A variety of important decisions loom for the Thunder front office this offseason.
But maybe the most influential — before any free agency, draft or amnesty talk — regards the future of Reggie Jackson.
OKC's emerging third-year point guard will be entering the last season of his rookie deal. The “James Harden summer,” as some would now refer to it, gives the Thunder a final chance to lock up Jackson before he can become a restricted free agent the next year.
And that's what makes the next seven months so critical to that decision-making process.
Because as much as the Thunder brass believes in Jackson — and believes what Jackson will eventually become — they don't truly know.
When it comes to experience in the league, he's essentially still a rookie.
Jackson has only played 1,578 career minutes. That's less than Russell Westbrook had compiled by the All-Star break in his first season.
“We're still developing him,” Scott Brooks said. “We don't want to put a ceiling on his growth. We know that he has a ways to go.”
As a sporadically used backup point guard last season, Jackson showed glimpses of what he can be. Then, when Russell Westbrook went down in the playoffs, he emerged as the team's biggest silver lining, impressing as an emergency starter in a tough situation.
But now, with Westbrook's return, Jackson will finally slide into the role that many predict he will hold for the foreseeable future.
And it's an important one: Sixth man; leader of the second unit; spark off the bench. Not a starter, but likely one of the closers.
“Reggie, that's my favorite young guy in the league to watch at that point guard position,” said Kevin Martin, the current Minnesota guard and former Thunder sixth man.
“He's tough, man. He can play,” Martin continued. “Just how relentless he is, he's got a chance to be a sixth man that comes in and gets buckets on the attack and just be something really special in that role.”
And when he takes the floor, it allows the other Thunder bench players to fall back into their more natural slots, working off Jackson's playmaking skills.
Nick Collison, OKC's elder statesman, has worked with a variety of bench talent in the past, most notably Harden. When asked if Jackson fits that sixth man mold, Collison said: “He has all the tools.”
“It'll be good,” Collison said. “Reggie will give us a guy that can break some people down in that second group and hopefully create some shots for everybody else.”
Throughout the early stages of his career, Jackson's premier skill has been a unique ability to finish on the drive. Last season, his 74.2-percent conversion rate at the rim ranked near the top among guards.
“He can shoot with either hand, has a good left and right, plus the floater,” Brooks said. “And he uses the rim as an extra protector.”
But moving forward, his long-term development will hinge on the growth of his other skills. His shooting, his passing and his ability to take over in key spurts off the bench.
“In the playoffs, he really showcased under the circumstances that he can really lead an offensive unit,” Martin said. “Which you have to do in that second unit. You have to be an offensive-minded player.”
Internally, there's plenty of belief that he can. Now we'll start to find out if he will.