 2010-11 season. But Perkins is a valuable post defender who provides depth and the ability for Scott Brooks to play several different sorts of lineups.
Is it an expensive game to play when you’re little ol’ OKC? Of course.
Is it a risky proposition to lay everything on the line in an era when the Lakers have reloaded and the Heat may just be coming together? You bet.
Do you do it if you’re the Thunder? In a heartbeat.