Looking at the Enes Kanter Situation


When the NBA’s free agency period approaches on July 1, everybody in the state of Oklahoma will be keeping a close eye on the contract negotiations between the Oklahoma City Thunder and restricted free agent Enes Kanter.

If Thunder owner Clay Bennett doesn’t want to pay the luxury tax for exceeding the salary cap, Kanter won’t be back in Oklahoma City. However, general manager Sam Presti would have never made the trade if he didn’t have the intention of paying the tax. It looks like the Thunder will get the first meeting with Kanter, and they will try to get a deal done before he hits the open market.

A big misconception is by paying the luxury tax for two consecutive years, the Thunder would be forced to pay the dreaded repeater tax. That’s actually not true as Daniel Leroux of RealGM explains why the repeat offender rate doesn’t happen often.

"“While the new CBA established a heavily punitive repeater rate, it also made getting there incredibly difficult. After the current season, the only way for the repeater rate to come into play is if a team paid the luxury tax in three of the four previous seasons. That may sound more likely but remember that we are talking about “previous seasons” and not the current one since a team presently under the luxury tax line will not pay anything on it even if their prior history was living over the tax line every season. That means that a franchise must actually pay the tax four out of five years with the under year not being the current one.”"

With the growing cap, OKC will have the flexibility to get below the luxury tax threshold in either 2016-2017, or 2017-2018 to avoid the repeater tax. Which means the tax won’t be a factor in the Kanter contract negotiations.

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Restricted free agency is always a crapshoot, because it only takes one team to offer a max deal, thereby putting Kanter out of OKC’s price range (who knows, that team could be Milwaukee.) But it may be difficult for Kanter to get that sort of offer from other teams.

Even if he does though, I would expect the Thunder to match. The Thunder can’t really do anything in the open market, and Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman does an excellent job explaining that here.

"“How much will it cost to bring back Enes Kanter? – A lot. More than the Thunder wants to pay. Likely in the $15 million per season range, maybe upwards. But all indications are OKC is committed to footing the bill, however pricy. And even though the final numbers may make some people pause, it’s sensible. In the open market, the Thunder is hamstrung, with only a few million to spend on a free agent. But OKC can spend whatever it takes to keep its restricted players. So the money spent on Kanter couldn’t be splurged on a Wes Matthews, Danny Green type.”"

With all of the good big men on the market this offseason, that could diminish Kanter’s value some. Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, Robin Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Brook Lopez, Kevin Love, Greg Monroe and LaMarcus Aldridge will all receive big paydays, and it’s not like every team in the NBA has room to chase these players as well as Kanter.

Even though Kanter is not a rim protector like some of the players above (opponents shot 56.4 percent against him at the rim), he still provides plenty of value for the Thunder.

Offensively, Kanter adds a dimension that the Thunder has always lacked. Before his arrival at the trade deadline, no center in the Thunder’s seven-year history recorded a 20-10 game. In just 26 games with OKC, Kanter recorded 11 of those games. If OKC’s offense bogs down, Kanter is a really nice plan B in the low post.

The biggest positive shown last season was his chemistry with Russell Westbrook in the pick-and-roll.

With his crafty finishing ability around the rim and a pretty good mid-range jumper, he and Westbrook could be extremely dangerous in the pick-and-roll for years to come, especially with opposing defenses paying more attention to that Kevin Durant guy.

He’s a fantastic offensive rebounder, pulling in five per game (second only to Andre Drummond) and is a good passer.

Kanter certainly has his share of weaknesses, mostly on the defensive end. As good as his footwork is on the offensive end, it’s just as bad on defense, and it shows when he tries to defend the pick-and-roll. Still, it’s worth noting that Kanter only played a total of 238 minutes with Serge Ibaka, who should help mask Kanter’s defensive flaws.

Another thing to keep in mind is Kanter was a mid-season addition. He didn’t have the benefit of training camp to learn the defensive schemes and work with his teammates. He also spent his first few NBA seasons playing for the Utah Jazz. Even though his defensive flaws were well known around the league, they were not in the national spotlight because the Jazz weren’t going anywhere.

With OKC, Kanter was a defensive liability and everybody knows it. But it’s clear that he’ll have much more motivation to improve.

With a full offseason of work with the Thunder, I think he will.

On the surface, it seems like the Thunder absolutely have to keep Kanter. He was the centerpiece in the deal for Reggie Jackson at the trade deadline, so it wouldn’t be a great PR look. But, in reality, if somebody offered Kanter a huge contract, they are in a decent position to walk away.

Steven Adams is good enough to be a starting center, and if Kanter leaves, OKC would have enough cap space to bring in a max-level player in addition to Durant in 2016. It would be a hit to their talent this season, but they could also use the taxpayer mid-level exception (about $3.3 million) to sign another center to fill in.

With that said, I don’t see any scenario where the Thunder let Kanter walk. The whole purpose for trading for him at the trade deadline was to acquire his Bird rights, meaning they can go over the salary cap to re-sign him (which they cannot do for other free agents). Even though Durant would get to recruit a max-level player to OKC next season – should he decide to remain with the Thunder – Kanter gives the Oklahoma City the best chance to win next season.

More importantly, if they win big next season Durant isn’t going anywhere.

The Thunder has spent the last five years making moves to allow flexibility for the future. Now is the time for them to take advantage and commit to winning a championship.

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