What has been assumed for months became a certainty on Thursday.
Jeff Green will become a restricted free agent next summer.
Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti confirmed to The Oklahoman that contract negotiations between the team and representatives for the 2007 fifth overall pick have ended. The two sides had until Monday to reach a deal on an extension for the fourth-year forward. But barring an unexpected last-minute concession of some kind, Green will be allowed to test the free-agent market in July.
"Signing a player to an extension is certainly a positive but has become more unique," Presti said. "We explored the concept and had positive dialogue, but we will have to revisit the discussions in the future."
Uncertainty with rules of a yet-to-be renegotiated collective bargaining agreement has led to only two players from the 2007 draft class receiving extensions. Thunder forward Kevin Durant signed a max deal in July, and Chicago center Joakim Noah later inked a five-year $60-million extension.
Only five players from the 2006 draft class received extensions before the start of their fourth seasons, and just seven players re-signed from the 2005 draft class.
"I totally understand it," Green said Thursday. "There are a whole lot of reasons it couldn't get done right now, but I'm not worried about it. I'm just thinking about this season and what I've got to do."
It's unclear how close the Thunder was on a deal, but waiting to hammer out an agreement could be a risky proposition — for the team and the player.
By choosing to not re-sign now, Green could potentially forfeit millions of dollars. NBA commissioner David Stern has said league owners are seeking to slash player salaries by up to $800 million in the new labor contract. The new CBA also could contain cutbacks on players' annual raises, as well as the number of years contracts can be signed for. For instance, instead of signing a five-year extension with 10.5 percent annual raises, Green could have to settle for a three- or four-year deal with 8 percent raises.
Additionally, Green runs the risk of injury this season, which could destroy his value on the open market. So, too, could an unproductive season.
The cases of Thunder shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha and current Chicago swingman Ronnie Brewer serve as relevant examples. Sefolosha sacrificed the chance to seek additional dollars as a restricted free agent and inked a four-year, $13.8 million extension just before last year's deadline. Brewer, who played in Utah at the time, didn't agree on a deal before the deadline and was traded to Memphis in midseason. Subsequently, Brewer injured his hamstring and missed much of the second half of last season. He ultimately signed a three-year, $12.5 million deal with the Bulls, with the third year being non-guaranteed.
The flip side for Green, though, is the possibility of him applying pressure to the Thunder. Should Green assemble a dominant season, his price tag could shoot up and price OKC right out of the bidding. The Thunder has the right to match any offer Green receives. But with Russell Westbrook up for an extension next summer, and James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Eric Maynor due in 2012, the Thunder can't afford to match a high-dollar deal. The Jazz saw up-and-coming guard Wes Matthews, now with Portland, walk because of that exact scenario. Utah, however, also retained C.J. Miles by matching when the Thunder attempted to sign him as a restricted free agent two summers ago.
Simply put, how much another team offers Green next summer will determine whether he remains in a Thunder uniform beyond this season. Oklahoma City's front office has had few missteps, and it's unlikely that one of the most disciplined franchises will overpay to retain Green at the risk of jeopardizing the rest of its young nucleus.
But the bond between Green and the Thunder is a strong one, dating to his surprising, and questioned, selection as the fifth overall pick.
Since joining Durant as the franchise's first two cornerstones, Green has endeared himself to the coaching staff and managerial staff. He's earned a reputation for being both the consummate teammate and valuable because of his versatility.
Green on several occasions has voiced his desire to stay with the Thunder, and it's not far-fetched to think he would take less money to remain with a winning team. San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili and Miami's Udonis Haslem both recently agreed to re-sign with their respective teams for less money than they could have received elsewhere.
Must Green follow suit to stick around?
That answer will now be revealed next summer.