OKC Thunder: Offseason has gone according to plan

Many wonder why the team isn't doing more, but OKC is just fine. The team will take its place atop the Western Conference once Russell Westbrook returns from knee injury.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: July 14, 2013


photo - Oklahoma City won the inaugural championship in the Orlando Pro Summer League.
Oklahoma City won the inaugural championship in the Orlando Pro Summer League.

The offseason isn't over.

But the Oklahoma City Thunder has handled the bulk of the business it had on its to-do list.

The draft has come and gone. Summer league was a success. And while most teams have attempted to retool in free agency, the Thunder has remained relatively quiet.

It's been a polarizing summer for Thunder fans.

Many wonder why the team isn't doing more.

But those fans seem to have forgotten a major element that defined the Thunder's season in the two months since OKC was knocked out of the playoffs in the second round. Russell Westbrook suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Had the team's star point guard not gone down with a fluke injury, who knows how the Thunder's season would have played out?

That's the main reason the Thunder hasn't made any sweeping changes or departed from its process.

When Westbrook returns, the Thunder is expected again take its place at the top of the Western Conference.

But money matters also have shaped the Thunder's summer.

Serge Ibaka's contract extension has kicked in, and he will now join Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins as players with large numbers on the books. Their combined salaries have limited the Thunder's ability to maneuver.

Oklahoma City's payroll is approaching the $71.7 million tax threshold. The team is trying to avoid unnecessarily exceeding that figure so that it will not be subject to stiff penalties now and in the future. There will come a day when the Thunder exceeds the tax (perhaps as soon as the 2014-15 season), but for the coming season the team thinks it can contend without making that commitment.

Before Westbrook's injury, the Thunder appeared to be on pace to do just that a year ago.

So while the draft and, to this point, free agency have left more to be desired for many, the Thunder's off-season has gone according to plan.

If the team's payroll remains under the tax line and the Thunder does indeed contend for a championship, it will have all worked out.

In the meantime, here's a closer examination of what the Thunder has done this summer and what it all means.

EVALUATING FREE AGENCY

What they did: Signed and traded Kevin Martin, sending him to Minnesota for a $6.6 million trade exception.

What it means: Martin didn't walk for nothing as an unrestricted free agent. By securing a sign-and-trade, the Thunder got a valuable roster-building tool in the form of a trade exception.

Analysis: In case you still don't know what it is, a trade exception allows a team that is over the salary cap an opportunity to complete future trades without having to sending back any player salaries or come close to matching money. Put simply, the Thunder now has a $6.6 million credit. It can use it to trade for a player (or multiple players) for up to the amount of $6.6 million without sending out any money. The exception is good for one calendar year. Don't underestimate the value of this move. The rules of the new collective bargaining agreement stripped players of any incentive for agreeing to a sign-and-trade. In the old CBA, players could receive an additional year on their contract and a higher raise percentage. Now, things are equal. So the Wolves could have signed Martin outright and left the Thunder with nothing. But now the Thunder has an opportunity to add to its roster over the next year without giving up any of the talent it has stockpiled over the years. It's a minor move that could have major ramifications. And since Martin was a piece in the James Harden trade and the exception was acquired for Martin, you also must now consider whatever comes of this exception when evaluating the Harden deal.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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