By Randy Renner
Most of the media and most Thunder fans have been preoccupied this summer about the future contract status of superstar Kevin Durant.
But there is a much more pressing contract issue facing the Thunder than Durant's possible free agency in 2016 and that would be the current negotiations between the Thunder and backup point guard Reggie Jackson.
Jackson has been in China taking part in NBA Nation and while he was there he spoke to The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry.
You can read the full transcript of the conversation here but there appear to be several important takeaways.
For one, and this probably makes Thunder fans and management a bit nervous, Jackson sounds a little bit like James Harden. Harden didn't like his sixth man role and wanted to start, he also wanted a max contract.
Here's part of what Jackson said when Mayberry asked him if he wanted to start or continue in his main role of providing a spark coming off the bench.
"I don’t think about ever coming off the bench for any team. If that’s the role I’m put in, that’s what I’m put in. But since the day I thought about playing in the NBA, I’ve always been a starter. Everything I’ve thought about, whether it be middle school, high school, kids leagues, I never envisioned coming off the bench."
As long as Russell Westbrook wears a Thunder uniform it's doubtful Jackson will start at point guard unless he's filling in like last season. Shooting guard is a possibility now that the Thunder have an opening at that spot with the departure of Thabo Sefolosha.
Much of the summer speculation has centered on Andre Roberson getting that gig because, like Sefolosha, Roberson is a defensive stopper.
No question though that Jackson has proven himself. He was quite effective filling in for Westbrook last season at point guard when he averaged 14.1 points, 5.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds as a starter. The Thunder were 25-11 in the games Westbrook missed. Of course Durant upped his production in those games and the Thunder played with a different dynamic but still Jackson and his representatives can make a pretty easy argument.
Late in the playoffs, as Sefolosha's struggles continued Jackson got the starting nod at shooting guard and also performed well. He shot better overall (46.6 percent) during the playoffs than the regular season (44.0) and he was better from beyond the arc (39.6) in the playoffs than the regular season (33.9).
Jackson has also been playing close attention to what's happened with other players this summer. Especially the new contracts for Gordon Hayward (4 years, $63 million) and Chandler Parsons (3 years, $46 million). Both were restricted free agents. The Jazz matched Charlotte's offer sheet for Hayward, the Rockets allowed Parsons to move on to the Mavericks.
"I definitely factor in all those things. Young players getting paid. Especially with Gordon, who I believe was the class before me, and then Chandler who was in my class. A second-round pick who I’m happy for. He went out and got a major payday," Jackson told Mayberry and then continued. "You definitely kind of have to weigh yourself on what’s going on around the league. So you have to look at guys around you in similar classes and similar positions to try to get a barometer for what you should probably make. It’s been some groundbreaking deals going on this summer, and I have to take that into account when it comes to trying to get a deal done."
With what Jackson has already proven and what his potential seems to be you'd think he'd be in line for a contract that would pay him at least $10 million per season and perhaps much more than that if he gets all the way into restricted free agency where offers are coming in from other teams and of course it just takes one outlandish offer to blow things up.
The Thunder have until October 31st to get a new deal done with Jackson. If not he'll play this coming season under the last year of his rookie contract then be a restricted free agent next summer.
The Thunder would then be forced to roll the dice and hope that another team doesn't put a huge offer on the table for Jackson like Charlotte did for Hayward.
Of course the Thunder have some leverage too. Right now, as good as Jackson is, he's not a starter yet and may not be. OKC could already be grooming his possible replacement in rookie point guard Semaj Christon. Or we could see another trade.
The wild card in this is of course Durant and how he perceives what happens with Jackson. If the Thunder choose to allow a proven player to get away could that impact his decision on whether to re-up with the Thunder in 2016 or move along to another team?
If that happens the comparisons to the Thunder trading Harden (rightly or wrongly) will be brought up again.
Oklahoma City will have a little more financial freedom in 2015 because Kendrick Perkins' $9 million contract will be off the books and both the salary cap and luxury tax lines will be higher.
In any event it will be fascinating to watch how it all plays out as both the Thunder and Jackson walk a very thin, tight rope hoping to meet in the middle without either falling off.