Similarly, the Lakers hardly blinked amid the possibilities of paying both Dwight Howard and an exorbitant luxury tax for years to come. The television money should preempt such concerns.
The same could be said for the Heat moving further into the tax with Ray Allen, with Micky Arison able to soak up such costs by hawking a few more of those fruity drinks on his cruise ships.
No, the NBA, even when factoring in the spending by the Knicks, hardly has faced its ultimate litmus test on the new collective-bargaining agreement and impending onerous luxury tax.
Because while many things can be said about the Thunder, from their rabid fan base to their brilliant front office, they're still located in Oklahoma City. And even with Clay Bennett's deep pockets, the well figures to reach a point where it runs dry.
When Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook received their high-end rookie extensions a year ago, it made sense. A core was solidified.
When Kendrick Perkins got the new contract in Oklahoma City that Danny Ainge was reluctant to offer in Boston, it was viewed as forward thinking.
But now Serge Ibaka has his near-max extension, James Harden is in line for his and Eric Maynor could become a free agent after the coming season.
So welcome to the intersection of success and sanity, Thunder.
To this point, Sam Presti merely had to be boy genius when it came to talent evaluation. And few outside of the Spurs - his former employer - have been better over the past two decades.
But now Presti and his cap crunchers find themselves where Gar Foreman sits in Chicago, in contention but also weighing financial risk/reward.
For all Foreman helped collect in Chicago, this offseason offered a window into how the Bulls simply refuse to be drawn into the salary stratosphere, an efficiency approach that has been a staple of the Jerry Reinsdorf regime. So Omer Asik was allowed to depart to Houston, with Chicago declining to match his Rockets offer sheet. And Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver were cast aside, also in the name of fiscal sanity.
Which raises the question of whether the Thunder, clearly lacking Bulls-like financial resources, can afford to act any differently.
The timing with Ibaka and Harden has made any other approach thorny. You don't back down when you are one step from a championship.
But if there isn't another step, or even a step back, does it mean an amnesty of Perkins - viewed by some as the Thunder's best answer as a Dwight stopper - during next July's window?
Will Maynor come to be viewed as too much of a luxury, considering the Thunder made their march to the Finals while he was out with injury?
And what of Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison?
(Daequan Cook, it's been nice knowing you, and Cole Aldrich probably shouldn't be counting on that 2013-14 team rookie-scale option.)
To a degree, there have been two types of mega-spenders in the NBA's cap era:
- Teams with vast revenue streams, such as the Lakers, Knicks, Celtics.
- And teams with hobbyist owners, whose emotional stake, at least in the moment, trumps ultimate fiscal sanity, a group that has included Arison, Dallas' Mark Cuban and now welcomes in the Nets' Mikhail Prokhorov.
Based on the hometown success of his team, it is likely Bennett would fall into the second category, if he falls into either.
As an NBA owner, Bennett so far has experienced the easy part, the rookie-scale part. He was weaned off that first with the new deals for Durant and Westbrook and now with the extension for Ibaka, a sort of layaway plan that does not kick in until the 2013-14 season. A new Harden contract, if negotiated in the window that ends Oct. 31, also would be somewhat time-released, the higher figure also not to kick in until 2013-14.
(Ibaka remains under contract for the coming season at $2.3 million, Harden at $5.8 million. Ibaka moves to $12.3 million the following season.)
Even with another season of NBA Finals success, revenues do not figure to improve appreciably for the Thunder and Bennett. And even with the NBA's improved revenue sharing, it likely won't compensate for what could, a season from now, be a tax bill upwards of $15 million for the Thunder.
There certainly are ways to make it work while at least minimizing the coming tax hit.
There is the Bulls' approach of identifying the team's core (Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng) and then sorting out matters beyond (such as what appears to be a July 2013 amnesty for Carlos Boozer).
There is the Heat's approach of almost nothing but minimal-scale complementary pieces (Mario Chalmers, Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem) and hoping the stars can handle even more.
Or there is the option of turning one of the stars into two or three working pieces in a league that continues to show that no contract is untradeable (which could yet trigger a Harden-or-Ibaka debate).
Depending on what happens with Harden, the Thunder could become the test case of a lower-revenue market making it work with a high-end payroll.
Or Oklahoma City could become a lesson in the danger of pooling quality draft choices over a compact period, because of the bill that eventually comes due.