The best way to gauge just how successful the Oklahoma City Thunder was this year doesn’t rest in any of the traditional forms of accomplishment.
Yes, the Thunder notched 50 wins, racking up 27 more victories than last season on the way to the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2005. And yes, OKC saw Scott Brooks win Coach of the Year and Kevin Durant become a first-time All-Star and the youngest player to win the league’s scoring title. But the most significant measure of success this season was seen in the Thunder’s budget. Oklahoma City finished the season as the NBA’s most efficient winner when it came to bang for the buck. With a league-low payroll of $55.9 million, the Thunder paid just $1,118,000 for each regular-season victory. And even that cost-efficient bill is misleading seeing as how the Thunder paid injured forward Matt Harpring only $1.3 million rather than the $6.5 million that his contract is valued at. With insurance picking up the rest of Harpring’s deal, the Thunder’s per-win cost could more accurately be considered to have been $1,014,000. Nothing best illustrates the magnitude of those figures quite like the Thunder’s first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers. The defending champion Lakers doled out a league-high $91 million. At $280,907 per game, L.A. paid star guard Kobe Bryant alone more than one-fourth the amount of each Thunder win — whether Bryant played or not. Add Pau Gasol, who earned $200,625 per game, and the Lakers came within $25,468 of paying just two players half the amount of each Thunder win. You could compare the competitive divide to the New York Yankees versus the Kansas City Royals in baseball. But David versus Goliath would be more fitting. The Thunder’s feats this year become even more amazing when you consider that seven of the remaining eight teams in the playoffs are in the top 10 in payroll this season. Each of those seven exceeded the $69.92 million luxury tax threshold. The Thunder, meanwhile, is set up to avoid becoming a future tax team.