By Randy Renner
Thunder GM Sam Presti figured this day was coming as Enes Kanter turned into an offensive force for OKC in the 26 games he played for the Thunder after being traded from Utah.
As soon as Kanter decided he didn't want to go for the Thunder's original offer of somewhere around $14 to $15 million a year he knew it was coming, he just wasn't sure from where.
Turns out Portland is where. After the Trail Blazers lost center Robin Lopez, power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and small forward/shooting guard Wesley Matthews over the last few days they had plenty of cap space to afford sending out a max offer, plus they had an opening at center.
So Thursday the Blazers rolled the dice and tossed a grenade at their Northwestern Division rivals, a 4 year/$70 million grenade that Portland hoped would blow up the Thunder's salary structure so much that OKC would walk away.
The Thunder are cheap after all according to the national media.
But instead of walking away Presti and the Thunder ownership group appear ready to damn the financial torpedo and move full speed ahead with plans to match the offer.
Here's what Presti told The Oklahoman's Anthony Slater Thursday afternoon:
"Our intentions have been to match offers on Enes and nothing has changed in this regard. Enes expressed his desire to be a part of the Thunder in our meeting with him yesterday and we have planned in advance should he receive an offer such as the one that has been reported."
Shortly after talking to Slater, Presti received the Trail Blazers official offer sheet and he'll have three days to match it.
It's believed the $70 million offer will start out at $16.4 million and change for next season and go up from there. That would make Kanter the third highest paid player on the team just behind Russell Westbrook.
It would also push the Thunder well into the luxury tax for next season, $12.4 million into the tax, if Kanter's contract starts at $16.4 million and the Thunder have a full 15-man roster.
Their payroll would be a whopping $97.5 million or so.
Going $12.4 million into the tax would place them in the third tier penalty (which starts at $10 million and goes up to a dollar under $15 million) which would mean the Thunder would be paying $2.50 for every $1 they're over the tax. Add it all up and it comes to a tax bill of around $25 million. Added of course to the $97.5 million payroll number and Clay Bennett and the boys will be shelling out about $122.5 million at the end of next season.
Some cheapskates huh?
According to Forbes Magazine the Thunder made a profit of about $28 million in the 2013-14 season, probably a bit less this past season since they didn't make the playoffs. They've averaged around $25 million in profits the last five seasons, so presumably they've socked some cash away as they prepared for this day and the ones to follow when Kevin Durant hits free agency and then Westbrook.
The Thunder have long needed another potent scoring option down low to take some pressure off KD and Russ. Kanter appears to be the guy. His offensive talents and his rebounding skills are outstanding for a man of his size.
As we all know his biggest drawback is defense. He doesn't play any. At least he hasn't yet. In fact according to Basketball-Reference.com he has the worst defensive plus-minus of any player 6-11 or taller going all the way back to 1973 (-1.9).
But Kanter is also just 23 years old. Thunder big man coach Mark Bryant is one of the best in the business. New Thunder assistant Monty Williams is known for his defensive coaching prowess.
Steven Adams admits he was "clueless" trying to cover pick-and-rolls at the start of his rookie season. Now he's pretty good at it.
The Thunder obviously believe Kanter can and will get better on defense. If he can just become average on that end of the floor, or even just better than terrible for crying out loud, that huge contract won't look nearly as bad.
And the salary cap and luxury tax line are set to keep going up as NBA revenues increase. So the Thunder will try to minimize the financial damage this coming season by trying to find someone will to take Steve Novak and his $3.75 million contract and Perry Jones and his $2 million contract off their hands, bringing them down under the third tier tax payer penalty with room left over to sign 1st round draft pick Cameron Payne and still be below the prohibitive third tier.
No question it's a gamble but the Thunder have been prudent with their money these first years in Oklahoma City precisely so they will have the financial foundation to withstand the weight of three players with max contracts and another, Serge Ibaka, who is pretty close at $12.5 million.
Oklahoma City, the second or third smallest market in the NBA, depending on how many people move in or out of Memphis and New Orleans, could very well end up with second or third largest payroll in the NBA.
And believe me brotha, there's nothing cheap about that.