I think we can safely say that the Oklahoma City Thunder just undertook what is to be potentially the first of many "money" trades NBA teams will have to do under this new Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in November of last year. If ever there was a trade that exemplified small market teams resistance to the new punitive luxury tax ($1.50 for every $1.00 over the luxury tax threshold) it is this very one. The Thunder's mindset is laid out bare by this quote from their general manager Sam Presti after the trade went down last night:
"We wanted to sign James to an extension, but at the end of the day, these situations have to work for all those involved. Our ownership group again showed their commitment to the organization with several significant offers," Presti said in a statement. "We were unable to reach a mutual agreement, and therefore executed a trade that capitalized on the opportunity to bring in a player of Kevin's caliber, a young talent like Jeremy and draft picks, which will be important to our organizational goal of a sustainable team."
When Presti says "several significant offers" he's playing some word games. Harden clearly could have received a maximum extension from several teams in the league, including the Houston Rockets. The Thunder tried to make up the gap in money with incentives. However, you must take into consideration that contracts with "incentives" (much like in the NFL) are usually never reached. NBA players have guaranteed contracts, so why on earth would they take what is certain to be less money with incentives that amount to nothing more than words on a piece of paper? Glorified window dressing.
Such is the new life in the NBA. Small to mid-market teams have strict budgets set, and must make hard choices much like the one that the Thunder made. We can argue until the cows come home whether they made the right trade, but the trade was made. At this point, that is all that matters. So the Thunder are left to pick up the pieces and find new chemistry on a roster that was on the brink of a championship.
How does this affect the Nuggets' negotiations with Ty Lawson? The teams cap situation isn't anywhere near where the Thunder's was, so that part isn't comparable. However, it is very likely Ty can get some lucrative offers from other teams if he tests the restricted free agent market. Going forward, how would this affect the way the Nuggets do business?
The chances the Nuggets lose Lawson to free agency are fairly slim because of the nature of restricted free agency. However, what number will Lawson get? Will the Nuggets try to go the route of the Thunder and put incentives into Lawson's contract offer? Or will both sides agree to a straightforward contract by the Wednesday deadline for early extensions?
If Lawson doesn't agree to the terms, what will the Nuggets do?