Any deadline pushes action and Monday’s extension deadline for players entering the final year of the rookie scale contracts and for veterans with more than one year left on their current deals was no different. Coming down to the last few days before extension talks gave way to real, live regular season basketball for a lot of players, the NBA saw six rookie scale extensions and two veteran extensions. I’ve already covered the Bradley Beal extension in a separate post, but with seven further extensions on Sunday and Monday, there was a lot of high-profile action in the transaction game leading up to the season’s start.
Pascal Siakam: Four years, $130 million, with opportunity for more with Rose Rule language included
In the wake of the Jamal Murray and Ben Simmons extensions, I wrote extensively about Siakam’s chances at an extension with the Toronto Raptors and why it made sense for the Raptors to max him out. In the end, it wasn’t an absolute full max, as there is no fifth year attached to Siakam’s contract, but it’s still a good value for the Raptors to lock up their superstar forward to a long-term deal without having to deal with the prospect of him signing a 3+1 in restricted free agency next summer.
The Rose Rule language in Siakam’s deal stipulates that he’ll make 28 percent of the 2020-21 salary cap for making All-NBA Second Team, 29 percent for All-NBA First Team, and 30 percent for winning MVP, per Michael Grange. The interesting thing with this particular version of the Rose Rule language is what isn’t listed – if Siakam makes All-NBA Third Team, then he presumably will get no more than if he hadn’t made it at all, which is definitely a win for the Raptors. At the forward spots, Siakam will have strong competition to earn Second Team honors, players such as reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Blake Griffin in the hunt as well. The absence of Kevin Durant removes an All-NBA stalwart from the proceedings, but there’s still more than enough competition to push Siakam, even if he has a phenomenal season.
Toronto loses out on at least $22 million in available cap space with this extension, as Siakam’s free agent cap hold would have been about $7 million next summer, but after the Raptors decided to extend Kyle Lowry for another $30 million two weeks ago, they may be punting on cap space entirely. If Fred VanVleet wants to return to the Raptors next summer, then keeping his cap hold on their books will evaporate their space entirely and they’ll operate as an over-the-cap team. The prospect of 2020 free agency being a very weak class (a common theme throughout these extensions) probably pushed Toronto into making this move with Siakam; in a normal year, burning $22 million in cap space for a restricted free agent wouldn’t be a fantastic idea, particularly if the team is looking to build long-term around that guy, but in this case, 2020 free agency is going to be so poor that it doesn’t make as large a difference.
It is interesting that the Raptors and Siakam didn’t go for the full five-year max, given the propensity for teams and star players to come to that agreement in the recent past. Perhaps Siakam pushed for that fifth year to be a player option and the Raptors instead left it off entirely, but the recent trend of five-years-no-options on Rookie Scale Extensions makes it curious that Siakam didn’t follow suit. In the last few years, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, Devin Booker, Jamal Murray, and Ben Simmons all signed five-year maxes with no player options attached and it seemed fait accompli that Siakam would join that group, but a four-year deal it is.
Buddy Hield: Four years, $86 million in base salary, with $8 million in “probable” incentives and $12 million in “improbable” incentives
A bit of bookkeeping at the top here – there’s been no reporting yet that I’ve seen as to Hield’s exact bonus structure, only that the first $8 million is being called “probable” and the other $12 million is “improbable”. For me, that likely means that the $8 million is tied to things he can fully control, like three-point percentage or other individual stats or awards, while the $12 million is tied to team success, like making the conference finals or winning a title. HoopsRumors had a nice roundup of the various pieces of reporting on Hield’s contract, with more to come as details emerge about his bonuses.
All in all, this deal represents a good compromise between where the two sides were coming into the weekend. Hield made some noise about wanting to get an extension done and hinted at demanding a trade if it didn’t, but the end result is that both sides were able to come to the table and figure out a solution.
Hield’s deal will decline as the years go, just as Harrison Barnes’ free agent contract will. That leaves the Kings with a heftier bill to pay early in the contract but makes the extension a lot more palatable down the line, when the rest of the team will be more expensive. De’Aaron Fox is coming up on his extension next summer, with Marvin Bagley to follow in 2021. Sacramento’s expenses are going to rise very quickly over the next few years, but structuring Hield and Barnes to decline over the next several years will make it easier on ownership to deal with the rising costs of their young team.
Five teams are projected to walk into next summer with significant cap space: Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Memphis, and New York. All five would have potentially been suitors for Hield, who has an uber-elite skill (shooting the ball) and therefore fits in basically any offensive scheme. Hield hitting restricted free agency next summer could have created a market in which he’s clearly the best free agent available and all five teams and Sacramento are bidding against one another, which usually ends with a much more favorable contract for the player than this one is.
A Hield deal might mean that Bogdan Bogdanovic will have to prove his worth in restricted free agency next summer. The Kings can extend Bogdanovic at any time between now and June 30, so the rush of the deadline wasn’t there for these particular negotiations, but as Sacramento’s payroll continues to rise, Bogdanovic may find himself on the outside looking in on the next great Kings team. He’ll likely come off the bench this season and doesn’t have the singular elite skill that Hield has, which may dampen his market, but the wing-hungry teams who would have come in for Hield may still be there for Bogdanovic when free agency opens in July.
Jaylen Brown: Four years, $103 million in base salary, with $4 million in likely incentives and $8 million in unlikely incentives
Brown’s extension looked a lot worse when it was first reported as $115 million over four years. For Boston to have just gotten $15 million off the four-year max for a player who hasn’t proven himself to be anywhere near a max guy would have been a really poor extension, but with the subsequent reporting on the bonuses baked into the deal, it becomes clear that this deal is more team-friendly than it first appeared.
Given how improbable it is that Brown earns those $8 million in unlikely bonuses, the Celtics can really treat this deal as four years, $107 million, with the opportunity for it to be less if Brown misses time in one of the years or the club doesn’t reach the second round of the playoffs. A $23 million break off the full max is a decent deal considering the wing-hungry teams looming in free agency, including Brown’s hometown Hawks (he went to high school in the Atlanta area). Just like with Hield, the bad unrestricted free agent class and the dwindling size of the top-end supply in the restricted class drove the Celtics to the negotiating table and eventually got the deal done.
Boston wasn’t able to get the same 8 percent declines the Kings got with Hield because the Celtics are in short-term tax trouble. They’re projected to be over the tax next year already, though there are a lot of moving parts to that projection. They’re going to be close to the threshold almost no matter what, and the prospect of the salary cap dropping in the wake of the league’s disagreement with China would push the luxury tax threshold lower as well, putting them in a tighter spot financially.
Overall, the unknowns regarding the future salary caps may have been a significant factor in players taking the money that was on the table. There are slated to be five teams with cap space next summer, but if each one loses $5-7 million in available spending because the league loses out on all Chinese revenue for 2019-20 and the foreseeable future, the available money for these restricted free agents gets a lot sparser. Owners would also be a lot less willing to spend in that scenario, since they wouldn’t yet have a plan to get China back on board and recapture future revenue.
Domantas Sabonis: Four years, $74.9 million in base salary, with $5.2 million in unlikely incentives
Sabonis’s extension came down right after Brown’s, which likely isn’t a coincidence. As soon as Sabonis made his feelings clear about perhaps wanting a move if he didn’t get an extension, Brown’s name popped up as the most likely trade partner. Both teams could balance their roster with that trade and still extend each guy before Monday’s deadline, but when the morning came and went without a trade, both sides seem to have moved on to extending their current players.
In the end, Sabonis got his extension and will be paid slightly more than Myles Turner, with whom he’ll share the frontcourt next season after backing him up previously. With both players now paid, the Pacers have time to work out the kinks with that pairing.
Sabonis is in many ways Turner’s opposite, which is why Indiana thinks the two can play together going into the future. After signing his extension last summer, Turner posted the best year of his career, developing into one of the best rim protectors in the game and a very good all-around defender, with more lateral mobility on the perimeter than fellow stalwart defensive centers Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid. Turner still has work to do on his game on both ends of the floor, from spacing the floor to the corners to being a more physical force on the defensive glass, but the strides he made last year were remarkable and turned an at-market contract into one of the league’s best bargains at the center position.
Sabonis, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as strong defensively but boasts a more varied offensive portfolio. While Turner is a dependent player offensively with very little ability to create for himself or his teammates, Sabonis can be the hub of an offense with his passing and scoring gifts from the post and elbows. Sabonis will also greatly help with Turner’s issues on the glass, provided he’s not too far away from the rim while chasing power forwards around the perimeter.
A look around the top of the East makes it easier to see the pair working together. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are a big team, with Antetokounmpo at the 4 next to Brook Lopez for the next few years. Unless Antetokounmpo turns into a shooter, Indiana will be able to defend this combination with Turner and Sabonis, though Turner’s toughness concerns could be an issue against Antetokounmpo’s physicality. In Philadelphia, the 76ers are committed to the Al Horford-Joel Embiid frontcourt, a pairing that has a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses as Indiana’s, though both Sixers players are better than their Pacers counterparts.
Should either player be unhappy with their role or if the pairing just doesn’t work, the Pacers should be able to move on from either contract at a positive return. As referenced earlier, Turner’s deal is already a steal and Indiana’s phones would be ringing constantly if they ever made him fully available. Sabonis will have his suitors as well; the numbers are too good to ignore and multiple teams would convince themselves that putting him at center, rather than power forward, would bring back any value he loses playing next to Turner. Obviously, the Pacers are hoping these two are their frontcourt of the future, but pivoting in case one of them needs to go wouldn’t be the end of the world either.
Taurean Prince: Two years, $25.3 million in base salary, with $3.7 million in incentives
Initially reported as two years, $29 million, Prince’s extension would have come in at just under starter-level money for a wing in today’s market, which would have been a slight overpay based on his previous production but a bet that he could grow into that role. In typical Nets fashion, the deal is actually more team-friendly than that, with the last $3.7 million of that $29 million reported deal tied up in incentives, the scope of which aren’t known as of this writing. The end result is that Prince’s base salary puts him closer to a high-end bench player than a surefire starter, which is precisely where his value lies, but gives the team some upside to explore with the deal should he put it together on both ends of the floor.
The length of this extension is very odd, but reflects the unique circumstances in Brooklyn and with Prince himself. The Nets are all in on the very near future, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant signed up through 2022 (with player options for the following year). Prince now lines up with those two, assuming they both opt out for richer deals, and helps to solidify the club’s core moving forward. For Prince, this deal reflects his age – already 25 years old after just three NBA seasons due to playing all four years at Baylor, Prince will hit the market again at 28, rather than becoming a free agent at 30 after a four-year extension.
On this salary for 2020-21 and 2021-22, Prince can be exactly what he’s been the last two years and continue to provide positive value. Standing 6’7 without shoes, teams are always going to talk themselves into a true forward-sized player who can shoot the ball at a high level. The ceiling is a lot higher than that for Prince, who flashed significant defensive upside in his rookie year before settling into an offense-first-and-only mentality throughout the last two years in Atlanta. If he recaptures that defensive intensity on a competitive Brooklyn team and continues to shoot the ball at a near-elite level, the Nets will have ended up with a steal, even if that improvement comes with him hitting all of his incentives.
While the other wings in this extension class got paid above their market value based on the fact that the cap space teams in 2020 would want them and the general idea that wings are scarcer and therefore more valuable, it’s a massive credit to Sean Marks and his front office that they were able to negotiate two rookie scale extensions with Prince and Caris LeVert that are both at or below market value for those players. Both players still have upside to explore – Prince with his defense and LeVert with his health and overall playmaking – but the Nets were able to get those guys to agree to extensions that reflect their current standing in the league, which is a feat most teams can’t accomplish.
Joe Ingles: One year, $12.4 million in base salary, with $1.2 million in incentives
The lone veteran extension among the bunch on Deadline Day, Ingles’ extension had to get done today if it was going to get done this season, as veterans with more than one year left on their current contracts have to extend in the summer, or else they have to wait until the next league year to begin. With two years left on his contract, Ingles’ extension will tack on a third year in 2021-22 for as much as $13.6 million in total earnings, though $13.0 million is his cap hit due to likely and unlikely bonuses. His base salary and incentives are all raised to 120 percent of their values in the final year of his current contract, which was set to expire in 2021, so this is the most the Jazz could have given him for the 2021-22 season based on his current deal. The size of that raise, even for just one year, means that Ingles cannot be traded for six months, which will take him past the trade deadline on the Jazz no matter what.
Whether either side should have signed this extension is an entirely different question. With multiple years left on his current contract, there was no ticking time bomb to get this extension done, and now Ingles is off the timeline of the rest of Utah’s veteran players. With Mike Conley (assuming he doesn’t exercise his ETO next summer and sticks around for more than $34.5 million) and Rudy Gobert hitting free agency in 2021, Ingles was set to join them, but now he’ll play out another year under this extension and become a free agent in 2022. Donovan Mitchell will become properly paid in 2021 on what is likely to be a max contract, so 2021 would have been a nice cutoff point between the previous era and the new, though Gobert likely will still bridge those eras if the two sides can come to an agreement to extend his stay with the Jazz. Ingles doesn’t have a massive amount of NBA experience, but due to the late start to his American career, he’s older than you think and will turn 34 during this extension year. How effective will he be at that age, even taking into consideration the overall lack of miles on his body that other players have when they hit their mid-30s?
This extension seems entirely unnecessary from Utah’s perspective, particularly since this same extension could have been on the table a year from now, when they’re going to be much clearer about the future of the team. Bojan Bogdanovic just joined on a four-year contract this summer and his skillset overlaps with Ingles’; wouldn’t it have made sense to see how these two work in the same team before committing another year to Ingles?
Dejounte Murray: Four years, $64 million in base salary, with $6 million in incentives
Among the rookie scale extensions, Murray’s might be my least favorite. $16 million per season is just below market for a starting point guard in today’s NBA, but he’s got a ways to go before he should absolutely be considered a starting-caliber player. Throw in the 2020 market and the Spurs likely could have gotten a better deal by waiting for the summer.
Point guard is the most valuable offensive position in the game and Murray’s offense leaves a lot to be desired. There was a lot of chatter around the Spurs that they were happy with his offensive development last summer before he tore his ACL in preseason, but he’s still very much a work-in-progress on that side of the floor. That’s not necessarily killer for him, as point guards tend to come around later than other positions, but he’s not a starting-level point guard offensively at this point.
Murray’s athleticism got him to the rim consistently, but he was a very poor finisher in his most recent healthy season. His jumper was a negative as well, both in catch-and-shoot and off the bounce. An athletic point guard without touch around the basket, a lacking pull-up jumper, and fine-but-nothing-special passing doesn’t make for an easy piece around which a team can build.
His work in preseason wasn’t all that great either, which could have been an indicator that he’s further along offensively than he was the last time we saw him a year and a half ago. In 60 minutes across three preseason games Synergy tracked for the Spurs this preseason (Murray played in two further games that weren’t televised), he shot just 4-of-11 on pull-up jumpers and took just one shot at the rim. Everything about this screams small sample size, but it’s not as if the Spurs could have looked at preseason and had a good feeling that his offensive game had significantly improved.
Of course, if point guard is the most valuable offensive position in the NBA, it stands to reason that an elite point guard stopper is a very valuable defensive piece. Before the injury, Murray was just that, as evidenced by his All-Defensive Second Team nod in 2017-18. It remains to be seen if he’s the same defender after tearing his ACL, but that injury isn’t what it used to be and there’s a good chance he can get back to that level in the next two years.
The biggest issue I have with the Murray extension is the “where else was he getting this money?” question. In each of the wings’ sections, I mentioned the five teams with 2020 cap space and a need for significant talent on the wing, but the same doesn’t hold for point guards. Atlanta (Trae Young), Cleveland (Collin Sexton and/or Darius Garland), and Memphis (Ja Morant) are all set at the point guard spot and wouldn’t have pursued Murray to be their starter. Charlotte just signed Terry Rozier but could have played Rozier and Murray together in the backcourt. New York has a bunch of point guards but no good ones and probably would have taken a long look at Murray, plus we know that the Knicks are not immune to throwing a massive offer sheet to overpay a player; just ask Tim Hardaway Jr.
With so few suitors and coming into the second year after an ACL tear, it seems unlikely that Murray could have gotten this same deal on the open market and the injury was a built-in excuse for the Spurs to wait until the summer to see what happens. It’s not as if Murray is Buddy Hield, who just put up the best year of his career by a mile and wants to get paid as a result – San Antonio would have been well within their rights to want to see what Murray could bring to the table this year before evaluating their options with him next summer.
Murray comes into the season with far more questions than answers. While the Spurs certainly know more about his medical situation and where his offensive development is than I do, the outsider’s view of the extension is that San Antonio would have been better off waiting until the summer to see what Murray has in the tank a year out from the ACL tear and making the bet that the market wouldn’t materialize for him like it would have for the wings in the 2016 draft class.