Jerami grant, not paul george, the hidden key to thunder’s possibly massive luxury tax bill oklahoma normantranscript.com electricity in india

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“We could have made a trade at the deadline during that ’13-’14 year and got a player that was making $4 million, but it would cost us $16 million,” Marks said in reference to the additional tax payments. “So, it magnifies the smaller deals more.”

If George chooses to re-sign for the max contract he’s eligible for (a projected $30.3 million 2018-19 salary), it would make for OKC’s fourth time paying the tax in five years, bringing on the much-feared repeater tax. There’s no question the team would look to cut costs where it could.

And therein lies a possible theme to the offseason: getting into the repeater tax, which could cost the Thunder as much as $5.75 for every dollar they go over the anticipated $123 million luxury-tax threshold, could affect the margins more than the stars.

Russell Westbrook is owed a shade over $35 million for 2018-19. Carmelo Anthony will make $27.9 million if he declines his early-termination option, which seems likely. Steven Adams is at $24.2 million. Andre Roberson, $10 million. Alex Abrines and Patrick Patterson, $5.5 million each. Kyle Singler, $4.9 million. Then, there’s George’s possible $30.3 million.

Just those players would push team payroll more than $20 million over the luxury tax line, making for a tax bill of about $85 million. And that doesn’t account for the minimum guys general manager Sam Presti would have to find to fill out the roster, which could add another $30 million because of the league’s incremental tax system.

Maybe most importantly, none of that accounts for Grant, a close friend of George’s and the Thunder’s arguable fourth-best player by the end of the year. And keep in mind, that estimated $8 million salary (which could always change in the open market) would be a mere fraction of what it would cost to bring Grant back. By that point, the Thunder could be paying the $5.75 tax rate, which means more than $45 million in additional tax money just to re-sign a sixth man.

“It makes you say, well, if I’m [Thunder Chairman] Clay Bennett, ‘Can you go out and find a cheaper version of Jerami Grant out there for the minimum?’” Marks said. “It’s not really about Paul. It’s about everything else that comes after…the back end [of the roster].”

The Thunder clearly had no problem paying the tax for a team that even Presti called "disappointing" on the way to 48 wins and a first-round playoff exit this season. They have, however, insisted both publicly and to other teams that they have no problem paying it again next season. Presti confirmed as much at Wednesday’s end-of-season press conference.

“The only way that our team becomes a really expensive team is if Paul George chooses to stay with the Thunder,” Presti said. “So if you’re asking me if we would like to keep Paul George if he wants to keep his talents in Oklahoma City. At the cost that it takes to re-sign him, the answer to that would be affirmative, yes.”

But the real strategy comes on the periphery. Would George be happy coming back knowing that the Thunder might have to rely more on internal development than would another roster which is not as cap-strapped? Would the Thunder try to get creative with their roster?

Some execs have proposed that a fair buyout could pay Anthony his salary, minus the mid-level, which would come down to the $19 to $20 million range, too much to justify stretching over the three years allowed. However, if Anthony were willing to give back more – say, half of his money to get out of OKC early — the Thunder could then have the more enticing option of stretching about $14 million over three years, which would be a more reasonable annual cap hit, in line with the ones Brooklyn has after stretching Deron Williams and Detroit has with Josh Smith.

Marks points out that his Nets and the Thunder are in differing situations. The Nets were coming off an underwhelming season, themselves, but they were aging. They didn’t have guys in their primes like Westbrook, Adams and possibly George. But the margins still matter. If they did in Brooklyn, they certainly do for a team located in the NBA’s third-smallest market.

Fred Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript and CNHI Oklahoma as well as the host of the postgame show, Thunder After Dark, and the OKC Dream Team, a weekly Thunder podcast that runs every Tuesday . Follow him on Twitter: @ FredKatz .