LAS VEGAS — As bad contracts and bad headaches go in the NBA, the Thunder is on the league’s lighter end of the spectrum. But Oklahoma City parted with one of its few unhappy players and its most expensive contract on Friday when it waived reserve point guard Earl Watson.
Watson has agreed to sign a one-year deal with Indiana. But under league rules, he can’t officially ink his name with the Pacers until the seven-day waiver period ends next week.
For the Thunder, the deal puts Oklahoma City even further below the salary cap while freeing an additional roster spot..
Watson, the 30-year-old backup to Russell Westbrook, grew frustrated with his role last season as a member of the 23-win Thunder.
The eight-year veteran became caught in the Thunder’s commitment to youth and went from opening-night starter to mid-season backup to bench warmer by season’s end. He finished the season with averages of 6.6 points and 5.8 assists while playing 26.1 minutes in 68 games.
The Thunder has long stressed its commitment to high-character players and likely didn’t want to risk tampering with the team’s current chemistry. Watson never publicly requested a trade but was often visibly discouraged inside the locker room and on the bench during games. He said at the end of last season that he didn’t expect to return to Oklahoma City.
Watson’s playing time was inconsistent toward the end of last season and could have become even more erratic next year with the Thunder committed to developing Westbrook and Shaun Livingston at the point guard position. Backcourt players Kyle Weaver and No. 3 overall pick James Harden are also capable of initiating the offense.
The Thunder also has Chucky Atkins in the mix, but the 34-year-old point guard has only a partially guaranteed contract for next season and could be on the way out as well.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti, as he’s done in the past after waiving players, did not provide additional details of the transaction, saying only, "We thank Earl for his professionalism and wish him the best in the future.