Rookie contract extensions are traditionally one of the more difficult negotiations of the NBA offseason, as teams try to bridge the gap between the great value that rookie contracts offer and players’ eagerness to get their first big payday. Sometimes, the negotiations can get downright contentious.
This offseason, the 2012 draft class –– as well as some members of the 2011 class –– became eligible for their first big extensions, and in doing so, faced a wrinkle in their negotiations. With the NBA’s new television revenue deal famously kicking in next offseason, there will be a lot more money available for teams to throw at players, and timing your free agency to coincide with this influx could result in some more-than-deserved sums being paid out.
In facing this possibility, these young players had a decision to make: negotiate now and secure a well-paying, long-term contract, or bet on yourself and the market to see what kind of interest they might garner as restricted free agents. This is essentially the type of decision that players coming off rookie contracts must make every offseason, but in this case, the magnitude of the decision is amplified thanks to the imminent arrival of all that money.
Some players have already made their decisions. For Anthony Davis, it was an easy one, as the Pelicans could offer him a larger max contract than any other team in the league, which they smartly did, and he smartly accepted. That one was a no-brainer, although his next round of free agency should be far more interesting. This goes too for Damian Lillard, who Portland locked up on a max offer as soon as they saw the writing on the wall regarding LaMarcus Aldridge.
Two other players, Jonas Valanciunas and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, also recently agreed to multi-year extensions that’ll grant them long-term security starting next year rather than pursuing more money next offseason and risking injury during the time between. For the record, Valanciunas was a 2011 draft pick and MKG came in 2012.
Those two extensions were more interesting, in that there was far more for the two sides to parse through during negotiations than in the cases of Davis or Lillard, who were crucial and obvious building blocks for their teams. We saw many veteran free agents this offseason opt for security over the chance to chase big money next offseason, but to see younger players with more to gain –– and, in theory, a lower chance of injury –– do the same thing says a lot about the importance of security even early in a career.
Several interesting players remain in pursuit of an extension, and as with Kemba Walker last year, the negotiations could go right up until the deadline on Oct. 31. Let’s take a look at those players’ situations, as well as how Valanciunas and Kidd-Gilchrist’s extensions could affect them.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards, 3rd overall
When he’s healthy, there’s no question that Beal ranks among the most talented shooting guards in the NBA. With Beal, though, his health is a bigger caveat than with most, as he’s battled a number of different injuries since he entered the league, both serious and nagging.
That seems to be the only thing holding Washington back from offering the max deal that Beal reportedly desires, which means their negotiations probably won’t change much until Beal proves he can stay healthy. Since he offers incredible shooting and a great complement to John Wall, the Wizards would surely be willing to pay, just probably after a healthier season next year.
Dion Waiters, Oklahoma City , 4th overall
Believe it or not, the Thunder are actually willing to extend Waiters, but reportedly at a team-friendly discount. For Waiters, who understands himself as nothing less than an All-Star talent, this seems like an uninteresting offer. Expect him to play out the season in OKC and try to entice some team into taking a chance on him before he re-ups with the Thunder for what must seem like a paltry sum to him.
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors, 7th overall
Barnes has said he wants to stay in the Bay Area, which doesn’t necessarily mean much, but makes sense considering the gradual development he has enjoyed with the Warriors. In Golden State, Barnes has been a fifth option on offense who’s performed admirably filling his spot-up shooting role, and on defense, he’s been a very valuable asset who’s capable of defending four positions.
Based on the $13 million per year salary MKG just received, Barnes will certainly land somewhere between that and the new $20 million max under the new cap. Expect it to be with the Warriors, unless something unforeseen happens on either side.
Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors, 8th overall
It feels like Ross has perpetually been on the trade block in Toronto, which isn’t surprising given his status thus far as a tantalizing but underachieving player. The addition of DeMarre Carroll cloud Ross’s immediate future in Toronto, but depending on what happens with DeMar DeRozan’s opt-out next summer, the Raptors could be dying to hang on to Ross by that time.
It could come down to how much Ross is demanding from the Raptors. No matter what their drawbacks, it’s hard to give up on good shooting wing players like Ross before their rookie extension.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons, 9th overall
Drummond is the closest player, positionally, to Valanciunas on this list, and given the $14 million and change per year that he received, Drummond’s salary should certainly check in higher than that. Already one of the best shot-blocking big men in the league, Drummond has a real chance to make a leap this year after participating in Team USA camp this August and the Pistons’ continued ascent under Stan Van Gundy.
Detroit can’t afford to not pay an impact big man like Drummond, and impact big men like him get the max. Right now, it just looks like a question of now or later.
Meyers Leonard, Portland Trail Blazers, 11th overall
Leonard broke out on offense last season, impressively posting the NBA’s only 50/40/90 shooting percentage slash-line. His awareness and willingness to contest shots at the rim still leaves something to be desired, but he’s a unique scorer for a big man who the Blazers won’t let get away in their rebuilding efforts.
Right now, however, based on Leonard’s short track record and defensive shortcomings, his price tag is harder to estimate. Whether it’s in Portland or somewhere else, he’ll get eight-figures, though probably not the max.
John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks, 14th overall
After reports in July that Henson and the Bucks were in “advanced” talks on a contract extension, there hasn’t been a peep from either side, which means things probably hit a snag somewhere along the way. That’s OK –– Henson is still a super-raw prospect on offense who Milwaukee will retain control of even next offseason. It’s what he does on defense, though, that makes him a player the Bucks surely won’t let walk away. He’s an elite shot blocker and solid post defender, making him an ideal (and necessary) complement next to Greg Monroe.
Tyler Zeller, Boston Celtics, 17th overall
Zeller found a home in Boston last season, where he was a solid post-up vehicle who finishes well while getting up and down the floor. For coach Brad Stevens’s system, that’s the right kind of big, but the issue with Zeller comes with his low ceiling. How much more can the Celtics expect from him? Still, that shouldn’t eliminate an extension at the right price, especially considering how well the two sides fit each other.
Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets, 18th overall
Apparently Rockets fans aren’t enamored with Jones, but he’s proven to be an effective scorer thus far as a guy capable of hitting the offensive boards and making shots from the short corner. He’s still developing in many ways, which shows in his inconsistent play, but if he can add a corner three-point shot, he could become a very sought-after commodity next offseason that Houston could find itself in a bidding war over.
Festus Ezeli, Golden State Warriors, 30th overall
Perhaps the most unexpected guy on this whole list, Ezeli caught people’s attention when Steve Kerr went to him as his third big instead of David Lee or Marreese Speights. Ezeli delivered, too, showing off the defensive prowess we always knew he was capable of, but also improved hands and finishing ability. Ezeli missed most of last season, so expectations were uncertain, and now that his results show such great variance, it’s going to be hard to decide what to pay the young man.
But as life goes in the NBA, you can’t teach size or athleticism, and Ezeli has buckets of both. If he can be a productive big man off the bench for the Warriors this season, he could be looking at a much larger payday next offseason than many would’ve ever expected.