OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Thunder will keep Enes Kanter after matching an offer sheet by the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.
Oklahoma City acquired the center in a trade with the Utah Jazz last season, and he helped the Thunder while Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka battled injuries. He averaged 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds for Utah, but those numbers ballooned to 18.7 points and 11.0 rebounds with the Thunder.
Kanter entered the offseason as a restricted free agent, and a person with knowledge of the details told The Associated Press that he signed a four-year, $70 million offer sheet with Portland last week.
The Thunder said all along they wanted to keep the 23-year-old Kanter, who scored 20 or more points in 12 of his 26 appearances with the Thunder last season.
“We traded for Enes last season with the intention of keeping him as a member of the Thunder for several years to come, and we are excited that he will continue with us,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said in a statement.
Kanter is a skilled low-post scorer who adds versatility to an offense that features Durant, Ibaka and reigning scoring champion Russell Westbrook. After the midseason deal with Utah, Kanter proved to instantly have a good rapport with Westbrook, especially on the pick-and-roll.
Kanter made it clear during the season that he was much happier in Oklahoma City, and that he considered the Thunder a first-class organization. But Kanter, the No. 3 pick in the 2011 draft, will need to improve defensively.
The move could be attractive to Durant. The 2014 MVP is entering the final year of his contract after playing just 27 games last season. The Thunder appear to be all in on trying to get him a title before he has to make a final decision.
Oklahoma City is well over the salary cap and will pay the luxury tax, a change of direction for the typically cost-conscious franchise. But the league recently had a 10.3 percent increase in the luxury tax number, to $84.7 million, and that number will climb higher the following year when the league’s new television deals take effect.
Oklahoma City already had shaken things up by firing coach Scott Brooks and replacing him with Florida’s Billy Donovan.
Now, it appears the Thunder will be in position to compete in an improving West that features defending champion Golden State and an improved San Antonio squad that signed LaMarcus Aldridge.
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