The Oklahoma City Thunder are good for keeping the lid on contract talks between the team and their players during the season. Thabo Sefolosha is in a contract year, and the team has not touched on whether they will be bringing him back next season. Now that he is out 4-6 weeks with an injury, the chances of him returning may be slimmer than they have ever been.
The Thunder signed Caron Butler before Sefalosha was injured, so it is not as if they had plans on him coming in as a replacement for their best perimeter defender. They planned for Butler to come off the bench behind Sefolosha, but the injury changed those plans. Now, the Thunder are expected to rotate Butler into the starting lineup while Sefolosha is sidelined.
Sefolosha’s injury is unfortunate and it may end with his departure from OKC. Still, I have no doubt that the Thunder will use Thabo when he comes back, but they may not want to ruin the chemistry of the team if they’re playing well at the time. Jeremy Lamb‘s play will also play a huge factor on Sefolosha’s future with the Thunder. If he can find a way to start playing better and more consistently, then he could be named the Thunder’s starting shooting guard next year. Butler could also return as a reserve if he works out well with the team this season.
Parting ways with Sefolosha would show that Scott Brooks has faith in other players to collectively fill his shoes on the defensive end. I honestly believe Brooks has put too much trust in Thabo over the years — mostly due to the lack of a second bench scorer. For example: If the Thunder started James Harden over Sefolosha, at the time, the team would have had no one to run their second unit. Now they have Reggie Jackson, Lamb and Butler, meaning that they can afford to start a more offensively inclined player.
Defensively, even without Thabo, the Thunder should be as effective as they have always been. Perry Jones III is a long and athletic player who can cause many problems on defense, although he may need time to work on his technique. At the end of the day, the Thunder would be making the right move if they let Sefolosha go in the offseason. They have too much talent to allot 20-plus minutes to a NBA player who struggles to score from everywhere on the court.
Kevin Durant‘s improvement on defense also gives the team a bit more cushion. In addition, the growth of Lamb and Jackson will ultimately depend on experience, and there is no better way to throw them more minutes than clearing some roster space. With Kendrick Perkins out for six weeks as well, OKC could end up parting ways with him also, leaving plenty of room for their young players to gain valuable experience on both ends of the floor.