By now, it shouldn't come as a shock that the Oklahoma City Thunder opened this summer's free agency period without so much as a peep on the player-movement blotter. The franchise has quickly developed a reputation for being patient and methodical.
But this off-season is different. Patience has taken a backseat to proceeding with caution.
Unlike teams like Memphis, Minnesota and Milwaukee, which went on spending sprees the first second they could, the Thunder is choosing to sit back and see how things play out.
The most crucial component OKC is waiting to come into focus is the dubious details of a new collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and NBA Players Association. The Thunder, like every other team, has no clue what the new rules will bring. But the current deal is set to expire June 30, 2011, and it appears likely the new agreement will shrink the size of player contracts, team payrolls and perhaps even institute a hard salary cap.
It's one reason why — in addition to the Thunder being quiet in free agency — we haven't heard anything of substance on Jeff Green's contract extension this summer. OKC is expected to soon ink Kevin Durant to his extension because stars like him don't come around very often. And when you have one, you lock him up at the first chance you get.
But with Green, the Thunder can and likely will wait until the new CBA is agreed upon so that it can extend his contract under the new, more favorable set of rules. So don't be alarmed if Durant's deal gets done and Green's extension drags out. The Thunder has until Oct. 31 to come to an agreement with Green. And even if the two sides don't reach a middle ground, Green still will be under contract next season and becomes a restricted free agent next summer. OKC could then match whatever offer Green receives and retain his services.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the new CBA, we could see Durant become the only player from the 2007 draft class to be given an extension this summer. It would continue the latest trend seen by NBA teams. An all-time low of five players from the 2006 draft class received extensions before their fourth seasons. And the 2005 draft class saw just seven players sign extensions.
In Oklahoma City, that approach would just be another level of armor the Thunder has used to protect itself against whatever the CBA brings. OKC will have 10 players on rookie scale contracts next season, or relatively cost-efficient contracts that will make the Thunder immune to a falling salary cap. The Thunder still will have eight players on rookie deals in 2011-12 when the rules will change.
But the payroll of teams like the Wolves, Grizzlies and Bucks, who recently all gave lucrative deals to average players, could soon be saddled because of senseless moves they made now. A $5 million per year contract could have more of an $8 million feel under the new agreement.
That's what the Thunder is looking to avoid and why OKC is proceeding with caution.