Thabo Sefolosha confirmed on Thursday that a breakup that had long been anticipated is now official.
The former Thunder shooting guard has agreed to terms with Atlanta, ending his 5 1/2-year run in Oklahoma City. The deal, which was first reported by Realgm.com, will pay Sefolosha $12 million over three years.
“I feel great about it, and I’m happy with the contract.” Sefolosha told The Oklahoman. “So I definitely got a big smile on my face right now.”
Sefolosha also drew interest from Washington and New Orleans among others.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, however, expressed his team’s interest early to Sefolosha’s representatives, and things escalated quickly following a sitdown meeting between Sefolosha and Budenholzer in Washington.
Atlanta’s eventual offer sealed the deal.
“We had a very good meeting where we could talk a little bit about both of our visions and everything,” Sefolosha said. “And it made sense for them to pursue trying to get me to the team. And it definitely made sense once I got the offer for me to go there. We made it work with the numbers and that’s how it came about.”
Sefolosha said he could sense that his time in Oklahoma City was up based on how the 2013-14 season ended. He battled a calf injury that cost him 17 consecutive games. But after returning in early April, Sefolosha’s playing time began to plummet. He averaged just 15.7 minutes in the postseason, and was benched for Games 6 and 7 of the opening round against Memphis, as well as Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals against San Antonio. In his final game with the Thunder, the season-ending Game 6 loss to the Spurs, Sefolosha played just five seconds.
The writing was on the wall.
“Yeah, a little bit,” Sefolosha said. “The last month of basketball was a little bit tough and head-scratching for me, going from the starting five to not playing at all. So I had to do a little bit of thinking after the season, and once we started talking and everything I was definitely listening to other teams and trying to figure out what was the best situation for me. And I think this is it. I’m very happy now. I’m happy with the situation, definitely.”
Sefolosha struggled with his shot for much of the season after showcasing tremendous improvement in his best years as a shooter the two seasons prior. When the struggles spilled over into the postseason, Thunder coach Scott Brooks had little choice to go a different direction. Sefolosha said he didn’t agree with the decision but also didn’t take it personal.
“I wasn’t offended. I was frustrated at times,” Sefolosha explained. “But I kept that to myself. I was scratching my head because I just didn’t think that it was the right decision to make as far as the coach’s decision of putting me on the bench. I don’t think it was the right decision. And we fell short one more time, so that was definitely frustrating. It was what it was, and I understand. I think of myself as a professional so I didn’t say much. I didn’t want to put the lights on me and not playing. It was bigger than that. But at the same time, I think if I played more minutes maybe we could have beat San Antonio. I didn’t think it was the right decision that the coach made, but I had to go along with it and not make too much noise about it for the good of the team.”
But the benching, Sefolosha said, definitely contributed to his decision to leave.
“Oh, big time. Big time,” Sefolosha said. “I mean, it had been a pattern a little bit going on, you know me playing in the starting five but not playing for the rest of the game basically. So once I sat down after the season and really reflected on what happened the last two, three seasons and basically the last two, three months, I thought it was maybe time for me to move on and find a new place.”
Despite how his run ended, Sefolosha said he will maintain fond memories of his time in Oklahoma City. He came to town as a 24-year-old finding his way. He left as a 30-year-old who came into his own as an elite perimeter defender who was vital to the Thunder’s transformation into a perennial title contender.
“I think it was the success that we had as a team, the growth that we had over the years,” Sefolosha said of what he’ll remember. “And the people of Oklahoma City and the fans and how involved they are, how much they follow and are behind the team. That’s definitely the two things that I will remember of Oklahoma City.”
In bidding farewell to the Thunder, the team’s fans and the community, Sefolosha exhibited the same amount of class he carried throughout his tenure.
“I would say thank you very much. Thank you for the support,” Sefolosha said. “I will never forget my time in Oklahoma City. With all the success that we had, all the great friends and relationships that we’ve built in Oklahoma City, that’s something special. I don’t regret anything of my time in Oklahoma City. If it was up to me, maybe it would be different right now. But I wish the team the best and all the fans to stay the way they are with the team.”