As Memphis Sheds, OKC Stands As Beacon

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — As Memphis, $37 million lighter after Wednesday’s dumping of Rudy Gay, visits Oklahoma City tonight, crystallized further is the small-market Thunder standing as the league’s one-and-only Super Team built to survive this new era under a sharp-toothed collective bargaining agreement.

The Super Team era is dead and the staggering luxury tax penalties that take effect next season scared Memphis straight into a salary sell-off. The Grizzlies moved lesser pieces in a deal last week that spared them from the last of the dollar-for-dollar tax penalty this season and could have allowed them to take one more postseason stab with its core four — Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.

But the Grizzlies’ new ownership and management groups decided not even to do that. Gay is now a Raptor. Who knows where Randolph and Gasol will be come July?

Soon even LeBron James and the Super Friends might have to short-circuit LeBron’s “not one, not two, not three…” proclamation because the owners’ demands in the CBA is squeezing the three superstar model onto life support. LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will be owed a combined $62 million in the 2014-15 season before which all three can opt out. That three-player total already tops this season’s salary cap and is just $8 million from entering the luxury tax.

Starting next season, the luxury tax penalty increases incrementally with each $5 million over the threshold.

The Lakers? The Nets? The Knicks? The Spurs? The Bulls? Name another team with a core as young, as talented and as manageably locked up as the Thunder with All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and ever-emerging big man Serge Ibaka. Surely not the Grizzlies. Perhaps the Los Angeles Clippers if they re-sign Chris Paul this summer to pair long term with Blake Griffin.

“We like our team,” Durant told recently. “[General manager] Sam Presti, [assistant general manager] Troy [Weaver], do a great job of putting everything together and making it work, bringing great guys in here that fit with each other, making money fit, the salary cap, all that stuff. They make that work and we really trust them in every decision they make because they always try to put our team in position to do well.”

Presti and Co. made their difficult-but-necessary CBA-related move just days before the start of the season, further confirmation that the three superstar era is as good as dead when they gave up on signing James Harden and traded him to Houston. The deal netted sharpshooter Kevin Martin, and any criticism of the CBA pistol-whipping OKC into a chemistry-disrupting deal on the heels of an NBA Finals appearance evaporated with its seamless transition and fast start.

“We got rid of James, that had to happen, but we didn’t get rid of KD,” OKC coach Scott Brooks said. “We’re going to be good for a long time. KD is still here and Russell, and we have some young guys that are improving. Serge is only 23. Jeremy Lamb (Houston’s No. 12 overall pick acquired in the Harden deal), he hasn’t played much, but he has a chance to be really good, he’s only 20. [Hasheem] Thabeet, he’s not a known guy, then we’ve got some first-round picks.

“So we’re excited about where we’re going, but still we want to win a championship now. We’re not playing for next season or the next season after. We’re like every team, if you have a chance to win you want to win now.”

The Thunder are the favorite to return to the NBA Finals and a combination of shrewd decisions and foresight by the front office, good timing and great luck have positioned them to rule the West, if not the league, for seasons to come. No other team has such desirable young talent locked up for the long haul and locked into contracts that make it at least possible to swim around the luxury tax line of doom without being financially severed by the sharks.

Durant and Westbrook are 24, and Ibaka, incredibly, is only 23. Durant is already signed to a max deal through 2015-16 and Westbrook is too, and through 2016-17. Ibaka signed an extension in the offeseason and is on board through 2016-17 on a reasonable deal that will begin to pay him $12.3 million next season.

Martin becomes a free agent after this season. With just one playoff series in his first eight seasons with Sacramento and Houston, Martin, who is making more than $12 million this season, says he wants to re-sign with OKC.

And if OKC needs an escape hatch, Presti still holds the amnesty card, which he can use, if he so chooses, next offseason on a player such as center Kendrick Perkins, who will earn $18.6 million over the next two seasons.

“Our management does a great job of putting the right people around the organization,” Westbrook said. “It’s showing and it should help us out for years to come.”

The new CBA is ending the Super Team era and it threatens any young building team with uncomfortable decisions and short-term cohesion.

At the moment, no team is better positioned to conquer it than the Thunder.


  1. wayne says:

    they can ALWAYS sign for lesser money. they decide on their own. Laker fans just wanna see LEBRON, WADE and BOSH split up. grow up fans. its done. miami’s big three will always be there. they can even sign for 2Million each. they dont care.

    • Dante says:

      Nice to see the salary control taking effect. Not for all teams as mentioned, but fans are fans and small market teams deserve a chance to cheer for a good team.
      Basketball will grow when this takes effect.
      Next step is to put the game back in the hands of the players. The refs have far to much influence
      with their capricious calls and choosing which player gets the foul and which player doesn’t.
      Far too many game efforts spoiled by the refs.

  2. Perspective says:

    Kudos, indeed, go to the OKC franchise, but they had some relative good luck via the draft (luck meaning that they’re top picks have all played very well since coming to the NBA and were not mere busts). Take NOTHING away from OKC but this new CBA will eventually affect them down the road to because no one will be immune to strick salary cap penalties, especially the small market teams… OKC managed to part ways with Jeff Green and James Harden, and not have it affect their overall play and they deserve a ton of credit for that. But when some of the players on their current roster start to age and they want to replace those guys, they will probably have difficulty luring free agents like any other small market team.The guys they gave up (again Harden and Green) haven’t hurt them… yet… but when you don’t want to pay a guy like James Harden, not beacuse they didn’t feel he were worth it, but more so because they saw ahead of time the financial penalties they’d be facing and probaly couldn’t swing. They’re sitting pretty for now, but it will eventually catch up to them too…

  3. ROB says:

    2. DENG (ALL STAR)
    3. NOAH (ALL STAR)


  4. Whatsgood says:

    I agree with this. What the Lakers have shown is that it is not sustainable. Boston made a good run, Miami is still in the hunt (but to be fair if you put Wade and James on any team it becomes a super team. OKC and now Memphis. I think this is best for the league, share the wealth. You can put as many of these stars on one team, in itself, does not make a team super…but the results.

  5. haha says:

    what do you mean by example? example as how lucky a team can be, or example as how to build a team.
    By the end of the day, if you are lucky, you could be OKC. If you are not lucky, you are just close to bobcats.
    We have to understand betting on Young player is high risk and high reward option.

    • amitpal says:

      Were okc a little lucky. Yes with kevin durant they were. With russel westbrook james harden serge ibaka maynor jeremy lamb, this wasnt luck. Okc did there homework. They didnt just get players they got thw right player and developed them. Nobody wanted hasheem thabeet but look how good hes doing with okc. Okc has created a winning environment with winning players and coaches. Bobcats well there just stupid. Bad environment, bad coaching bad drafting. Dont just call this all luck. It s more of hardworl than luck.

  6. babilicious says:

    lets be realistic..teams with big market like florida,l.a. or ny won t have any problems keeping their stars next year..if u guys see the funds list the teams have this year u ll see they make so more than they spend…as the market is big the stars will join teams like lakers or knicks or ll create a bigger gap in the league thats for sure..same thing happened to memphis,too bas they couldnt keep rudy this year they could do some nasty stuff..

  7. BigBlue says:

    And we have 3 first round draft picks next year.

  8. Patti B says:

    Well I would love to say for OKC it is so nice to have a team that is consistent in how the team is put together. Before becoming a OKC Thunder fan our family was a San Antonio Spurs fan simply because of the consistency. James Harden was a huge loss personally but the team head office made a phenomenal move with bringing in Kevin Martin and most fans are very used to KMart and love him as much. We will always miss our James Harden in OKC but its just business.

  9. rbunjeva says:

    miami’s big three can still work. Sure the franchise will get penalized a lot next season, but then afterwords the big three can just sign for less money, say 10 million each. I mean they already made millions with off court endorsements, money is not a problem, they just wanna win championships.

    • kobe24 says:

      10 mill each ? are you dumb they each earn like 17-18 mill now you think there going to want to lose that much money your insane lebron isnt afraid to sign with another team neither is bosh lebron said theres even a chance for him to sign with cleveland when his contract is done here anyways

  10. kevin nicholls INDIANAPOLIS says:

    Revune is what makes teams able to spend money to pay players, and have super teams, big market or winning is what brings in money, small market teams are going to be the teams left out, but that is why there is going to be a luxury tax so small markets can compete with the big markets, the thunder are like 9 out of 10 that 1 because of a once in a lifetime player like durant who will always keep them a winner, until players and owners can understand that its not about money but love of the game and winning, then owners won’t pay to much and players won’t ask for to much, but it will proably not happen so the problem will always happen, its just business.

  11. Jay T says:

    Right there will be the Clippers….

  12. LOL says:

    This article is funny , cuz the super team is not dead, there will always be a super team in the LAKERS,.. the owner doesnt care for how much it goes over the cap.. it can be as high as 1 billion, and i do not think they care.

    • nas says:

      Yea–gagaga, as if you were them, hahaha-lol, lakers are just the pieces of oldies, gasping for playoff seat while thunder is thunderous happy Autocruisin. Hahahahaha.

    • kobeisoverrated says:

      are the lakers playing like a superteam nooooooooooooooooooo! so they don’t fit the category. but your right there will always be superteams though they might not look like them (talent wise not the lakers). LAKERS STINK. KOBE IS TRYING TO PLAY LIKE LEBRON BUT HE ISN’T SUCCEDING. WHEN KOB RETIRES HE’S GOING TO WRITE A BOOK ABOUT HO HE WAS THE BEST PLAYER IN THE NBA FOR ONE YEAR THEN LEBRON JAMES TOOK OVER AND HE FOUND HIMSELF DREAMING ABOUT PLAYING LIKE LEBRON.

  13. Chuck says:

    And as these kids are still improving and maturing, expect the mistakes to go down. In the playoffs two things win: defense and two or three shooters who can get their shots off with less than 5 seconds left. OKC has both, and lik the Bulls 20 years ago, they have gone through the ritual of losing in the playoffs.