If you’re going to follow the NBA in depth, you’re going to have to get used to a coterie of expert witnesses, because there’s just too many moving parts to consider, too much to understand, too many plates to keep in the air.
One of them is Bobby Marks, ESPN’s “NBA Front Office Insider.” And late Friday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder put him to the test.
Given the salary cap, given the luxury tax and its repeater penalty, given the contracts the Thunder have on the books heading into next season in the wake of Paul George agreeing to a reported four-year, $137 million max contract and Jerami Grant agreeing to a reported three-year, $27 million contract, Marks offered this:
“Oklahoma City now has a payroll of $156M with 11 players under contract,” he wrote on Twitter. “Because of the repeater tax penalty, the Thunder currently have a tax bill of $130M. The tax bill would be the largest in NBA history.”
No team has ever even paid $100 million in the luxury tax.
Also, despite all that, here’s what Oklahoma City really proved last Saturday night.
It’s just better at this than everybody else.
It’s better in the draft, where in successive seasons, with the Nos. 2, 4 and 3 picks, general manager Sam Presti selected Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, three future Hall of Famers, one reigning MVP and two previous ones.
That’s not to mention Serge Ibaka with the 24th pick in the 2008 draft, Steven Adams with the 12th pick in 2013, even Reggie Jackson, chosen in 2011, has had a terrific career as a 24th pick.
OKC drafts value as well or better than any front office in the league. Still, that’s not really breaking new ground. Many league observers might cop to that.
More stunning is what happened Saturday night, when George committed without even giving the Los Angeles Lakers, the team of his youth, a meeting.
More stunning was locking up Westbrook, another Los Angeles native, in the long term prior to last season.
More stunning is ownership’s willingness to write the checks that must be written.
Even the move OKC would love to have back, dealing for Carmelo Anthony prior to last season, was seen as a coup at the time. Though it may have been a lapse in judgment, the dexterity to pull it off remains impressive. Perhaps only Presti could have done it.
No, the Thunder can’t possibly pay out every season like they’re slated to pay out next season, which in the absence of future moves to cut salary could be a total payroll/luxury tax price tag approaching $300 million.
Yet, to remain competitive moving forward, they had to pay George and they had to pay him now. The option would not be available later.
There’s a short video you can find from late Saturday night of ESPN NBA reporter and LeBron James whisperer Brian Windhorst appearing to literally be pulling hair out of his head, not understanding George’s agreement to stay in Oklahoma City and for so many years at that. It just didn’t compute.
Clearly, what’s not computing to national folks like Windhorst, who operate well beyond metropolitan Oklahoma City, is that the NBA, despite all the money thrown around, all the stupid conjecture on ESPN every morning, the blanket with which it’s covered from so many angles by so many sources, can still sometimes still be as simple as culture and appreciation, commitment and quality of life.
The Thunder have made a home, not a way-station, for Westbrook. Now they have made one for George, too. They’ve done it for Adams and Grant, too.
And yeah, maybe that nucleus can’t compete for an NBA championship next season (or maybe it can). But how about three years from now?
The NBA will be a different league at that time, the Thunder will still have their core.
It turns out, even if OKC’s not the best place to visit, it’s hard to leave once you’ve arrived.
That’s kind of been true forever.
The Thunder have seen to it that everybody knows.