OKC Thunder inch closer to getting out from under luxury tax

OKC Thunder, Patrick Patterson and Deonte Burton decisions factor into salary for team (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)
OKC Thunder, Patrick Patterson and Deonte Burton decisions factor into salary for team (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The decision of the OKC Thunder to buyout Patrick Patterson and keep Deonte Burton has the club inching closer to getting under the luxury tax with ample time to reach that goal.

OKC Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti enters this season on what he calls a mission to reload and replenish the team. Yet, while the focus will be on Presti’s R and R initiative there is also a clear objective to get the team out from under the luxury tax.

For four of the last five seasons, the Thunder have paid the price of being a perennial playoff team in the West and retaining superstars. As the second smallest market in the Association paying into the luxury tax is only sustainable if your assets are consistently getting the team deep into the playoffs and even then consistently doing so becomes prohibitive as the price increases if in that range for consecutive seasons.

At season end there was clear frustration at the closing press conferences by both the players and Sam Presti. The GM specifically referenced the issues with paying into the luxury tax. Clearly getting bounced in the first round wasn’t something the franchise was happy about nor was paying the luxury tax for early exits.

Presti hinted the time to stop doing so was on the horizon, albeit I think he was preparing the fan base for what would occur next summer. That proposition got fast tracked with George’s trade request and now the team will look to expedite their goals this season.

Although waiving Patrick Patterson will help the team still needs to add players to the roster to reach the required 14 minimum. Our thinking is Kevin Hervey will replace Patterson and at a pittance of what PPat was making.

We’re still awaiting a formal announcement on the financial details of the buyout of Patterson’s buyout but hints from reputable sources offer some insight.

Front office insider Bobby Marks suggests the Thunder are now $698,000 below the luxury tax with 13 players on the roster.

Salary cap guru Albert Nahmad suggests Marks figures indicate Patterson gave the Thunder one heck of a buyout deal potentially taking $3.5 million less from his $5.7 million salary for this season. That’s likely due to Patterson’s belief joining the Clippers will offer him a better opportunity to win a title. Regardless of his motivation that was a gesture not witnessed often in sports and speaks to the relationship of Thunder management with their players.

One other roster note is August 1 came and went without an announcement regarding Deonte Burton. Therefore it’s presumed the club is invested in the youngster and $1 million of his $1.4 million 2019-20 contract is guaranteed this season.

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In terms of the salary, it’s worth noting Presti has until season end to get under the threshold and it’s also a given more trades are coming which will accomplish that goal. Barring a miraculous overachieving season it’s unlikely both Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari finish the season in OKC Thunder jerseys. Moving either of those two players would accomplish the goals to get under the tax.

Granted, the team will need to take back equivalent contracts and/or picks. That said, an option would be to get back a non guaranteed contract which means the team could waive that player without penalty. Or similar to the Carmelo Anthony trade the Thunder could take back assets and potentially a tax exemption credit. Draft picks could also be in the offering for a team covetous of Gallo at the trade deadline for example.

What isn’t a certainty is whether the brain trust truly wants to be competitive this season or whether it would behoove the club to tank to gain a better lottery position. Arguably that decision won’t be made fully until the team nears the trade deadline.  The Thunder could surprise and be in a similar position as the Clippers were last year. With the revised lottery draft it allows for clubs to take a shot at being competitive and still get decent lottery positioning.

More questions than answers from GM Sam Presti season ending presser. dark. Next

Ultimately, Patterson’s buyout is just one step in the process, but the Thunder GM is already close to accomplishing his salary goals. Suffice to say there will be numerous ways Presti can navigate getting out from under the luxury tax and he’ll have until the 82nd game of the season to do so.