Offseason Outlook: Oklahoma City Thunder

Guaranteed Contracts


  • None

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

  • None

Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (28th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $62,252,788
  • Cap Holds: $11,475,000
  • Total (not including draft picks): $73,727,788

As Oklahoma City made its run to the 2012 Finals, the traditional narrative suggested the team wasn't supposed to be this good this soon. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are only 23 years old. James Harden and Serge Ibaka are 22. There are a handful of veterans on the club, most notably the 37-year-old Derek Fisher, but the nucleus of the championship roster is incredibly young.

Unfortunately, due to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, this won't necessarily be the start of a Thunder dynasty. Durant and Westbrook are locked up to long-term deals, but the status of the rest of the team's core is up in the air. Harden and Ibaka are entering the final year of their rookie contracts, and will be eligible for extensions this offseason, but it's not clear if the Thunder has the financial means to extend both players.

To be clear, the Thunder aren't in the same situation as a team like New York — the Knicks could afford to re-sign all their own free agents and pursue others as well, but cap restrictions will likely prevent them from doing so, even if they have money to spend. For Oklahoma City, cap rules wouldn't stop them from extending both Harden and Ibaka for up to maximum-salary contracts. But as a small market team, the Thunder may not be able to afford such expenditures. The team already has $45MM committed to team salaries in 2014/15, for instance. Eight-figure salaries for Harden and Ibaka would push that number up near $70MM, with the Thunder still needing to fill their remaining roster spots. With more punitive luxury tax penalties on the way, retaining all their stars would almost certainly make the Thunder an annual taxpayer, something they may want to avoid.

The Thunder's potential spending limitations also explain why using the amnesty clause on someone like Kendrick Perkins to create room for extensions probably wouldn't work. While the Thunder might be able to sneak below the tax line if they were to amnesty Perkins and re-sign Harden and Ibaka, the team would still be paying significant money for Perkins not to play for them, which is feasible for big-market teams like the Knicks, but less so for Oklahoma City.

If it seems like I'm focusing too much on the Thunder's future and not on this summer, that's because all the club's moves in the coming months will be made with an eye on that future. Using the mid-level exception to sign a second- or third-tier free agent to a multiyear deal is probably a long shot, for example, since that long-term salary would compromise the Thunder's ability to eventually re-sign Harden and Ibaka. Trading either player is unlikely as well. Even if the Thunder decide they can't keep both players, they can still play another season with the current core and try to get back to the Finals before possibly losing one in free agency next summer.

I expect the Thunder to explore extensions with both Harden and Ibaka this offseason, and perhaps they'll even lock up one of the two, particularly if either player is willing to accept a slight discount. But it's more likely that the Thunder will have a quiet summer, adding a cheap free agent or two and perhaps a rookie with their late first-round pick.

GM Sam Presti has been creative in the way he's constructed the Thunder to date, and it has paid off in a big way this season. Now that he's built a championship contender, he'll face a challenge that could be just as difficult: Finding a way to keep the core of that title contender intact.

Storytellers Contracts and Sham Sports were used in the creation of this post.


View Comments (0)