The terms of the buyout agreement are unclear, but the Thunder could now be more than $14 million under the salary cap if Watson agreed to forfeit half of the $6.6 million he was owed in 2009-10. The Thunder was approximately $11.5 million under the cap before the move.
The Thunder discussed deals involving Watson throughout last season but likely never agreed to a trade because it would have required the team take on additional players for salary cap purposes. Oklahoma City could have held onto Watson until the trading deadline in hopes of a team seeking to shed salary and offering a sweeter deal for Watson’s expiring contract. But Watson isn’t believed to have inspired many attractive offers, and because the Thunder already is so far below the cap, Watson’s expiring contract was much less valuable to Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City’s roster now has 13 players under contract, two fewer than the maximum allowed under league rules. If Atkins is also bought out or perhaps traded this summer, the Thunder will have even more flexibility with three available roster spots.
It’s possible the Thunder could use its additional cap space and one of the spots to bring in a veteran point guard who can help Westbrook’s development. The assets also might help make it possible for Oklahoma City to bring back free agent forward Desmond Mason.
Watson couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
His departure marks the latest defection from the Thunder’s ever-changing roster. Oklahoma City is now left with only two players, Nick Collison and Damien Wilkins, who Presti did not either draft or acquire via free agency or a trade since taking over in 2007.