DT Mailbag: Talking Ibaka

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The Thunder signed Ibaka. So this means Harden’s gone?!?! — Still so many people

The immediate reaction to the news of Ibaka’s extension wasn’t met with as much joy as you might think. Instead, it was instantly about whether or not this meant Harden was gone. Because so many people had been conditioned by media and other fans that this was choice between the two and that it was “impossible” to keep both.

I’ve tried to repeat it constantly that it would entirely within reason that the Thunder would retain both players. Especially since that’s the organization first goal and desire. As I said, you can be sure Sam Presti and his crew had an exact number in mind that they were comfortable with inking Ibaka at that gave them the best chance to re-sign Harden too. You should know this, but this is an extremely meticulous and calculated front office that prepares, researches, prepares some more, researches some more and then starts doing their background and homework.

Presti said in his conference call that they are focused on re-signing Harden. That has always, always been the gameplan. Harden is extremely valuable to the team and if anyone was ever going to slip through OKC’s fingers, it wasn’t going to be him.

Now, there are challenges to being in this market and Presti has never ran away from that. The television market doesn’t provide the same kind of capital that somewhere like Los Angeles or New York does. But Clay Bennett and the PBC aren’t exactly poor either. They like winning and they are pretty slick folks. It’s like deciding to buy a lake house or something. You know you’re going to lose some money, but you’re investing in something you want, that you enjoy and something that could eventually pay off (the payoff in this case being a trophy). It’s just about what you’re comfortable spending on that type of thing.

Don’t worry so much about the Thunder’s and Mr. Bennett’s money. They know what they’re doing.

My thought is on the Thunder’s cap future, and something that hasn’t really been addressed. Obviously now with Serge signed and Harden on deck and Perk (probably) on the chopping block next summer, everyone seems to assume that the cap/luxury tax number will remain stagnant or slightly increase. From my understanding, the cap and tax line remained relatively stagnant for 2011/2012 because of the lockout shortened season, but with such a stellar NBA season, playoffs, best finals match-up TV-wise other than Lakers/Heat, Olympics and new super friends team, shouldn’t league revenues rise significantly not only this year, but next….and the next….and the next? Bottom line I guess is that it seems like the NBA is more popular than ever before and there should be many, many reasons why BRI should increase significantly in years to come. There should be no sweating a large extension for Harden or an early Perk amnesty. — Blake B.

As the saying goes, rising tides lift all boats.

But you make a really solid point in that yeah, the league’s newly negotiated revenue sharing model will absolutely aid the Thunder. The better the league does financially, the better everyone does. Not just the big teams. That was really Adam Silver’s vision with the new CBA in that everyone would kind of be “investors” in a sense into the league.

So the more interest there is, the more revenue the league generates. Which means the more money goes in Mr. Bennett’s pocket. Which naturally, helps the Thunder.

And it’s not just the revenue sharing that could help. The salary cap is determined by the league’s BRI. This season the cap remained idle because of the shortened schedule, but the expectation is that the cap will rise next season as league revenue’s are expected to build to the highest levels ever. The higher the cap is, the higher the luxury tax line is. This season the cap is at $58 million with the tax threshold at $70.3 million. If revenue’s build as expected — because of the league’s almost unprecedented popularity — the cap should go to $60 million and maybe even as high as $65 million. Which naturally means the tax line rises too.

Now, it’s not just that simple. Because while you see a deal for Serge Ibaka as four years, $48 million, that number can actually fluctuated bases on BRI. The more money the league makes, the more Ibaka makes. Like I said, all investors. Still, a higher tax line obviously favors the Thunder in the future. Meaning things could work out perfectly fine.

I wanted to mention that one angle that has currently been ignored is that the Ibaka contract is completely reasonable–and thus tradeable. I believe the Nuggets have shown the value of signing good players to reasonable contracts–and then trading them if necessary (Nene, Affalo). I know Thunder fans love to think we would not trade a core piece of the team. And I don’t think we would unless ownership says the cost is too high. But Serge’s reasonable contract gives the team choices–we could trade Serge next summer, amnesty Perkins, or trade Harden if we feel that we cannot afford his contract (I think this is highly unlikely). But by signing Serge, I think Presti ensured that he will have plenty of options that he chose, rather than letting agents and other GMs force his hand. — Alex W. 

Not too much to add to that. Because it’s absolutely true and a very good previously uncovered angle to this.

Maybe I’m wrong, but based on the way this thing is moving and just the general feel of the organization, I’d be willing to bet pretty heavily on Harden signing an extension this summer as well. Or at least remaining in OKC for the long-term.

(Aside: One reason he might not sign an extension this summer: The Thunder don’t really have to roll any dice on if Harden would be offered a max sheet, like they would’ve with Ibaka. Harden’s getting a max offer next summer virtually guaranteed, so he either chooses to take an extension for less this summer, the Thunder could sign him to a max knowing they’ll likely be matching next summer anyway, or hoping that for some reason Harden gets less than a max next summer, they wait and match on that.)

But to the point of trade value, Alex is right. The Thunder have a very attractive contract with Ibaka and one that not many teams would shy away from if OKC gets in a pinch and decides to bail on this current plan. The more options you have, the better. And Presti and his team have maintained a very good balance of making the proper, sensible move while also leaving a wise exit strategy.

Of course it’s not Plan A to be dealing Ibaka next summer or any time after that. But it’s a reasonable escape hatch if the Thunder need it.

It occurred to me the other day that all of this contractual talk with the Thunder, whether it’s Harden vs. Ibaka or amnesty Perkins, could be solved if after KD and Russell’s contracts are up, they take less money. They’re both super stars who are going to get paid a ton from big company’s through advertising. Do you see a possibility where to keep the team together, either of our max contract players takes less money after this contract is up? — Jared L.

It’s a little too soon to be thinking about the next contracts for Durant and Westbrook. Because at that point, the scope and vision for the organization may have been adjusted or there may be an entirely new plan in place. Getting this current batch of contracts taken care of is obviously the priority and you cross the next bridge of deals when you get there. In five years. I wouldn’t start worrying until then.

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