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.
“Every team, at this stage with the new tax coming, is going to have decisions to make. Some won't. They'll be unable to compete at that level, or there will be some that can find that in the couches of the sponsor's lounge.”
Here's what he means by that. The Lakers, Knickerbockers and Nets have the financial resources to pay a gigantic tax. No other franchise does. Even Miami is contemplating whether it can keep the Heatles together.
In that context, it doesn't seem crazy to give Jackson and Lamb more minutes. Doesn't seem nutty to think that Liggins will be the 10th man in the rotation.
And here's the reason why. The Thunder won't be stagnant. Their stars are what Presti calls “pre-prime players.” Durant and Westbrook and Ibaka have yet to hit their prime.
Think about that. The biggest surge every year for OKC has been the development of the stars. They're still getting better. That eventually will change — most athletes hit their prime around 27 — but for now there's no reason to believe it will.
“We know they're going to continue to grow,” Presti said. “And as they grow, the team will change a bit. We also want to supplement them with players that complement them but also are continuing to grow, as well as players who are stabilizing forces as we go through this and look to put the best team on the floor, not only today, but to put ourselves in position where year in and year out, we're within a handful of teams that can compete for a title.”
That's a goal of Presti's. Sustainability. Some have mocked that concept, saying chances to win the title are rare. Strike while the trophy is hot.
But Presti said the opposite is true. The best way to win a title is give yourself multiple opportunities. Go all in, and you've limited your window. But shoot for sustained contention, and your odds go way up.
And if you're not the Yankees or the Lakers, the tried and true method of consistent contention is a constant influx of young talent. Hungry, cheap. Guys like Jackson, who played superbly in trying circumstances replacing Westbrook in the playoffs, and Lamb, who hasn't played squat. Time to find out if he can play.
“I think our future will always be bright,” said Scotty Brooks. “Our young guys, they haven't played a lot, but they've worked their tails off all season long. And we expect to have another great summer of development. Those guys are a big part of our future.”
Bigger than we had any idea. Their day has come.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.