The Oklahoma City Thunder are the small-to-mid-market model in the NBA, and it's no secret an up-and-coming team like the Wolves would like to follow their pattern of homegrown talent growing together to build a contender.
But as the recent James Harden trade also illustrates, there is a bit of "be careful what you wish for" in all of this, too.
The Thunder traded Harden because he wouldn't accept a "team-friendly" contract. Their extension offer was reportedly 4 years, $55 million -- a very nice offer, but not a "max" offer. They wanted him to take less because of salary cap and luxury tax implications. The penalties for going over the luxury tax threshold are going to stiffen starting in 2013-14. And with the Thunder already paying big-time money to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, they were staring at a bloated payroll and millions in taxes in future years. So they cut bait. They brought in a good young player (
Doron Jeremy Lamb) and a big salary (Kevin Martin) who is on the last year of his deal and won't be in OKC when the luxury tax penalty goes up.
How does this impact your life? Well, if you are a Timberwolves fan, and you want them to be just like OKC, you should be looking ahead to 2015-16.
In that season, Kevin Love has a player option of nearly $17 million. If Ricky Rubio continues to develop, that would be the first year of a contract extension for him -- possibly at near-max or max-money. Let's say Derrick Williams can play small forward and he blossoms into the kind of player the Wolves thought he would be when they took him No. 2 overall. That 2015-16 season would be the first year he could cash in with big money in an extension. That's at least $45-50 million tied up in three guys. What about Nikola Pekovic? What about other complementary players in the $5-8 million range? That season could be right around the time when the Wolves are at their peak. But under the NBA salary system, will they be able to afford everyone -- would the owner of the team at the time put up with a big luxury tax hit?
It would be a much nicer problem to have than the ones the Wolves have faced in previous years (such as: can anyone here actually play?). But it will be interesting to see how the future shakes out.