Desmond Mason’s days in a Thunder uniform have come to an end.
Oklahoma City has decided to go in a different direction and will not re-sign the former Oklahoma State standout and fan favorite, The Oklahoman has learned.
Mason, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, became a casualty of the Thunder’s commitment to developing its young talent and was the odd man out on a roster that is one player below the NBA maximum of 15 allowed.
The Thunder remained open to the possibility of re-signing the 31-year-old Mason throughout the summer and had ongoing discussions with his agent since the start of free agency on July 1. Mason made $5.3 million in the final year of his contract last season and is believed to have been seeking a deal in the same neighborhood this summer.
Contract negotiations were believed to have been more exploratory in nature, comprised of more casual discussion rather than concrete proposals. Mason’s camp is believed to have been seeking a multi-year contract of at least two seasons while the Thunder was willing to agree to nothing longer than a one-year deal.
But it appeared less likely Mason would return with each transaction the Thunder made since February.
Oklahoma City acquired 25-year-old swingman Thabo Sefolosha from Chicago in a trading-deadline-day deal. The Thunder then drafted versatile guard James Harden out of Arizona State with the third overall pick in the June draft. In late July, Oklahoma City traded Damien Wilkins and Chucky Atkins to Minnesota for Etan Thomas. The deal reduced the Thunder’s roster to 13 players, but five days later the team signed veteran point guard Kevin Ollie.
The Thunder also has returning players Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Kyle Weaver, Shaun Livingston and Russell Westbrook – all 23 or younger – in the mix. All are capable of playing multiple positions in the backcourt. Those players are projected to receive the bulk of the playing time in 2009-10, as the team’s young players have the past two seasons to help promote their growth.
As it stands, the Thunder will maintain its roster flexibility by parting with Mason and standing pat at 14 players. The Thunder is currently about $10 million below the salary cap, meaning its one roster spot could be an extremely valuable asset in the future if trade opportunities arise and the team needs to take on additional players or decides to sign someone during the season.
The Thunder, for example, was able to sign center Nenad Krstic from Europe in mid-season only because Steven Hill was on a non-guaranteed contract as the 15th man and could easily be waived. Oklahoma City also could be as much as $18 million under the salary cap in 2010-11, and re-signing Mason to a multi-year contract starting in the $5 million range had the potential to close the door on various long-term options.
Mason and his agent couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, and it’s unclear what alternatives are available to Mason at this point. The Thunder, however, could explore bringing Mason back in future seasons.
In 39 games, 19 as a starter, Mason averaged 7.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 27.3 minutes. He missed the final 36 games after hyper-extending his right knee in a game against Memphis in late January.