After being devastated by injuries last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder are making a $US98-million bet that they can compete for a championship this season.
The Thunder handled their biggest business of the offseason, deciding to match a four-year, $US70 million deal for center Enes Kanter.
As ESPN’s Royce Young notes, the Thunder are now nearly $US28 million over the salary cap, creating about a $US24 million luxury tax payment for this season if they don’t make any other moves.
This is a departure for the Thunder, who have been labelled cheap for trading James Harden in 2012 instead of making a long-term financial commitment to him while they also had to lock up Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka.
However, with Kevin Durant set to hit free agency next summer, the Thunder are trying to prove they’re willing to spend to compete for a championship. When Durant is a free agent, the salary cap is set to explode, and more than half of the league will have cap space to try to recruit him.
The Thunder still have their core of Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka, but last season made trades to get Dion Waiters, Kanter, Kyle Singler, D.J. Augustin, and Steve Novak, all of whom they have kept on the roster this summer. With Kanter and Waiters, the Thunder have some youth and upside, while Singler, Augustin, and Novak all provide depth. If healthy, this could be the best Thunder team of the Westbrook/Durant era.
OKC has been wrecked by injuries over the last three years. In the 2013 playoffs, Russell Westbrook tore his meniscus and the Thunder were eliminated in the second round. In the 2014 playoffs, the Thunder looked poised to knock off the Spurs in the conference finals before Ibaka got hurt. Last season, Durant missed all but 27 games with foot injuries.
Oklahoma City will have to play in the stacked Western Conference, which has seen the Warriors keep their core together while the Spurs and Clippers both improved their rosters. However, the Thunder are putting their money on the line to compete for a championship and hope that they can convince Durant to re-sign.
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