Breaking down 2019’s rookie scale extensions, Part II

If you missed it, Part I covered the three rookie scale extensions already signed: Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray, and Caris LeVert.

After Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray, and Caris LeVert signed their extensions, a further 18 players are eligible for extensions after their rookie scale deals are set to expire in 2020:

Team Player 2019-20 Salary Draft Pick
ATL DeAndre’ Bembry 2,603,982 21 – 2016
ATL Damian Jones 2,305,057 30 – 2016
BKN Taurean Prince 3,481,986 12 – 2016
BOS Jaylen Brown 6,534,829 3 – 2016
CHI Kris Dunn 5,348,007 5 – 2016
CHI Denzel Valentine 3,377,569 14 – 2016
DEN Juancho Hernangomez 3,321,030 15 – 2016
DEN Malik Beasley 2,731,714 19 – 2016
DET Thon Maker 3,569,643 10 – 2016
IND Domantas Sabonis 3,529,555 11 – 2016
NOP Brandon Ingram 7,265,485 2 – 2016
PHX Dario Saric 3,481,986 12 – 2014
POR Skal Labissiere 2,338,847 28 – 2016
SAC Buddy Hield 4,861,208 6 – 2016
SAS Jakob Poeltl 3,754,886 9 – 2016
SAS Dejounte Murray 2,321,735 29 – 2016
TOR Pascal Siakam 2,351,839 27 – 2016

Joining Simmons (and Murray, I guess) as the no-doubt max guys in the 2019 extension season is Pascal Siakam. He’s right at the top alongside Simmons in the arguments for the best player in the 2016 draft and Toronto would do well to get him on the same five-year max extension with no options. In some cases (Murray being one of them), the upside to a max extension isn’t very large, as the team would be able to sign that same max contract next summer as they could do in an extension. However, with players like Simmons and Siakam, the downside to waiting for restricted free agency is far larger, particularly if the player is willing to either sign a slightly-below max extension or forgo the fifth-year player option. As I wrote in the Simmons section in Part I, the difference between a five-year max and a 3+1 offer sheet is massive; Toronto will have to be wary to not put themselves in that situation with Siakam.

The largest difference in the Simmons and Siakam situations has to do with the rest of the team around them. Simmons is on a true top-flight contender in Philadelphia and, as weird as it is to say about the defending champions, Toronto doesn’t have as clear a path toward future contention as the 76ers do. Siakam also has a tiny cap hold compared to Simmons’ would-be hold – since Siakam was the No. 27 pick in the draft, his cap hold will come in at just $7.1 million. That’s a far cry from the $29.3 million projected salary on a max rookie scale extension; an extension for Siakam would essentially evaporate $22 million in spending power for the Raptors next summer, when they project to have about $77.4 million in cap space. The Sixers weren’t going to have cap space next summer regardless of whether they extended Simmons or not, so it didn’t hurt their 2020 spending power to do so. Philadelphia will have some tax concerns going forward, but that was going to be a problem no matter what with the sort of contracts they’ve signed in the last year or so.

Whether a team is talking to a max player or not, one of the most important aspects for teams in negotiating extensions is looking at next summer’s available money and trying to figure out how valuable their incumbent players will be on the market. As of now, I project that there will be four teams with “do whatever they want” cap space (including Toronto), another two with max or near-max space, and three more with more than the non-taxpayer mid-level to spend.

Team Projected 2020 Spending Power (in millions)
Atlanta 77.7
Toronto 77.4
Memphis 52.9
New York 41.0
Cleveland 34.0
Charlotte 26.3
Phoenix 18.8
Portland 18.6
Washington 12.8
Boston Non-Tax MLE
Chicago Non-Tax MLE
Dallas Non-Tax MLE
Denver Non-Tax MLE
Detroit Non-Tax MLE
Houston Non-Tax MLE
Indiana Non-Tax MLE
Clippers Non-Tax MLE
Lakers Non-Tax MLE
Miami Non-Tax MLE
Minnesota Non-Tax MLE
New Orleans Non-Tax MLE
Oklahoma City Non-Tax MLE
Orlando Non-Tax MLE
Sacramento Non-Tax MLE
San Antonio Non-Tax MLE
Utah Non-Tax MLE
Brooklyn Tax MLE
Golden State Tax MLE
Milwaukee Tax MLE
Philadelphia Tax MLE

Much can change between now and July 1, 2020, but there’s not a ton of money out there to be earned by players hitting free agency next summer. A lot of that has to do with the perception that the 2020 free agent class is poor, though it’s poorer at the top with the unrestricted guys than it is in the middle or at the bottom. For these potential restricted free agents, the lack of high-end unrestricted players is to their advantage, as teams with money to spend might be more willing to pay a younger guy they think they can get in restricted free agency than spend their money on middling veterans.

For Siakam, the middling unrestricted market doesn’t have as large an effect, as he would be a valued player no matter which year he hit free agency. However, the other 17 players who could be available next summer will certainly look at the available money around the league in 2020 and the poor unrestricted class and think that their own stature is boosted as a result.

In particular, the specific teams who project to have cap space are mostly on the younger side of things, which could lead those teams to target younger free agents in 2020 to complement their current roster. Of the teams with projected cap space, only Portland and Toronto are competitive right now, and Toronto’s roster could look very, very different a year from now. Atlanta, Memphis, New York, Cleveland, Charlotte, and Phoenix are all building around young cores, while Washington hasn’t quite hit the reset button yet but aren’t competitive in the way Portland and Toronto are. The slew of young teams with enough projected cap space to add to their current cores could invert the market somewhat – restricted free agents may have more value in 2020 than unrestricted players.

For these non-max players, the Caris LeVert extension may set the market far below what a lot of people around the league expect. If teams are stingier in extension negotiations and use the LeVert number to try to convince their own players to take a below-market deal, the best agents will be the ones who walk away and opt to take their chances in free agency next summer. Wings like LeVert’s new teammate Taurean Prince, Boston’s Jaylen Brown, New Orleans’ Brandon Ingram, and Sacramento’s Buddy Hield could see their extension offers dip somewhat in the wake of the LeVert news, but the fact remains that wings and forwards are the most valuable positions in the league and the agents for these players would be smart to leverage that fact in their negotiations.

The closest player from that list to LeVert is Brandon Ingram, who hasn’t had consistent injury issues but has a massive question mark hanging over the remainder of his career after missing the last month of the 2018-19 season with deep vein thrombosis. Between Chris Bosh and Mirza Teletovic, we’ve seen how blood clots can end careers much earlier than they would have otherwise, so New Orleans will obviously be extremely wary of extending Ingram for big money before seeing how he returns to the court in 2019-20. I’d be surprised if an extension or even serious talks emerge from Ingram and New Orleans with the massive unknown about his health. Throw in the fact that he was sidelined by another organization and Ingram has only been a Pelican for a couple months this offseason and it’s hard to imagine that the club has a perfect understanding of his situation.

The similarities between Ingram and LeVert extend to their on-court production as well, though LeVert has shown himself to be a key player in a winning team more than Ingram has. The idea of a playmaking forward who can swing between the 3 and 4 is the primary draw for both players, though LeVert’s further along in his development in most areas. Ingram retains a lot of the tantalizing potential that made him the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft and is still younger today than LeVert was when the pair were in their first training camps three years ago.

LeVert’s floor is higher than what Ingram has shown throughout his career, but his ceiling is also limited by his relative lack of high-end athleticism and ability to create his own shot at a high level. Ingram doesn’t have the same maturity to his game but retains an athletic edge and the outside chance at stardom, which should inflate his second contract. Of course, all of that depends on his availability, which is an unanswered question at this point.

Jaylen Brown has none of the injury issues that plague LeVert and Ingram, but comes with a far lower ceiling to his actual play on the court. Given the dearth of quality wings throughout the league compared to the demand for their services, Brown seems primed for a massive second contract, whether through extension or a new contract in free agency next summer. Things in Boston have gone haywire compared to where they were two years ago, when the team was on the precipice of dominating the Eastern Conference, but the result is that Brown has been elevated in the club’s pecking order. The question now is whether he can live up to that billing and the contract that follows.

Buddy Hield doesn’t have the national recognition afforded to LeVert, Ingram, and Brown, but he’s the best player of the bunch and either the third- or fourth-best player among this extension-eligible group. Simmons and Siakam are clearly ahead of the rest of the draft class, but Hield has an argument alongside Murray and the other wings for that third spot. Depending on what your team needs, you could make an argument for any of them, but Hield is the only one who has an absolutely elite skill, and it just so happens to be the most important skill in the modern NBA.

Hield is an historically elite shooter with one of the all-time best seasons from beyond the three-point under his belt. The combination of efficiency and volume puts him in the 99th percentile of shooters in the league today, which will attract many a team looking to bolster their offense. As I covered in my 2019 Offseason Review, offense is what gets guys paid, while defense is far less correlated with getting guys big money in a contract year. He may well be the best offensive player in the 2016 draft class, which should push up his market value significantly next summer. Even if 2018-19 is the best season of Hield’s career and he drops somewhat in volume or efficiency in his fourth season, a team is going to offer him a contract starting in the $20-25 million range. Whether he’s actually worth that sort of contract is another question, considering he doesn’t bring much else to the table outside of his shooting, but the fact remains that elite shooting will get guys paid.

Speaking of offense-only wings, Taurean Prince joined LeVert on the Nets this offseason in the Allen Crabbe trade with Atlanta, which will likely lead to Brooklyn holding off on extending him. It’s relatively rare to see a team extend a player who has yet to play a game for them and letting Prince hit restricted free agency in 2020 isn’t the end of the world for the Nets. What he can bring to the table for them this year will be exceedingly important for his market value next summer – if he’s truly a shoot-first, pass-rarely, and defend-occasionally wing, even on a good team in Brooklyn, then he’s likely no more than a $10 million player and a bench wing on a contender. However, if he can turn back the clock to 2017, when he actually competed on defense for a Hawks team that made the playoffs in his rookie season, then he becomes a very intriguing 3-and-D wing and could touch $20 million in annual value on his next contract. The shooting is a real skill for Prince and if he can add above-average defense to his skillset on the wing, then he’ll be an immensely valuable player. Having closely watched him dog it on that end of the floor for the last two years in Atlanta, I’m very skeptical that he can defend at the requisite level to make him a $20 million player, but it’s absolutely in his range of outcomes.

There are a handful of other wings up for extensions this offseason: Malik Beasley in Denver, DeAndre’ Bembry in Atlanta, and Denzel Valentine in Chicago. Of this group, only Beasley warrants discussion, as Bembry and Valentine may be on the outside looking in on for their respective teams’ rotations. Beasley’s a very solid player off the bench for a contender who shot 40 percent on more than 400 three-pointers last year, but it’s been difficult for him to find significant minutes in a crowded Nuggets rotation. The Nuggets aren’t likely to have cap space next summer, so working an extension with Beasley won’t cost them from that perspective and would lock in an up-and-coming wing on a good contract.

On the other hand, Denver’s depth at the wing positions lessens their urgency to re-sign Beasley. They still have Gary Harris and Will Barton under contract for the next three seasons, as well as fellow 2020 restricted free agent Torrey Craig. Michael Porter, Jr. and Jarred Vanderbilt may factor into the team’s long-term plans, which further impacts Beasley’s standing in the organization. If I were the Nuggets, I’d start my offer in the 4/40 range but be willing to get to about 4/50 before walking away and letting Beasley hit restricted free agency.

In Part III, I’ll dive into the last remaining interesting players, including the fascinating case of Domantas Sabonis.