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Oklahoma City Thunder: The time has come for OKC's young players

The Thunder for next season has committed $66.119 million in salary. And that's for 10 players. No Kevin Martin, no Derek Fisher, no DeAndre Liggins and no rookie gleaned from a lottery pick. So don't expect a splashy free agent signing come July. Or even a ripple.
by Berry Tramel Published: May 18, 2013

Meet the new sixth man of Thunderland. Fellow by the name of Jackson. Reggie Jackson.

Meet your new sharpshooter off the bench, Boomtown. Lamb. Jeremy Lamb.

Remember when Sam Presti made all those deals, some in Seattle, some in OKC, to clear galaxies of payroll space for some future day when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green and James Harden and Serge Ibaka would come of age?

That day has come.

The Thunder for next season has committed $66.119 million in salary. And that's for 10 players. No Kevin Martin, no Derek Fisher, no DeAndre Liggins and no rookie gleaned from a lottery pick.

The threshold of the escalated luxury tax figures to be around $71 million. No way the Thunder wants to get in the luxury tax next season, because it almost surely will be there the season after that.

So don't expect a splashy free agent signing come July. Or even a ripple. The best the Thunder could hope for is another late-February addition. The layaway plan. Derek Fisher earned just $405,654 for his mercenary stop in OKC.

Of course, Presti isn't committing to his young'ns. Not yet, anyway.

“That's one of those questions we're going to evaluate over the next couple of weeks,” Presti said. “It's a little early for us to make a determination about what's going to happen in July or beyond that.”

But what other choice does the Thunder have?

Amnesty Kendrick Perkins for payroll relief and try to win the West with Zaza Pachulia at center? Perk's offense was awful in the playoffs, but he's still a premier post defender on a team built to have a premier post defender.

Re-sign Martin, or some other proven scorer, at the perfectly reasonable rate of $5 million per season and go $5 million into the luxury tax?

“We're at a stage, I think everybody knows, where it's not just a matter of picking and identifying players, it comes down to decision making,” Presti said. “And all those things have to be rolled into one. It's not simply a personnel decision.”

I know we haven't done a luxury tutorial since the James Harden saga, but it's always worth a refresher course. Go $5 million into the tax, and your tax bill next season is $7.5 million. Become a three-time offender of the luxury tax, and a $75 million payroll can become $12.5 million tax bill by 2015. And $10 million over the threshold could become a $26 million tax.

Yes, the Thunder was headed for luxury tax hell with its offer to Harden last October of a four-year, $53-million contract. But Presti has acknowledged that was short-term solution; a try to keep a special group together for a year or two, then someone would have to go.

And like I said, the Thunder is headed toward tax land, anyway. In 2014-15, the Thunder has $59.362 million committed to five players. Presti has to avoid the tax this season, because he's going to get in it and he's going to have to get out of it.

“We'll look at everything relative to the parameters that we have to work with,” Presti said. “Not only look at things in a year-to-year basis, but also over a long-term-health-and-ability-to-compete basis.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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