PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 26: Eric Gordon #10 of the New Orleans Hornets celebrates after a defensive stop agianst the Phoenix Suns in the final moments of the season openning NBA game at US Airways Center on December 26, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Hornets defeated the Suns 85-84. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
We break down potential salary figures for 15 NBA early extension candidates from the draft class of 2008, led by Kevin Love, Danilo Gallinari and Eric Gordon. Two names picked further down the first round -- JaVale McGee and Roy Hibbert -- may present the most interesting cases.
The deadline for teams to reach early extensions with first-round picks from the 2008 NBA Draft is Wednesday. Only two players -- No. 1 pick Derrick Rose and No. 4 pick Russell Westbrook -- have reached extension agreements with their teams; both signed for the maximum salary over five years, though Rose got a boost under the aptly named Rose Rule, which means he'll make $94 million through 2016-17. Westbrook will make $80 million.
Everyone else from that 2008 first round that immediately entered the NBA and is still in the league (sorry, Joe Alexander) is still waiting. We'll take this opportunity of anxiety to rate where on the salary scale 15 early extension candidates should fall.
Be sure to check out Mike Prada's column looking at the potential outcomes of early extension decisions for teams.
KEVIN LOVE, TIMBERWOLVES
Love should receive a full max offer, without question. Some will argue that maximum contracts should be reserved for the very best players in the league. Unfortunately, that's not how it works in the NBA. If the league had its current team salary cap and no individual player cap, Love would be worth "the max", which starts at about $14.5 million for a player of his experience level. He'd receive $80 million over five years with a full max, assuming he doesn't win the MVP award this season, which would make him eligible for the Rose Rule. (He's not going to win MVP.)
The Wolves are said to have offered nearly a four-year max -- $60 million -- which would allow Minnesota to keep its five-year max open for Ricky Rubio or Derrick Williams. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, teams can only offer a five-year early extension to one player per CBA term. The current CBA should end in 2017. Rubio and Williams will be eligible to negotiate and sign early extensions in 2014.
But saving the five-year extension for one of those players is silly. Mid-market teams stuck in the cellar should want to keep their stars as long as possible, and we know Love is a star. (An All-Star, to be exact.) If the Wolves stick to offering only four years, Love would be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in 2016. It's not as if Minnesota has some brewing salary crunch -- Rubio and Williams will be early into their second contracts either way. Plus, once Minnesota uses the extension on Love, it's off of the table as a bargaining point. You can't miss what you don't know, right?
We don't know exactly what the Wolves and Love's agent are quibbling over -- perhaps an opt-out? -- but there's no way that a max extension for Love shouldn't get done.
MICHAEL BEASLEY, TIMBERWOLVES
Not one dime. Beasley will stay in the league long-term because he's a firebolt scorer. (Firebolts cause plenty of collateral damage, just like Beasley from 15 feet and out.) But the Wolves have little use for Beasley, and there is no risk in letting him play in restricted free agency in 2013.
O.J. MAYO, GRIZZLIES
Memphis has practically hung a 'for sale' sign on Mayo since the middle of last season when he was pushed out of the starting five, punched in the face by Tony Allen and pegged for PED use. As such, there's little incentive to lock up Mayo, which would restrict Memphis' ability to move him before the March 15 for a big man or shooter. Once Mayo does hit the market, he could be in line for a contract with an average salary of $8-10 million, based more on potential (he's 24 years old) than production.
DANILO GALLINARI, NUGGETS
Gallinari was the centerpiece of Denver's Carmelo Anthony trade, and only he and Timofey Mozgov remain on the Nuggets roster. (Wilson Chandler is a restricted free agent playing in China, Raymond Felton was flipped to the Blazers for Andre Miller.) As such, Denver surely wants to keep Gallo, a productive player, in tow. The problem is that Denver paid big bucks for Arron Afflalo in restricted free agency, and there's no chance Gallinari's agent settles for less. Denver should reserve its five-year extension for Ty Lawson, which would put Gallo's four-year deal in the neighborhood of $44 million ... at a minimum. That's high enough that the Nuggets should be patient and willing to walk away of Gallo pushes for more, but seems like a reasonable expectation of where the player will end up should he hit restricted free agency anyway.
ERIC GORDON, HORNETS
What a difficult decision for the Hornets to make on Gordon, who played all of three games for New Orleans this season. He's worth an eight-figure annual salary, and is worth keeping long-term. But without seeing him healthy, it's hard to make that plunge. It's probably worth waiting until July and dealing with Gordon as a restricted free agent. It's unlikely his already high stock will climb this season on a bad Hornets team once he returns to the court, and the five-year early extension should be retained for one of the Hornets' two high 2012 picks regardless. Gordon will make huge money in his second contract -- $12 million in starting salary seems right -- but he likely has to wait to lock it in.
D.J. AUGUSTIN, BOBCATS
I'm of the opinion that Charlotte needs to freeze, see what it has in Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo, see what it can get in the 2012 draft, see if it can get anything at all for Boris Diaw (unlikely) and let the market dictate Augustin's price. Augustin should be a $6-8 million per year player at the top end, and it seems unlikely the guard would be willing to set his price that low this early, given how much money the restricted free agents of 2011 made. Augustin's better positioned than Rodney Stuckey, and the Pistons guard picked up a three-year, $25 million in RFA.
BROOK LOPEZ, NETS
The Nets have seen plenty of Lopez, but like Gordon, Brook has been restricted by injury this season. Given that Lopez has been on the block from the moment New Jersey acquired Deron Williams and trained its sights on Dwight Howard, it's hard to extend him now and potentially affect his trade value. When he hits restricted free agency, he'll become a $12-million player instantly. This is what happens when a team pays DeAndre Jordan $11 million per year.
JERRYD BAYLESS, RAPTORS
Bayless will almost assuredly hit restricted free agency, and would be expected to string on a two- or three-year deal in the neighborhood of just below the mid-level. He has some promise, but not much production to show for it. Toronto needs to maintain flexibility, but locking up Bayless to a small multi-year deal -- think Amir Johnson's second contract with the Pistons -- wouldn't be a bad move.
JASON THOMPSON, KINGS
Thompson is solid and well worth a four-year, $16 million extension, but the Kings tried to replace him twice in the last offseason, and the team's commitment to Chuck Hayes (four years, $21 million) and J.J. Hickson (traded a future first for him) don't speak well of the front office's belief in the young big. Thompson's value won't blow up this year -- he's not a boom-bust guy, just a solid two-way roleplayer -- so there isn't much risk if Sacramento elects to wait until July to deal with him.
J.J. HICKSON, KINGS
Speaking of Hickson, the Kings sort of need to commit to him, having coughed up a first plus Omri Casspi to get him. But he's been so bad that Thompson has replaced him in the starting lineup as Hayes recovers from an injury, and it's unclear whether J.J. will even gets minutes once Hayes comes back in a couple weeks. It's a toxic issue for the Kings, and they have to either try to flip him for a passable asset or wait until July.
BRANDON RUSH, WARRIORS
Rush is a nice player, but Golden State can afford to wait. There shouldn't be a huge demand for Rush in restricted free agency no matter what happens this season.
ANTHONY RANDOLPH, TIMBERWOLVES
Another candidate for an Amir Johnson contract, something like three years and $15 million. Or a restricted free agent who will make some GM swoon.
ROBIN LOPEZ, SUNS
ROY HIBBERT, PACERS
JAVALE MCGEE, WIZARDS
Hibbert and McGee, to me, are the most fascinating cases this year. We know teams will pay huge premiums for promising big men, especially those with a definite skill. McGee is one of the league's best shotblockers. Hibbert is a complete if inconsistent player on both ends. These are useful young bucks, and I'd take either one over DeAndre Jordan ...
... who, I remind you, signed a four-year, $43 million deal last month.
That's the problem that the Wizards and Pacers face: you're going to put out huge money now, or you're going to put out huge money later. Any number of teams will chase Hibbert if he reaches restricted free agency, and that will boost his eventual price (even if Indiana matches, the market will push the price up). McGee will have select suitors, including the Wolves and possibly the Kings. The Wizards and Pacers can legitimately save some money by keeping the centers away from the market.
But in Washington's case, that means investing in an eccentric player whose mother is openly feuding with the coach. In Indiana's case, that means blowing the rest of its rebuild opportunity just to lock up the team's young center early. It's a dangerous game, and a pair of really tough decisions.
Were I in charge here, I'd let my early extension offer for McGee reach $46 million over four years (just a touch more than Jordan got) and $52 million over four years for Hibbert. If either reaches restricted free agency, I'd expect their contracts to exceed those levels, so -- by my guess, which is only a guess -- this would allow these two teams to save a bit of money.