The ink hardly had dried on Russell Westbrook's contract extension before some Thunder fans began fretting about the next two in line.
A signing that should have been celebrated as a deal that secured the long-term future of two of the league's top players — Westbrook and Kevin Durant — somehow became a cause for concern. Locally, the lingering question has been, will the Thunder now be able to keep James Harden and Serge Ibaka?
It's the NBA's version of borrowing trouble.
Someday, Oklahoma City surely will be forced to bid adieu to someone in its talented young core. But now is not the time to worry over how imminent that day might be.
Harden and Ibaka are eligible for extensions this summer. If deals aren't reached by Oct. 31, they will become restricted free agents in July 2013. That means the Thunder has their rights this season and next season, as well as the right of first refusal to match any contract offer they might receive from another team as restricted free agents.
But for whatever reason, a segment of the fan base can't seem to avoid anxiety about the future. It's the same stuff that rattled fans in Cleveland, and it's what's plaguing Orlando right now. The big difference is, unlike the Thunder, the Cavs and Magic never surrounded LeBron James and Dwight Howard with a stable of young complementary pieces that could grow together and sustain success.
Nevertheless, James and Howard still re-signed at the end of their rookie contracts, which should be a lesson to the fearful faction in Oklahoma City. That is, the most skilled players simply don't skip town at the end of their rookie deals. These second contracts, or first extensions, almost always get done when a team has a player worth keeping.
Plenty of young players have moved teams. But since the current rookie scale contract format of two guaranteed years and two team option years started in 2005, not a single impact player has gotten away.
The first-round selections that have moved on either couldn't play (Adam Morrison), were injury prone (Sean May), no longer fit and were allowed to walk (Raymond Felton) or were traded, either for better pieces (Martell Webster, Charlie Villanueva and Randy Foye) or to shed salary cap space (David Lee and Michael Beasley).
The Thunder lost Jeff Green, the fifth overall pick in 2007, because the two sides couldn't come to terms on an extension. But Oklahoma City traded Green to Boston and netted Kendrick Perkins to become the low-post defensive presence the Thunder sorely lacked.
Stars, though, stick with the franchise that drafted them.
From the 2005 draft class, Andrew Bogut, Marvin Williams, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Andrew Bynum and Danny Granger all remained with their teams following their rookie deals. Only Paul and Williams have since departed.
From the 2006 class, Andrea Bargnani, LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy (though now retired due to injury), Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo all re-upped.
From the 2007 class, Durant, Al Horford, Mike Conley, Joakim Noah and Thaddeus Young stayed aboard. And so far, the three best players in the 2008 class — Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love — have re-signed with their original teams.
Obviously, the Thunder can't continue to disburse $80 million deals. But who else on the Thunder can command anywhere near that chunk of change? Besides, we've watched the Thunder front office build a wonderfully layered team over the past two years, which could offset the burden of anyone else unexpectedly approaching that tax bracket.
Second-year center Cole Aldrich is now being groomed to supplant Nazr Mohammed next season. And though it hasn't been mentioned anywhere, it's not absurd to think a much cheaper Aldrich very well could be the player who's been penciled in to replace Perkins as opposed to the team paying him $9 million in the final year of his deal. Also, despite many questioning the selection of Reggie Jackson in last year's draft, the season-ending injury to Eric Maynor illustrates clearly how Jackson is now the next point guard in line.
We all know there isn't another Harden or Ibaka waiting in the wings. But, remember, Thunder GM Sam Presti started in San Antonio. He was there when the Spurs built a dynasty not by overpaying to keep talent, but by identifying two or three stars to build around and filling in the gaps with complementary pieces that could play a role.
By now, it's safe to say Westbrook, Harden and Durant are the future. They get dibs on the dough, and everyone else must fall in line.
Spend too much time stressing over who fits where, though, and you'll miss out on a pretty good basketball team.