NBA Free Agents 2011: OKC Thunder Need to Avoid Spending Money in Free Agency

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NBA Free Agents 2011: OKC Thunder Need to Avoid Spending Money in Free Agency
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Westbrook is all smiles with the new CBA agreement.

In the NBA's economy of players, youth is power and with power comes great responsibility. 

For Oklahoma City—a team of insurmountable youth and balance—such is the case. Yet with 2014 fast approaching, the Thunder organization finds itself at an early cross road.

In 2014 the majority of the team's core becomes free agents, and whether or not the front office can keep them is up for interpretation. 

One major plus is the team's recent success because there is no bargaining chip that quite compares to a shot at winning a championship. 

And while New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago might boast swag, celebrity and million dollar mansions, OKC is quietly a league elite with a bright, bright future.

A 56-26 record last year was the team's best in 15 years. Its run into the Western Conference Finals ended at the hands of the Mavericks, but proves its maturation into a perennial power. And while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook take on the brunt of the scoring load, coach Scott Brooks' unselfish style of play is one that benefits more than just the two stars.

The trick, then, is keeping a team chemistry together that is as good as anyone's in the league.

The new CBA agreement is a labyrinth of difficulties. It will take quite an elaborate plan for the Thunder to survive 2014 and come out on top. With limited benefit from a half-ass profit-sharing agreement, small organizations like the Thunder will lack the benefits to retain all of their stars. 

If the Thunder could only choose one, who should they keep?

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This lack of profit sharing affects a team's ability to pay for its players.

And while money was in essence "taken" from the hands of management, it was doled out to team stars by increasing the levels of max salaries.

For players like Durant and Westbrook this is fantastic news. But for Thunder management? Not so much.

Westbrook's ascension into an All-Star point guard hasn't necessarily been a smooth evolution. His antics in last year's Western Finals proved the young man has yet to embrace Durant as the go-to guy, and questions his personality in the long run.

Yet despite this, he's one of the league's best and because of that should be rewarded. A rule instituted that benefits a rookie who's awarded twice in four years as an All-NBA first-, second- or third-team member, will add fuel to Westbrook's self-centered fire.

This doesn't necessarily mean team chemistry is unsalvageable, but it does mean Westbrook's contract realistically just got that much more expensive.

This will make it nearly impossible to keep their main four: Durant, Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka.

The prediction is that the Thunder will lose Harden or Ibaka in 2014. 

Within the new deal, a "designated clause" rule is an option for teams to stake claim on the third or fourth scorer in a team's lineup. 

For the Thunder this will be probably be used on rising star Harden, whose slashing inside-outside combo set of skills is a perfect arsenal for a team centered around the speedy Westbrook.

But for Ibaka, not so. The defensive-minded shot-blocking forward will realistically be heading elsewhere because it is implausible to think the team can keep four players at $10-plus million a year. 

For this reason alone the organization's soon-to-be hefty team salary is a pragmatic determent for signing others this season. Not only do they already have a champion's lineup but literally cannot afford it. 

If they plan on planning for the future, ignoring the current free-agent frenzy around the league is imperative. Most important, the team should be focused on a deal for Westbrook, and from there, continue on down the list.

Until otherwise, these next two years will be a tell-all when it comes to the Thunder's respective future. If the future is the team disbanding, it best to win and to win now. 

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