As the Oklahoma City Thunder fans filtered out of the Chesapeake arena Wednesday night, the time to reflect on the past season was suddenly here. As the season’s stories start to fade, a new chapter in Thunder basketball ball has begun, and impending concerns come into focus.
No approaching issue is more pressing than the expiring contract of shooting guard Kevin Martin. Oklahoma City acquired Martin and his expiring contract in the preseason trade involving James Harden. After negotiations broke down and the need to avoid substantial luxury tax penalties became the predominant concern, the Thunder struck a deal with the Houston Rockets, exchanging James Harden, Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich, and Lazar Hayward for Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb, and two first-round draft picks. Martin received $12.9 million during the 2012-13 season, and now at the season’s end, he will be an unrestricted free agent.
Martin expressed his desire to remain in Oklahoma City, praising his teammates and the fans, but understanding the complications of the Thunder's financial situation. He stated that he will see what free agency brings. Free agency could bring offers around $8 - $9 million. An earlier published article ranking the value of upcoming free agents valued Martin at $5.5 million. Oklahoma City may not be able to match any of those offers. To continue with Oklahoma City, Kevin Martin would possibly have to take a 75% pay cut.
Here is the sad truth facing Oklahoma City. A little more than $66 million is already committed to 10 players for next season. That figure doesn’t include: Kevin Martin, DeAndre Liggins, Daniel Orton, Derek Fisher, or Ronnie Brewer. Last season’s luxury tax ceiling was around $70 million. If that holds true for this next season, there will not be much of a gap. If the Thunder is looking to add a couple of players during the draft, all five of those players without a contract could be lost.
The Thunder reached a franchise high of 60 wins this season. Martin was a big part of that success, averaging 14 points per game during the regular season. Oklahoma City’s General Manager, Sam Presti, expressed satisfaction in Kevin Martin’s performance and said that the Thunder would love to keep him. The feeling is mutual. Martin called this past season a, "What if" season, referring to Westbrook's injury. How did Martin ultimately feel about his first season in a Thunder jersey?
"It ended too soon. That’s what I’ll say about the whole experience." Martin said in his exit interview. "From the outside looking in, I knew it was a great place, but when I was traded here, it turned out to be a special place."
Time will tell if Martin wants to continue to play in a place that we all know is special and at what price.