Monday 18 December 2017 / 02:12 PM

Now or never time approaching in OKC

Let’s face it, for as much as Kobe Bryant will one day be a Hall-of-Fame shoe-in, it’s a two-player race for who’s tops right now in the NBA. King James or Kevin Durant, period.

So you’ve got to wonder why Clay Bennett isn’t jumping to shell out a little extra moolah to give the greatest player he’ll ever hire the extra support he needs to bring a championship to Oklahoma City.

Did you know that since the implementation of the luxury tax rule, only the 2005-06 Miami Heat have taken home the title without paying the tax?

Five other teams have reached the Finals tax-free, including the Thunder, but there’s certainly something to be said for pulling out the old checkbook when you’ve got all your ducks in a row and just one more star can take your team from great to unstoppable.

With two years to go before the Slim Reaper becomes a free agent, the time to pull the trigger on the luxury tax and give #35 his best chance to win it in OKC is now. Why risk him heading off ring-less to greener pastures?

Oh, and by the way, I do know that I’m not officially supposed to be using his Slim Reaper moniker … apparently he prefers Kevin, or KD.

OK Kevin, as you wish, just know that sticking with a lame nickname is most likely costing you millions in endorsements.

The other side of the coin

All that being said, I’m not trying to insinuate that the Thunder’s championship window is definitely closing and that they’d better double-down now or else.

My point is simply that in a world where money talks and bullshit walks, there’s no reason for a team with such a supportive fan base to play penny-pinching games at a time when they’ve got a legitimate shot to be the best team in the league.

Bennett found the dough to buy the team in Seattle and whisk them away to tornado-ville, so surely he and his billionaire cronies can break a piggy bank or two to scrape up the money to pay the luxury tax. You know damn well that Steve Ballmer will be throwing down piles of cash to push the Clippers deeper into the conversation.

So let’s assume they don’t pay up

OK, I think that I’ve successfully put my point across that OKC would be better off if they bumped their payroll up to the next tier. I mean, hell, even the Spurs pay the tax and their front office is arguably the most astute group of team builders the NBA has ever seen.

So what happens should they not pay. What are the chances they pull it off with their current roster?

Clearly their chances are good, especially if Duncan, Ginobili and Parker decide to ride off into the sunset sooner rather than later.

But the Thunder beat the Spurs to advance to the Finals in 2011-12, so there’s no reason to believe that they can’t do it again, particularly with Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Reggie Jackson morphing into wily, playoff-experienced veterans.

And that’s the thing about basketball. While über-talented rookies have the potential to make the jump to the NBA and make a difference in their inaugural season, most players take at least a few years in the league before they mature and reach their full potential.

General Manager Sam Presti has built a very young and talented core for this franchise and it might just be the time for the fruits of his labors to fully ripen.

Looking at the Western Conference, which teams out there will boast a stronger roster going into the 2014-15 season?

The Spurs, sure; there’s no reason to discount the defending champs, but as San Antonio gets one year older it becomes all the more likely that they’ll be the team facing injury concerns in the postseason and not the Thunder. After all, OKC’s latest playoff exit certainly deserves at least a small asterisk to denote the fact that they weren’t facing the Spurs at full strength.

Who else? Clippers? Warriors? Rockets? Blazers? All great teams, but still a notch or two below the Thunder.

And out East? With the Heat dismantled and the Pacers losing Lance Stephenson it’s hard to imagine the Eastern Conference recapturing the title in the coming season. The Cavs will be players soon, very soon, but it always takes a year at a minimum for recently constructed Super Teams to gel.

Quietly they may have added the X Factor

Let’s not forget about the key addition of Anthony Morrow. He may have been the team’s back-up plan after losing out on Pau Gasol, but this pick-up is humongous.

Morrow drained an incredible 45.1 per cent of his shots from beyond the arc last season for the Warriors. I think it’s safe to say that the Thunder have solved their three-point shooting woes.

The final word on this issue

The truth is, only one man genuinely knows whether or not OKC’s championship window is limited to two more seasons, and that’s Kevin Durant.

While the Thunder’s management will certainly play a role in the process, he’ll be the one deciding whether he wants to build his career and legacy in Oklahoma or if he’d rather take the Super Team route and win a title the new-fashioned way.

For now, though, there’s no reason to believe that he and Westbrook won’t stay. They’re heroes in OKC and they both understand that while they’ve yet to bring home the trophy, there’s something special going on in Oklahoma. Whether they win it all this year or not remains to be seen, but all the pieces are falling into place for the potential formation of the NBA’s next dynasty.

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Michael Airhart

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