Probably because the scars are still showing from the James Harden trade, Thunder fans are already starting to worry and wonder what’s going to happen with Reggie Jackson. With each bucket he makes, particularly in fourth quarters of close games, fans aren’t hearing the thawck of a swish — they’re hearing cha-ching that’s a Thunder… player about to get too expensive.
It’s absolutely too early to really think about this seeing as Jackson isn’t eligible for an extension off his rookie scale deal until July 1 of next summer. And if no extension is reached there prior to Oct. 31 (sound familiar?), he’d become a restricted free agent July 1, 2015. Meaning, the Thunder would have the ability to match on any offer sheet he signs.
But again, the fear is increasing as Jackson puts up lines like 23 points on 10-14 shooting, 18 on 8-11 and 13 on 5-10, looking like all his game is missing is an over-the-top beard.
It’s a bit of a leap to already extrapolate to Jackson becoming a max player, which I highly doubt he’ll become, but envisioning a team in need of point guard offering him four years, $40 million is getting easier and easier to picture. For instance, Jeff Teague signed a four-year, $32 million offer sheet with the Bucks that the Hawks matched. Teague is a really good point guard, and a starter that gets 30 minutes a night. A team that offers Jackson is going to see him as the same, and pay him as such.
So, what’s the Thunder’s situation moving forward?
In 2015, the Thunder’s cap situation is this: Between Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka, they have $49,252,841 tied up. That’s most of their cap, leaving just about $11 million left before they go over (assuming the cap comes in around $60 million). Those three are the only three players guaranteed to be under contract then, but players like Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams, Perry Jones and Andre Roberson all have options that will almost assuredly be picked up. So the Thunder will have seven players under contract at $57,815,243. Which would leave roughly $13-15 million under the luxury tax threshold, and about $2 million under the cap.
Off the books at that point: Thabo Sefolosha (expiring this summer), Derek Fisher (this summer), Kendrick Perkins (expiring 2015) and Nick Collison (2015).
And here’s another big catch: They’ve got to have room for Durant’s new deal the next summer. He’s be eligible for a 30 percent max (which is what he’s already getting because of that stupid Rose Rule). So it won’t change too awful much, but the Thunder will need to set aside around $18 million a year for him. And Durant could actually sign a three-year extension after this season if he wanted, but nobody does that.
(Also, let’s just assume the Thunder re-sign Nick Collison after next season because there will be blood if he’s not.)
So let’s say Collison gets re-signed (HE BETTER). The Thunder now have eight players under contract with about $11-13 million left over to stay under the tax line. You’ve got to have 13, so the Thunder need five more players on their team with that. Hard to know what Jackson would require, but there’s a solid chance it might eat up a good chunk of that remaining money. And you probably want a little bit set aside to try and keep Lamb too the summer after that.
To me, that’s the time the Thunder are really playing for. I know a lot of people are talking about windows and letting an opportunity slip now, but if you break the tax line now, you’re a taxpayer and could be a repeater (which is bad) right when you need to re-sign Durant, Jackson and Lamb. Starting to make a little more sense as to why the Thunder didn’t want to break into the tax for someone like Dorell Wright now? Do you want Carlos Delfino now, or Reggie Jackson in 2015?
I’m pretty convinced that eventually the Thunder are going to pay the tax. Just not now when Durant and Westbrook are 25, because that would mean when they’re 28 and right in their NBA prime, the Thunder would be a repeat taxpayer when they try and keep the rest of the core together or even add free agent pieces. Not sound financial planning. (Of course the big factor here is, actually keeping Westbrook and Durant which could be a bit of a catch-22 because they may leave if the Thunder aren’t winning championships. Alas.)
The thing that sticks out to me though is that Jackson make get a bit of Hardenitis, meaning he wants the opportunity to go be a starter somewhere else. Jackson has often said that his goal is to be the best point guard in basketball, which is a neat desire, but it’s going to be hard to do that if you’re playing behind Russell Westbrook. And the same goes for Lamb, who surely would relish the chance to show his skills as a primary scorer for someone. But that’s way down the line.
One other thing to note: Steven Adams may be the key to all of it. The Thunder will assuredly let Perk expire (or trade him as an expiring) which will clear off nine million very valuable dollars. And if Adams is the center he appears to be, the Thunder could have one hell of a bargain starter, currently paying Adams just right around $3 million on his rookie deal. Typical starting centers in the NBA average around $8-12 million, so if OKC can get away with having a capable starting big man at that discounted price, it could open the door to keeping players they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Granted, then we’re talking about Adams’ restricted free agency… sigh.
The lesson here is, it’s really, really hard to build a team that can sustain the kind of success Sam Presti wants. If you’re going to be good in today’s NBA, you need two stars, which means two players you’re paying out the butt for, and at least a third near-max guy. Which leaves very little on the back end and when you’re in the business of developing talent in the way the Thunder are, you almost become somewhat of a farm team for the rest of the league. A shame, but the harsh realities of the system.
So let’s just try and not think about this anymore until at least next summer.