Serge Ibaka this, James Harden that. All summer the focus has remained on those two players and what their future in Oklahoma City might look like.
But there’s actually a third player on the roster that’s eligible for an extension too. And one that doesn’t want to go anywhere either.
Thunder fans haven’t forgotten about Eric Maynor even if it seems a lot of other people have though. There were draft stories about OKC taking a point guard to replace Derek Fisher. Stories about OKC pursuing point guards in free agency to do the same. Ridiculous trade rumors. And all this time maybe the league’s best backup point guard is already on the roster.
Any person that’s watched the Thunder closely over the last few years knows what an asset Maynor is. Remember, Maynor is so good and Scott Brooks trusted him so much that Maynor played the entire fourth quarter to close out Game 2 in Dallas of the Western Finals in 2011. He fits wonderfully in the locker room, understands his role perfectly and is an ideal team player. He’s the kind of guy you want on your roster, period. He puts team in front of himself, plays hard and best of all, is very, very good.
Really, you could almost count Maynor as a big summer signing for the Thunder. He’s a major re-addition to the team. He missed almost all of last season after blowing out his knee and after a lot of hard work rehabbing, will be back to 100 percent for training camp.
But he’s essentially on a one-year deal and if the Thunder don’t ink him to an extension, he’ll become a restricted free agent next summer. All signs point to that happening. Most of the time extensions are for core pieces that you don’t want to hit the market at all. Letting guys hit restricted free agency doesn’t mean you’re letting them go. It just means you’re letting the market determine their value. So it’s not some slight to Maynor that he’s unlikely to get an extension. It’s just pretty standard.
We all know the complications and the future situation surrounding Ibaka’s new deal, a future Harden one and the salary cap for OKC. It’s going to be tough. A big challenge. All along those scenarios haven’t included a new long-term deal for Maynor, which means the Thunder’s backup point man could be moving on next summer.
More than any other player though, Maynor made it clear during his exit interview that he’s willing to sacrifice to stay together.
“If we really want to continue, it feels like we got something special here,” he said. “I feel like if guys sacrifice to get something done then everybody will be here still.
And: “I want to be here. It’s very important to me. Whatever we got to do to get it done, we need to make it happen. I enjoy being here and I want to be here longer.”
One more: “Of course I want to be a starter in this league. But at the same time, wherever I’m at I want to enjoy it while I’m playing basketball. Sometimes it’s not about that. Sometimes it’s, like I said, about that word sacrificing. That’s basically what I’m about. I just like to win and enjoy doing it.”
Seems pretty clear, no? Maynor wants to be in OKC. Really bad. The issue, again, is the numbers. If a big deal for Harden puts OKC in luxury tax hell, well, you can probably figure out what a new contract for Maynor does.
Still, you can’t play with seven players. You’ve got to have at least a 13-man team. I doubt Maynor would sacrifice so much to spring for the veteran minimum, but something in a low dollar neighborhood and he absolutely could remain on the roster.
And as has been the case with every Harden and Ibaka discussion, the key is to keep under breaking the tax threshold by more than $5 million. Go over that and it gets more punitive. Except that probably won’t happen, unless the amnesty clause is used for Perk.
1) Sign them all. Say OKC re-signs Harden for $14 million a year. That would put OKC at over $80 million, or in likely in the second bracket of the expected tax threshold. And that’s with 13 players on the roster, not including Maynor. If Mr. Bennett and his ownership group just said, “Screw it, we’re already paying up for Harden, might as well keep ’em all,” and kept Maynor for say, $3 million a year, the Thunder would actually be paying $1.75 for every dollar over. Essentially taking a three-year $9 million deal for Maynor and making it for $24.7 million (the $9 million plus $15.7 in tax penalties). That’s a hefty price tag for a backup point guard.
2) Extend Maynor, not Harden. This one’s not as fun. But that keeps the Thunder under the tax line, gives OKC a high quality bench player to solidify the second unit and if Perry Jones or Reggie Jackson could blossom into a scorer off the bench, the Thunder might recover those lost points.
3) Trade Maynor for a future replacement of not him, but Harden. Though the Jimmer rumor that was recklessly floated a couple weeks ago is essentially nonsense, it is kind of an interesting scenario. Say OKC deals Maynor and a pick to Sacramento for Jimmer and brings back his rookie deal that’s paying him around $3 million a year through 2015. Keep Harden this season, let Jimmer and Jackson back up Westbrook. Then you let Harden walk, groom Jimmer to be the new bench weapon and slide Jackson over to replace Maynor as the backup point guard. Makes sense, right? One small hole in this plan: Jimmer isn’t remotely close to the player Harden is. Other than that, great plan! (Note: I’m still a Jimmer believer though and think in the right situation he could be a very good NBA scorer. He can’t guard a frozen TV dinner, but he can score and shoot.)
4) Let Maynor walk in RFA. I really don’t like this plan, but you have to realize, a great backup point guard is an NBA luxury. It’s like getting heated seats in your car. They serve their purpose well and sometimes you’re super happy you have them. But most of the time, you’re just spoiled. Reggie Jackson is a cheaper alternative, likely drafted as a contingency plan for Maynor. And yeah, it’s probably the most likely of the four.
(Here’s a bonus fifth scenario that makes me feel kind of gross: Sign Maynor to a sensible deal that is an attractive, tradeable contract. When the tax looms in 2014, deal him away to save some money. You get an extra year out of him, and maybe some future picks or something in return.)
It’s unlikely Maynor will sniff an extension. Even in Sam Presti’s end-of-the-season presser, he mentioned working on deals for Harden and Ibaka, but didn’t name Maynor. It’s not a priority in the way Harden and Ibaka are/were. But that’s not to say it’s a guarantee he’s gone. A player that is so committed to an organization that he publicly talks about sacrifice and taking less to stay is someone you want involved with your franchise.
James Harden and his future is what clouds our brains right now. But don’t forget Maynor. Because he’s worth the worry too.