After discussions on a contract extension perished on Friday, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Reggie Jackson is determined to pursue restricted free agency as a means to hunt a starting job in the NBA, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Jackson has been described as eager to get on the market next summer, out of All-Star Russell Westbrook’s shadow and prove his value as a frontline NBA point guard.
As rival teams evaluate restricted free-agency candidates next July, league executives believe Jackson holds a distinct advantage among his peers: The Thunder’s investment into their star players may limit how far the franchise can go to match a rich offer sheet and make Jackson an ideal target to change teams.
“Bottom line,” one NBA general manager told Yahoo Sports, “how much are they willing to pay for Westbrook’s backup?”
The loss of Westbrook to a fractured hand on Thursday night – possibly for a month – will give Jackson a chance to showcase his skills in the near future, a platform that could make Jackson’s case for a free-agent deal. Some teams believe Jackson could command a deal in the $13 million-$14 million-plus annual range – especially because of a belief that investing more into an offer sheet could cripple the Thunder’s chances of matching it.
The Thunder’s past inability to re-sign two key players to rookie extensions – James Harden and Jeff Green – led to the organization trading both players. Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti has insisted the Thunder would match any offer sheet for Jackson next summer, but skepticism exists throughout the league.
Jackson, 24, is sitting out with a sore ankle, and it is still unclear how soon he’ll be able to return to Oklahoma City’s lineup. Next summer, Jackson would pursue a three-year deal with a player option on a third year that would allow him to move into unrestricted free agency in 2017.
For the Thunder, this could create a pressure point. Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are eligible to become free agents in the summer of 2017, a risky proposition for a franchise needing to persuade Kevin Durant to re-sign in 2016. Durant, Ibaka and Westbrook are on the books to make nearly $50 million next season.
The Thunder drafted Jackson at No. 24 overall in the 2011 draft, and he averaged 13.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists in less than 30 minutes per game last season.
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