The Thunder and Dion Waiters have decided against signing a rookie scale extension before tonight’s 11pm Central deadline, a source tells TNT’s David Aldridge (Twitter link). That means Waiters is set to become a restricted free agent in July. Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported late Sunday that the sides were continuing talks, but it appears they’ve broken them off. The Landmark Sports Agency client was enthusiastic about reaching an extension as the Thunder actively explored the idea last month, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports heard a few weeks ago.
Oklahoma City likes to reward players who want to be there and the team is more concerned with building Kevin Durant a stable supporting cast for the long-term than making too many commitments to non-stars in the event that he bolts in free agency, as Royce Young of ESPN.com recently explained. GM Sam Presti said in September that only slight adjustments were necessary for Waiters to make a significant impact. That seemed to make the case why the Thunder would have interest in an extension, but it nonetheless appears as though it wasn’t compelling enough for the sides to come to terms.
The team was open to the idea of an extension over the summer, but only if he would concede to a discount, Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders reported. It’s unclear just how much of a discount would have been required, but the value of the 23-year-old had seemingly plummeted last season as he failed to reach either 40% shooting from the floor or 30% from behind the arc and reached new lows in points and minutes per game.
Assuming Waiters proves worthy of more than the mid-level exception, it could prove challenging for the Thunder to replace him if he signs elsewhere next summer and Oklahoma City elects not to match. The team has nearly $66MM on the books for 2016/17, with projections that show the salary cap at $89MM and a maximum salary for Durant at $24.9MM, with many reportedly believing those numbers will surge even higher. That would leave little opportunity for the Thunder to open cap space to sign a replacement if they don’t use their Bird rights on Waiters to retain him.
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