The trade exception that the Thunder received last summer when it orchestrated a sign-and-trade that sent Kevin Martin to Minnesota is set to expire Friday, and it appears Oklahoma City will let the deadline pass without making a trade.
The team had an opportunity to acquire up to $6.6 million in salary via trade without needing to send back that amount. But two big issues prevented the Thunder from consummating a deal.
Pau Gasol and the tax level.
OKC is in a holding pattern while waiting on Gasol to decide which team he will sign with as a free agent. Also competing for Gasol’s services are San Antonio, Chicago and Gasol’s most recent team, the Los Angeles Lakers. What’s left of the Thunder’s resources is being reserved for Gasol. Because the Thunder is over the salary cap, all that Oklahoma City can offer Gasol, barring a sign-and-trade, is the $5.3 mid-level exception.
Meanwhile, the Thunder’s payroll is roughly $5.8 million shy of surpassing the $76.8 million tax threshold. Using the entire exception would put the Thunder over the tax and all but eliminate the team’s chances of landing Gasol. Using a portion of the exception is a possibility, but should Gasol choose the Thunder the team then would again be over the tax in that scenario.
The Thunder is striving to remain under the tax for at least another year to avoid becoming a repeat taxpayer. Starting with the 2015-16 season, teams that were taxpayers in three out of the previous four seasons will be subject to more punitive tax rates. Oklahoma City’s goal is to cross that bridge when star players such as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are in their primes and on their third contracts rather than biting that bullet now and running the risk of being unable to afford to retain its core.
Of course, one option in the interest of avoiding the tax is amnestying Kendrick Perkins, who is set to make more than $9 million in the final year of his contract. Oklahoma City still would be responsible for paying Perkins’ salary, but the move could create much-needed room under the tax level if roster upgrades are available.