Are Thunder And Enes Kanter Playing Chicken?

By Randy Renner

From everything you heard and read going into free agency the Thunder and and their restricted free agents, Kyle Singler and Enes Kanter would quickly come to agreements and be ready to sign the paperwork at their first opportunity on July 9th.

Well 50 percent shooting ain't bad.

Singler and the Thunder did quickly agree to a 5 year/$25 million proposal but the Thunder and Kanter are still talking. At least we assume they are. Since word of  an initial meeting between the two sides was leaked last week it's been nothing but crickets.

The Thunder are believed to have offered a deal of 4 years, perhaps with a team option for a 5th, at around $15 million per season. Some incentives are thought to have been included that, if met, would push the the deal to a max or at least near max offer of right around $16 million, Reggie Jackson money I guess you could say now.

But so far there's been no word of counter offers or further negotiations much less an agreement.

There's also been no word coming out about a meeting between Kanter and any other teams. The Knicks were thought to be interested but ended up going with Robin Lopez instead. There was even talk that Kanter might be a fall back position for the Spurs or Mavericks if they missed out on LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan. There's been a little talk that maybe Portland is interested now that Aldridge is heading home to Texas.

But so far the only offer Kanter has is from Oklahoma City.

The Thunder were hoping Kanter would agree to their original offer, and a pretty generous one at that, for a guy who had a breakout two dozen games or so. After being traded to the Thunder, Kanter blossomed thanks to quickly earning the trust of superstar point guard Russell Westbrook.

Without Kevin Durant, Russ needed someone else to help him carry the scoring load and he and Kanter quickly developed an outstanding two-man game.

Utah had never taken advantage of Kanter like that.

And this coming season OKC may not as much because Durant should be back and with KD scoring 25 to 30 points a game, Kanter's production would probably fall off.

Perhaps one of those Thunder incentives has to do with his scoring average, if he can maintain the almost 19 points a game he scored last season even with Durant on the floor too.

If you're Kanter's agent you could turn that around on the Thunder and say Kanter could score even more with Durant on the floor as teams try to double KD, leaving Kanter with more single coverage than he probably saw last season and more opportunities for open shots too.

Other teams may not be getting into the mix because there's simply no reason to. Some teams may not think Kanter is worth a full max offer because of his lack of defense and they may have questions if he can consistently be as offensively dominating as he was under a unique set of circumstances in OKC.

And even if teams thought he was worth it, word is on the street the Thunder will match so why go through the motions?

Kanter's contract situation and years of service prohibit teams from offering up a so-called poison pill contract, one that's heavily back-loaded and might put the Thunder in a pinch when it comes time to re-sign Durant and Westbrook.

The most any team can offer is a straight max deal for 4 years. The Thunder can offer 5 years and with bigger raises, so ultimately more money. 

So now Kanter is left to try to convince the Thunder into relaxing the incentives or maybe put fewer years on the contract so he can become an unrestricted free agent sooner.

Or he could just take the deal and the security it offers with about $60 million or so guaranteed and the potential for even more.

Or Kanter could roll the dice and gamble heavily on himself.

At the end of the season the Thunder extended Kanter a qualifying offer of almost $7.9 million. That figure is determined through his contract and is not a number Sam Presti just plucked from the air. The qualifying offer sets forth the Thunder's intention of re-signing Kanter and making him a restricted free agent.

If Kanter wants to play hardball he could sign that offer and play this season for that $7.9 million. On one hand that move would save the Thunder about $8 million this coming season. On the other hand it could cost them dearly in the future because Kanter would become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

If he plays well, maintains that 19 point, 11 rebound average he had with Oklahoma City last season and plays better defense he sets himself up for a huge payday because next season is when the new TV money kicks in and when the salary cap is set to jump up to near $90 million from the $68 million or so from this coming season.

Other teams wouldn't have to worry about the Thunder matching their offer and more teams would have more salary cap space. If the Thunder wanted to keep Kanter then, they might have to shell out $20 million a season instead of $15 or $16 million.

But if Kanter falters, if his points decrease because Durant is back on the floor and his defense continues to be abysmal, there may not be much market for him. In fact what if things go so badly Billy Donovan decides the Thunder will be better off starting Steven Adams?

Kanter rolls the dice and sees nothing but snake eyes.

Who knows what's really happening?

Even surefire deals sometime take a while to get done. Look at Marc Gasol and Memphis. Gasol had made it clear he had no intention of leaving the Grizzlies, didn't even talk to other teams. But instead of a deal being agreed to quickly, his 5 year, $110 million max deal was just announced Monday.

Kanter and the Thunder may simply be taking their time, maybe they already have a deal in place and just haven't announced it, maybe there's no game of chicken at all.

But one thing's for sure, chicken or no chicken, neither side wants to end up with egg on their faces.