OKC Thunder pricey free agent period looming

Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook OKC Thunder (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook OKC Thunder (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Whether it’s Paul George or another top-tier talent, OKC Thunder GM Sam Presti is ready to pay up in order to stay competitive.

When Presti re-signed Russell Westbrook to the richest contract in NBA history, he was setting the course for the organization’s future. Instead of letting Westbrook go and transition into a rebuilding process, Presti made the decision to keep fighting. By doing so, there was really no choice but to obtain top players like Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

Despite the price tag, Presti will have to continue bringing in players around Westbrook before it’s too late, as outlined by The Oklahoman. In said article, Brett Dawson reflects on the past decade in Oklahoma City and how the Thunder came to be.

A few top picks led to OKC inheriting some great talent. Of course, the trio of Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden couldn’t get over the hump, but that group set the tone for years come. The Thunder enjoyed the success while it lasted, but it eventually became time to pay retail price for their players.

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Since then, the cost of winning has increased dramatically. The increase forces the hands of general managers to pay up in order to stay competitive. In the article, Dawson notes that the average cost per win is about $1.5 million, and he also states that the Thunder have the third-most regular season wins in the past decade and did it with the 11th highest payroll.

Of course, this price is only growing as Presti continues to build more through free agency rather than in the draft.

Building in free agency is somewhat new for Thunder fans, who have been fortunate enough to see their inherited players turn out to be superstars.

But, as a result of the success, a shift in strategy had to be made. And considering Westbrook’s contract won’t expire until 2023, this will be the way of life for the foreseeable future.

Although the details of the future are unknown to an extent, the route in which the team is going isn’t. We now know that Presti plans to deliver on his promise and keep his team relevant. Whether it’s Paul George or someone else this off season, he’s prepared to pay. As he should be, because wasting years of Westbrook’s prime is essentially throwing money and success away.

Ideally, Paul George signs an extension with OKC to prevent drama-filled off seasons and adjustment periods. But we could get one more year of PG13 should he opt-in to his extra year worth over $20 million. Carmelo Anthony has a similar option for his final year worth $27.9 million.

These deals and the rest of the payroll would be dramatically over the estimated $101 million salary cap, but that’s what Presti signed up for. This is what every contending team in the league is signing up for. This is the new Thunder.

Should George and Anthony leave, the Thunder will have Westbrook and Steven Adams as their top-paid players, followed by Andre Roberson at $10 million. The other five players on cheaper deals include Patrick Patterson, Kyle Singler Terrance Ferguson and Dakari Johnson. All told, OKC’s payroll would total $88.9 million. This would leave Presti roughly $12 million in the projected salary cap. Comparatively, the payroll will be $137.53 million if they both stay.

As far as realistic replacements go, scoring wings like Tyreke Evans or Will Barton would take a lot of the load off Westbrook.

An offensive-minded four like Nikola Mirotic might be a more consistent option than Anthony. Enes Kanter certainly hasn’t burned bridges with Oklahoma City. And a veteran like J.J. Redick would bring some much-needed 3-point shooting to the team.

None of these players are at George’s level, but a few together who gel well with Westbrook would translate into wins. Especially after coming off of a season in which team chemistry was a big issue.

Whatever the case, there’s no need to worry what lies ahead. Yes, most of us would love to keep George, but his decision doesn’t solely dictate the success of the team. That lies in the hands of Sam Presti. And I have to believe Westbrook won’t let us sink.