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.
Restricting the Thunder's flexibility, though, will be rising salaries on current contracts of Westbrook, Durant, Perkins and the remaining players still on smaller, more affordable rookie scale contracts.
The Thunder also has a more pressing deal to try to get done with Reggie Jackson, a rising star who is eligible for an extension on July 1. Jackson's future salary is a big unknown at the moment. His play this season could help him command something crazy or limit him to something more cost efficient. Either way, the Thunder might want to hammer out that issue before inking Sefolosha.
Sefolosha also might want to see what he's worth on the open market. Memphis rewarded Tony Allen with a four-year, $20 million deal in July and Sefolosha, while considered a cut below Allen as a defender, could start all negotiations using Allen as a comparable. Memphis also re-signed Quincy Pondexter to a four-year, $14 million extension, perhaps providing a floor of what Sefolosha will expect.
Keep in mind, however, that the Thunder has up and coming players in Jeremy Lamb and Andre Roberson that the franchise might feel can fill Sefolosha's shoes at a discount.
So far, Sefolosha hasn't done himself any favors with the surprisingly slow start he's gotten off to. He's shooting just 37.3 percent from the field, his lowest clip through his first eight games as a member of the Thunder, and has connected on just 20.8 percent of his 3-pointers. While you could chalk up his offensive struggles to pressing in a contract year, his defensive impact thus far has regressed as well.
But it's only been eight games, and we're still in November.
July 1 is a long way away.
But this is all an example of the long-term planning the Thunder has had to live by, and Sefolosha is simply a compelling case that will soon test a long-standing Thunder philosophy.