The summer months are coming to end. As a direct result the NBA world’s free agency buzz is slowly dying, which leads to many teams having advanced discussions with agents regarding contract extensions. On bigger level our world as a whole is currently facing with the ongoing monsoon season. The Oklahoma City Thunder agreeing upon a reported 4-year, $40+ million dollar extension with Serge Ibaka is the perfect compliment to both.
The Thunder have struck again, successfully locking up Ibaka alongside Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant for the team’s bright road ahead. While it’s safe to say the Thunder organization is in good shape for the next 3 to 4 years, one big issue remains in question: Will they have enough cap flexibility to also re-sign emerging guard James Harden as well?
For now the debate remains to whether or not it can be done, but in the meantime the Thunder have taken another giant step in the right direction. Deciding to extend Ibaka before Harden was a brilliant move and here are 3 reasons why:
1. Reggie Jackson:
One of the bigger, if not the biggest, mystery prospect was Jackson when the athletic, 3-year guard from Boston College entered his name in the 2011 NBA Draft. After suffering a knee injury in pre-draft process Jackson pulled out of his remaining scheduled workouts that left many team evaluators questioning his draft stock value. Having a ton of draft success momentum behind them (having previously drafted Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Harden) the Thunder tested their luck again hoping that Jackson would be the steal of the draft when they selected him 24th overall.
Receiving little playing time as a rookie this past season, Jackson only saw the floor in 45 games averaging 11.1 minutes per outing. In this small window of opportunity Jackson failed to impress scoring 3.1 ppg on just 32.1% shooting from the field. However, Jackson raised a ton of eyebrows with his play in the Orlando Summer League this past month. While his shooting percentage hasn’t improved drastically (41.2% FG) Jackson did display many improvements and his athleticism helped find himself on the nightly summer league highlight reels.
If Jackson can continue to show steady improvements and maturity in his game, he can certainly help the Thunder determine the value/priority of giving Harden a big payday. Having already locked up Westbrook long-term it’s not out of the question to consider a backcourt tandem of Jackson/Westbrook that helps the team avoid a luxury tax nightmare.
2. Perry Jones III:
A similar theme arises when examining the Thunder’s latest first round draft selection in Jones III. The Baylor product’s future as an NBA player included many question marks, which undoubtedly made him this year’s biggest mystery in the NBA Draft. Considered to be a potential top five talent, the Thunder considered Jones III a no-brainer when it came time for their 28th overall pick.
Although Jones’s summer league performances weren’t quite the results the Thunder were surely hoping for; the team definitely feels optimistic about his potential. If OKC is able to groom 6’11, 20 year-old power forward they may be willing to trade Kendrick Perkins which would enable them to start either Jones III or veteran Nick Collision at the power forward position and move Ibaka to the center spot. This particular trade scenario would significantly increase the team’s ability to resign Harden. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, but the idea of a starting line-up that possibly could consist of: Westbrook/Harden/Durant/Jones III/Ibaka is pretty scary. Talk about a high octane, up-tempo, run and gun game!
3. Hollis Thompson:
It’s more than fair to call this one a long shot, but it’ll be interesting to follow the development of Thompson. While the junior Georgetown product went undrafted this past June, Thompson does deserve some consideration as a possible piece to the Thunder’s future. After all, we’re talking about a 6’8, 21 year-old swingman who shot 46.4% from the field, including 43% from downtown as the go-to player on his team in the very tough Big East conference. If there’s one undrafted swingmen that might have a chance to find similar success to that of Portland’s Wesley Matthews, it’s Thompson.
In closing, it’s important to keep in mind that in no way are these points big enough reasons to shrug off trying to resign James Harden. Rather these points just strengthen the fact that losing a key piece like Harden may not be the end of the world for the Thunder’s title chances for years to come. Making the Ibaka extension the first priority was the right call as the Thunder organization continues to roll and the team can hope the lightening can strike big with their young prospects mentioned above.