OKC Thunder: Thabo Sefolosha's return next season is not guaranteed

Sefolosha is in a contract year. The team has until June 30 to re-sign him. If no agreement is reached, he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
by Darnell Mayberry Modified: November 18, 2013 at 10:00 am •  Published: November 17, 2013

The Thunder values Thabo Sefolosha.

He's a foundational piece and a fantastic fit. He's embraced his role on the team and endeared himself to his host city.

He's bought in.

But there's no guarantee he'll be back next season.

Sefolosha is in a contract year. The team has until June 30 to re-sign him. If no agreement is reached, he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Which makes him an interesting case study.

Oklahoma City has never allowed a player like Sefolosha, a five-year fixture in the rotation, to get to free agency. The reason is because bidding wars ensue on the open market, and retaining players at that point traditionally calls for blowing past the budget.

The Thunder traded Jeff Green 4 1/2 months prior to him becoming a restricted free agent and later did the same with Eric Maynor.

And, of course, James Harden was shipped to Houston in the same fashion.

Kevin Martin last summer was allowed to hit free agency, but he was always a one-year rental designed to keep the Thunder in the title hunt rather than an integral piece to the future.

But the Thunder also has a history of getting deals done when there's mutual interest and a willingness to make it work. Back in October 2009, Sefolosha benefited from the Thunder's philosophy, as the two sides reached an 11th-hour agreement on a four-year, $13.8 million deal that kept Sefolosha from seeing restricted free agency that summer.

Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka also have been re-signed before reaching free agency.

Based on Sefolosha's standing, and his stated desire to The Oklahoman to remain in Oklahoma City, it's safe to assume the two sides have had negotiations.

But several factors could prevent a deal from being consummated before July 1. Each is equally important and, when combined, they leave the Thunder with a difficult decision: play out the season with Sefolosha and risk losing him for nothing to the highest bidder, or trade him at the deadline in an attempt to recoup assets.

The first factor is the threat of the tax. The Thunder has intentionally avoided exceeding the $71.74 million threshold this season solely to delay the clock on the more punitive “repeater” tax. But the front office showed its willingness to go into the tax by offering several deals to Harden. Had he accepted, and Kendrick Perkins stuck around, the team would have been in the tax this season.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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