With the second youngest team in the NBA, the fifth seed in the Western Conference, and home of the talk-of-the-league star Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City is a great place to be a fan. However, the best thing the Thunder has going for it has nothing to do with what happens on the court.
The Thunder currently has a payroll of around $58 million, the third lowest in the league. This year, Commissioner David Stern has reported that over the last three seasons, the NBA has lost, on average, roughly $400 million. How does a league led by such dynamic marketers as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and our own emerging star Kevin Durant suffer a deficit of $400 million? It's all the owners' fault.
Bill Simmons, writer for ESPN.com, recently pointed out that Jermaine O'Neal makes more money this year than Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Eric Maynor, Thabo Sefolosha and Jeff Green combined. That is more than half our team. O'Neal averages 13.4 points per game (ppg), 7.2 rebounds per game (rpg) and 1.4 blocks per game (bpg). The afore¬mentioned Thunder players average a combined 86.7 ppg, 33.6 rpg and 4.1 bpg. The Thunder record is 39-24; the Heat, O'Neal's team, 33-32. Contracts like O'Neal's are the major cause of the $400 million deficit.
The current NBA collective bargaining agreement expires in the summer of 2011; the last time this happened, the association had a lockout that lasted seven months and cut the season in half. Since then, the owners have thrown Hall of Fame money at injury prone, second-tier players like O'Neal and Tracy McGrady. These megacontracts, for anything less than supernova talent, are killing the league. With another lockout brewing on the horizon, battle lines are being drawn between the players and the owners.
Here in the Indian Territory, we are some of the lucky few. League owners such as Clay Bennett and general managers like Sam Presti have been able to take advantage of their less frugal counterparts around the NBA by offering salary relief in exchange for almost stealing talented players like Maynor.
While the rest of the NBA may be drooling over the on-court success of the Thunder, the owners and front offices are just as jealous of the economic future of the franchise. If the rest of the NBA were run by the likes of Bennett and Presti, there wouldn't be a deficit of $400 million.