The Oklahoma City Thunder have reportedly reached a five-year, $80 million contract extension with fourth-year point guard Russell Westbrook. Westbrook, an All-Star and All-NBA honoree in 2011, will start the new contract in the 2012-13 season, and it carry him through 2016-17.
In the immediate term, the contract won't have a huge impact on Oklahoma City's push to win a championship with the current core. More repressive luxury tax penalties don't come into effect until the 2013-14 season, meaning that if Thunder general manager Sam Presti needs to augment the team in the 2012 offseason, he should have relatively few limitations beyond those that nearly all contending teams face with regards to player movement restrictions.
But the following summer will be much, much more difficult for the Thunder, as two key players -- sixth man extraordinaire James Harden and power forward Serge Ibaka -- will be on track for a payday.
Harden and Ibaka, who both debuted in the 2009-10, are actually eligible for early extensions as of July 1, 2012, though those contracts wouldn't kick in until the 2013-14 season. If Oklahoma City can't reach deals with the players by the October 2012 deadline, they would become restricted free agents in July 2013.
Here's the problem: with just Durant and Westbrook alone, some $33.5 million in 2013-14 salary will be locked up. Kendrick Perkins is also due more than $8 million that season, and if Harden and Ibaka each demand their own Westbrookian contracts, the Thunder will be pressing up against the luxury tax line while accounting for just five players.
It could force the Thunder to trade Westbrook to make room for Harden and Ibaka, or be willing to let go of either Harden (unlikely) or Ibaka. Alternately, the Thunder could wade headfirst into the luxury tax pool, should owner Clay Bennett decide that building a dynasty is more important than turning a profit in a small market.
It will definitely be interesting to see how this plays out for a team on the rise. There's time ... but not too much.
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