Late Thursday (which, in my time zone, was already not-that-early Friday), after the latest negotiation round storm had quieted down to the distant mumbling of an impending storm of doom, I happened to notice something on Twitter.
Kevin Durant, All-Star, All-NBAer, World Champion, and the universe’s resident Golden Boy was taking questions from random people.
Half curious, half attention-starved (I am a person on the internet, after all) I launched a question of my own regarding a matter I quite often ponder: how would Durant feel if a new system prevented his beloved Thunder from keeping their exciting young core intact?
It’s a legitimate concern, and has been such for a while. After all, Durant’s max extension is coming in, Russell Westrook will probably get something close to that if not all of it, James Harden and Serge Ibaka are but 2 years away from massive contract extensions of their own, Kendrick Perkins is on the books for about 8 million a year through 2015 â€“ and we’re not even mentioning Eric Maynor, who most likely will be lost anyway, as he is too good to keep at a backup point guard’s price tag. OKC has never been an excessively rich market, and as rookie deals become market-value contracts, not even the genius of Sam Presti can prevent the inevitable inflation of the books.
Durant, of course, answered in typical Durant fashion â€“ straight to the point, and loyal as they come:
But the interesting part came later, as several people replied to Durant’s tweet with a litany of responses. Some were sympathetic; some were oblivious; and the large majority, as expected, had no idea what the tweets were referring to and just used the opportunity to take what the great Kevin Durant said out of context.
Sadly, one of the members of the last category was the official, controversial twitter feed of the NBA Labor committee.
For a Twitter feed that is run by an organization that has put a premium on public relations throughout its disastrous affairs, the NBA Labor feed has been pretty insistent on acting like everybody’s inappropriate drunk uncle. Having posted only 19 tweets throughout its existence, it has already managed to get in trouble with Henry Abbott (an argument which Abbott eventually conceded) and with another OKC player in Nazr Mohammed (an argument which was mostly just plain hilarious).
This time, though, my delusions of grandeur have caused me to feel somewhat involved in this most recent “David Stern is trolling on Twitter again” episode. And as a person who mistakenly thinks he is involved in something is wont to do, I must point out that Kevin Durant is right, and the NBA is wrong.
The NBA is absolutely correct that teams will have the chance to re-sign their own free agents. All recent indications have shown that the NBA and its owners have relented on keeping Bird Rights exceptions for luxury-tax paying teams. Theoretically speaking, this means that teams that are 30 million under the salary cap and teams that are 30 million into luxury tax territory have the exact same abilities to re-sign players who are finishing their contracts.
The issue, though, was never the legality of re-signing players â€“ it was the cost. And it is the cost that will deter small market teams such as Oklahoma City. Re-signing Serge Ibaka to an extension is all fun and games if he clocks in at 5 years, 48 million (which I would randomly declare reasonable in old CBA terms and may or may not be way off), but how do you feel about 5 years, 55 million? 60? 65? 80?
This is the effect of the new luxury tax. Reports regarding exact amounts still vary, but at the very least, the first 5 million above the threshold should see penalization at a $1.50 to $1 rate, with growth every 5 or 10 million jump. As such, the decent back-up point guard that you signed after Â Maynor bolted for a bigger deal on a team without Russell Westbrook can suddenly cost you like your starting center. Never mind that you’re already on the books for one of those.
And this is before we even talk about penalties for repeat tax offenders. If the owners get their way, teams that land in luxury tax territory in 3 years of a 5 year period will see their bills skyrocket. Paying the luxury tax in 2013-2014 when Harden and Ibaka get paid is bad enough for OKC (and also, fairly possible â€“ the team owes 31 million that year just to Durant, Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison), but now, they have a 2 year ticking time bomb to win with that core, because from that moment on, every year becomes even more expensive.
Please note that I have passed on throwing out overly specific numbers because, in many cases, I lack the necessary knowledge. I don’t know how the open market will value a James Harden in the year 2012, and I don’t know what the exact luxury tax records will eventually be. As such, it is extremely possible that in OKC’s case, this issue will be irrelevant. Perhaps the team will be so successful that revenue will cover for everything and anything. Perhaps the entire league is in for a financial boon that was never seen in sports before. Perhaps Clay Bennett is feeling extra generous as a new decade rolls on by. I doubt this is the case, but it’s possible.
That being said, this is an issue. Even if this is an issue that Sam Presti can slickly maneuver his way out of, it is an issue nonetheless. It’s an issue for a small market team in a league that lacks the appropriate revenue sharing to compensate for location, and it’s an issue for a large market team, who is perfectly capable of shelling out gigantic payrolls but may not want to.
Does the new luxury tax deny teams of the chance to keep their core together? No. But it does ask them to pay much more money to do so. For any team, Â and for a team like OKC in particular, that means those chances are severely limited, and it is the existence of this limitation that the NBA Labor account is falsely denying.