With proper NBA free agency finished for the summer, we turn to those who entered the league in the first round of 2015 NBA Draft, as most of these players are eligible for rookie scale contract extensions. The deadline to sign these is Oct. 15. These players have all completed three seasons, with one season left on their rookie deals. If they don’t reach extensions by Oct. 15, they’ll be restricted free agents in July 2019.
Because there is expected to be so much salary cap space available around the league next summer, some of the young players may want to play hardball with their teams, willing to risk going to free agency in a year. That may also play into pushing teams to be more generous now to avoid that whole headache in a year ... unless those teams too plan to get mixed up in the free agency carnival and want to preserve maximum flexibility. Restricted free agency remains a hell of an advantage for teams, though — there’s little to fear there.
Only one player from the 2015 first round (Devin Booker) has signed a rookie extension so far. He came in at the max, unsurprisingly due to his status as the best Suns prospect by a long shot, but the five-year, $158 million agreement was still a little eye-popping considering he’s no more than the third best player from his draft class.
Speaking of which, let’s first talk about those two guys better than Booker as we talk through who should be talking about extensions with their teams ...
The max guys
There were reports that Towns and the Timberwolves were discussing a max rookie extension back in early July. Then everything went quiet. Jimmy Butler has smartly rejected an extension offer in the run-up to his 2019 unrestricted free agency, and there are persistent, if weak, rumors that Minnesota is trying to find a new home for Andrew Wiggins. This is a franchise in flux.
But Towns is the rock, and there’s no chance he doesn’t get a max extension.
The question is whether he’ll get a Rose Rule extension that’d give him the opportunity to make up to 30 percent of the salary cap rather than the standard 25 percent — that’d come to $186 million over five years. Minnesota can’t guarantee it to him this summer, but can write into his extension that if he becomes eligible for it — the easiest route is to make the All-NBA team again in 2019 — he’ll get it.
That’s a lot of money. Perhaps that’s why the two sides haven’t yet agreed.
Porzingis is as good as Towns, but in a different situation: he’s recovering from a torn ACL and won’t be back for a few months still. Can the Knicks commit long-term without seeing how the ACL injury and recovery impacts the Latvian’s game? Can they commit the max ($158 million over five years)? Can they justify including the Rose Rule escalator ($186 million over five years if Porzingis makes All-NBA in 2019)?
Sure. It’s the Knicks. They have a real deal star. Pay up.
That’s the complete list of players in the mix for max-level rookie scale extensions this summer. No one else, frankly, comes close. But there are some interesting other cases to keep an eye on.
Other eligible, interesting players
Everyone expected the Pacers to rebuild around Turner after trading Paul George, but Victor Oladipo’s star turn gave Indiana a new plan. Turner still features prominently, but he hasn’t yet become a top-line scorer despite stretching his game out to the three-point line. The max is out of the question, but the smart Pacers could find a suitable deal to lock him in and prevent a restricted free agency stand-off.
The Nets seem to believe in Russell to some degree, but are they willing to put paper on that? Probably not.
Brooklyn is in line to have cap space galore next summer, and flexibility should be more valuable than any sort of discount on Russell, who is good, but not a future all-star. While Russell averaged 21-7-5 per 36 minutes last season, his shooting is inefficient and there’s not much evidence he can effectively defend the position.
All that said, assuming he doesn’t get an extension, he will be an intriguing restricted free agent in 2019. The promise is there.
Cauley-Stein’s upside entering the NBA was as a top-flight defender who could switch out to the perimeter and cause havoc in resistance. But the Kings have been such a nightmare defensively and in many other aspects that it’s hard to see actual impact from WCS. His block numbers are quite low, but he’s scored at a rate similar to Turner, which is surprising.
But with Sacramento having drafted Marvin Bagley and investing a lot of hype and energy in Harry Giles, Cauley-Stein is not a huge priority. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Kings have given up on him and end up tanking his value as he enters the last year of his rookie deal.
Here’s the thing with Winslow, who still shows brief, fleeting signs of future stardom despite three years of evidence he’s not a future star: the upside and reality are so far apart than finding proper value for him is something like impossible. A team could absolutely talk themselves into throwing mega money at Winslow, especially since he developed a somewhat reliable jumper last season. Another team could see his minutes dwindle on a deep Heat roster and get skittish. It seems rather unlikely he’ll get an extension because his value is as hard to pin down as smoke.
Oubre became a valuable Wizard last season, fitting well below the Otto Porter standard, but sliding in as a reliable rotation member. This would be a good opportunity for Washington to get a discount on him early if they think his rise will continue — if he builds upon his success and has a stronger 2018-19 season, he’ll be even more expensive as a mid-tier restricted free agent who could convince some desperate team to make a hefty offer. Again, he’s below Porter’s level, but Porter did get Brooklyn to extend a max offer, forcing the Wizards to pay big to keep him. No one’s going to offer Oubre max money next summer, but an outsized offer could make Washington cringe.
Scary Terry’s position in the Boston pecking order got more interesting after the Celtics committed to Marcus Smart this summer (four years, $52 million). Boston tends to hesitate to ink rookie extensions (hence Smart being a free agent this summer) and has much higher priorities in the youth corps going forward. With tons of salary committed already and to be committed soon, Rozier might be the odd man out. If he’s willing to take a modest extension to stick with a winning program, maybe there’s a deal to be had.
What on Earth are the Bulls supposed to do with Bobby Portis? That question may never be answered.