Thunder fans who need a little diversion from worrying about Kevin Durant’s decision in summer 2016, we’re here to serve. Forget, for awhile, about Durant and concern yourself with where Reggie Jackson might be in summer 2016.
The Thunder supersub has finished three NBA seasons and thus is eligible for a contract extension this offseason — same as Durant was in 2010, Russell Westbrook in 2011 and Serge Ibaka and James Harden in 2012. You know how those turned out. The Thunder batted three for four and was glad to take it.
Jackson is not the superstar those guys were and are, but he’s quite a ballplayer. Sam Presti talks glowingly about Jackson and says the magic words that signal no bull. Terms like “DNA” and “fits the profile of a Thunder player” and “competitive will.”
Keeping Jackson is a Thunder priority. But it won’t be easy. It’s not easy for anyone these days.
Of the players picked in the first round of the 2011 draft, only Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving so far has signed a contract extension. The Cavs tied up Irving for five years and $90 million, beginning in 2015-16. And it’s not like that draft hasn’t produced some talent: Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Kenneth Faried, Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Alec Burks, the Morris twins. Jackson.
Lots of guys who matter to their teams. Lots of guys who would be gold for their franchises to keep another five years. Yet only Irving has signed.
Last year, only five players from the 2010 draft signed contract extensions: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Derrick Favors and Larry Sanders.
“Generally, these things don’t happen in July,” Presti warned us back in June. “The trend now is they don’t even happen by the Oct. 31 deadline. But we are going to make a concerted effort to try to work something out with him that works for everybody. If that doesn’t happen, then we’ll pick the conversations up the following summer and see where that leads us.”
Salaries are problematic. When Gordon Hayward, who declined an extension last summer, signs a four-year, $63-million offer sheet, which the Jazz matched, Jackson had to think, I’m as good as him. So Jackson waits.
Players who have completed three years of their rookie contract are eligible for an extension with that team. After a fourth season, they are restricted free agents. Which means if their franchise makes a qualifying offer — a one-year contract for 125 percent of the player’s previous salary, which in Jackson’s case would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.8 million — they are free to sign with any team, but the original team has the right of match that offer.
But this summer, two players with qualifying offers — the Suns’ Eric Bledsoe and the Pistons’ Greg Monroe — haven’t even signed as restricted free agents. It seems clear that their motive is unrestricted free agency as soon as possible. That could be the motive of the 2011 class, too.
Playing out their rookie contracts for five years without signing an extension would make Jackson and his classmates totally free in summer 2016, when the NBA’s television contracts with ESPN and TNT expire, and they are expected to mushroom in value. Which means the payroll cap will rise, and salaries will rise, and anyone who is free in summer 2016 (which includes Durant, sorry to bring it up) will reap the benefits.
Of course, it’s a gamble. Tear up a knee or bust a leg, and all of a sudden a franchise isn’t so quick to want to pay a guy $14 million a year. It’s risk/reward.
The Thunder would prefer to lock up Jackson this offseason, but that’s not likely. It’s possible that Jackson plays for a contract in each of the next two seasons in Oklahoma City, which generally motivates a guy rather well, although if Jackson already wasn’t given his full focus and energy, Presti misread that DNA.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.