2013 NBA free agency: why the Thunder are staying off the market

Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

Most teams have to choose between winning now or winning later. If the Oklahoma City Thunder set themselves up financially, they will not have to make that decision.

The Oklahoma City Thunder don’t have much in common with the rest of the NBA.

They don’t play in a large market. They aren’t owned by an internet-millionaire. They don’t have beautiful beaches surrounding their city. They don’t have Disney World or Disney Land. They don’t have tradition.

However, what they do have in common with some teams in the league is the need for financial security.

Sam Presti and the Thunder haven’t shown much activity since being bounced by the Memphis Grizzlies in last season’s playoffs. They decided to keep Kendrick Perkins, they let Kevin Martin walk and although they’ve been open to trade talks, they haven’t even sniffed the market.

Financial security.

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will account for nearly $46 million of the Thunder’s salary in 2013-2014. Kendrick Perkins is due almost $9 million as well giving the team a $55 million, four-player investment for next season.

According to HoopsHype the Thunder’s salary is just over $65 million with team options on Hasheem Thabeet, Daniel Orton and DeAndre Liggins. If they pick up the options, Oklahoma City will be sitting at just over $68 million.

ESPN’s Larry Coon projected the NBA’s luxury tax threshold for 2013-2014 at $71.6 million. Any team that breaks the tax-line will pay $1.50 for every $1.00 they are over to the league.

If Oklahoma City would have reached out to a free agent this offseason the chance of breaking the threshold was great. Not to mention the class didn’t feature a piece that fit the roster enough to pay the extra cash.

In order for the Thunder to reach financial security they must try to stay under the luxury tax for not only this season, but for the next two-three as well.

Durant and Westbrook are only 24 years old. Durant’s current contract will end after the 2015-2016 season and Westbrook’s will end after the following season. The Thunder will need to be set to offer each another max-deal if they want to retain their superstars for their careers. Even if that means eating Perkins’ contract and letting a proven scorer like Martin sign elsewhere this year.

If the Thunder stay under the tax threshold for the next two seasons, they will benefit for the future. They will drop Perkins’ contract after 2014-2015, saving them $9 million per season. Nick Collison’s contract will be up as well and they have team options on five different players.

A financially secure future doesn’t mean the Thunder can’t win a championship now either.

They have three of the best players in the world and one of the best starting rotations in the league. They are still a Western Conference power and still have a great chance of making the Finals for the next two-three seasons.

Most teams have to choose win now over financial security. The Thunder have set themselves up with both. They have as good a chance as any Western Conference team to make the Finals and their future is just as bright.

Oklahoma City is far from a big market and the Thunder’s owners are far from Mark Cuban. In order for the franchise to survive long-term, they have to think big picture.

Luckily for the Thunder they can afford to set up their future while potentially winning championships.

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