The Oklahoma City Thunder and general manager Sam Presti are in a somewhat familiar position.
There's a talented guard currently in a bench role who might want something more than what he has right now. More playing time, more of a substantial role on the team and, yes, probably more money.
Unlike Harden, Jackson isn't a potential max contract candidate. That's not because he doesn't have great potential, but rather because he plays point guard, a position that just has too much available talent and not enough starting jobs available.
Jackson could certainly land one of the few starting jobs next offseason, where it looks like he'll be a restricted free agent. Oklahoma City still has time to work on a contract extension and lock up their dynamite backup for the future, but that doesn't appear to be likely.
On R. Jackson's extension: "Generally, these things don’t happen in July, and the trend now is they don’t happen by the Oct. 31 deadline."— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) June 5, 2014
Here's what Jackson told Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman about his contract negotiations:
We haven’t really talked about it much this summer. I know my representation and the Thunder have been talking. But mostly I haven’t really gotten to talk super much about it. I’ve been busy. I think we’re just trying to figure things out and hopefully we can get a deal done.
There are multiple reasons why an extension might not work for both sides. For Oklahoma City, investing big money in a backup at the league's deepest position might not be ideal, especially because the team is already somewhat close to the luxury tax and might be looking to keep the books clear in order to add extra talent once Kevin Durant's contract expires after the 2015-16 season.
While Jackson is certainly young and talented enough to qualify, he might not fill the needs the Thunder have. He's only a subpar defender and he doesn't provide length or great spot-up shooting, so he's not exactly the best fit for a team with clear-cut established scorers.
From Jackson's side, he may stand to make more money after a big year this season. There's also the chance that he wants to run his own team.
Here's what Jackson told Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman about starting:
For some people it’s important. To others it’s not. It’s very prideful for me. I feel like I’m very talented. I feel like I can lead a team. That’s just how I’ve been raised and that’s just how I’ve always felt. I want to be the guy in charge. I want to be the guy leading the team.
It just seems unlikely that the two sides can agree to an extension that would satisfy both parties. Oklahoma City is notorious for not wanting to overpay anyone, and after the events of this offseason, Jackson's representation would be silly to accept a low-ball offer.
Telling Reggie Jackson contract quote: "It's been some groundbreaking deals going on this summer, and I have to take that into account."— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) September 3, 2014
Let's assume, though, that both Presti and Jackson work hard to get an extension done before the October 31 deadline. What kind of price range for Jackson are we talking?
Here's Cray Allred at HoopsRumors.com taking a stab it:
Thus far, GM Sam Presti has played it close to the vest regarding Jackson. When the season closed, Presti said there was no consideration of trading Jackson, but the GM wasn’t optimistic that an extension would be worked out by the October 31st deadline. Jackson’s camp has been quiet as well, with no reports of where either side pegs his value.
Two point guards in Phoenix might be instructive in looking at Jackson’s potential market. Isaiah Thomas is a scoring machine who took off in his third year as a pro, fighting his way off the bench in a crowded Sacramento backcourt. He was rewarded with a four-year, $27MM contract this summer. Eric Bledsoe exploded as a starter in his first year with the Suns, but health concerns and Phoenix’s vow to match any offer sheet have kept him from generating anything near the max contract he wants. The Suns’ offer to Bledsoe currently sits at four years and $48MM.
My estimation is that Thomas’ lower ceiling, limited more than Jackson’s due to size and age, means his deal is near the low end of what Jackson could secure. Bledsoe’s offer seems to be a price ceiling for Jackson. Again, this is all just my speculation, but I would expect Jackson to fetch between $7MM and $10MM annually.
Something around the area of $8 million a year sounds about right. That's in the same range as what Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague signed two years ago, and Jackson compares similarly to him in a lot of ways.
Would Oklahoma City be willing to pay that much, however? It would seem like a sign-and-trade would be the most beneficial thing for Jackson and OKC, as the Thunder could find a better fit on the wing and maybe some cheaper assets in exchange for a player who is more valuable for other teams than he might be in Oklahoma City.
If it came down to it, Oklahoma City could afford Jackson at that rate, even if it would be tough to swallow.
Here's more from Allred at HoopsRumors.com:
If the Thunder pick up the 2015/16 options for Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Andre Roberson, and Steven Adams, they will still have at least $10MM in room beneath the tax for that season, and they could conceivably have plenty more room than that if league revenue keeps shooting up.
Of course, the Thunder also have to think beyond that season, as they seek to keep Kevin Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka around while the rest of the league prepares to snag them away. Locking in Jackson as a significant part of the team’s core would prevent them from adding much in the way of impact players through free agency next year.
The difference likely boils down to this: Oklahoma City should want Jackson as a sixth man and want to pay him as such, but Jackson may want to start and get paid along the lines of what talented point guards in their prime can get on the open market.
There is risk involved when it comes to Jackson betting on himself and hitting restricted free agency, because as we've seen, it can go really well (Chandler Parsons) or really poorly (Eric Bledsoe). If the point guard market dries up quickly, Jackson could lose his bargaining power.
It's a risk Oklahoma City might be willing to take, especially if Jackson isn't viewed as critical. Financial flexibility and sustainability might outweigh Jackson's importance.
Even though it's frustrating to see a team right on the brink either trade or lose talented players, the Thunder can march on just fine without Jackson for the 2015-16 season, if it comes to that. With Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Westbrook present, that's just the simple truth.
More likely than not, Oklahoma City will stick to their internal valuation of Jackson and not get to the point where the market decides Jackson's price. If they can't negotiate a cheap extension, and if they can't find a sign-and-trade partner before Jackson inks a deal in restricted free agency with another team, it wouldn't be too much of a surprise if they moved on.
This could very well be Jackson's last season in a Thunder uniform. Winning a title with him in a critical role could change Oklahoma City's opinion a bit, but chances are, the price just won't be right for either side.