With little more than a month to go before the final night of the regular season on April 17th, there's not much time left for soon-to-be free agents to make a final impression, and little chance for teams to evaluate their play, especially for guys who won't make the playoffs. The same is true for third-year players who'll be up for extensions on their rookie-scale contracts this summer. Since the deadline for those players and teams to agree to those extensions is at the end of October, right before next season begins, the former first-round picks will be judged on their resumes through the 2012/13 season. Many of last year's extension decisions came down to the wire, but ultimately teams committed more than $400MM to keep their key young players around long-term.
We'll look at these players more in-depth in our extension candidate series in the offseason, but here's an early look at the top candidates for rookie-scale extensions in 2013:
- Eric Bledsoe, Clippers — The Clips were wary of trading Bledsoe at the deadline in case Chris Paul bolts in free agency this summer. If Paul leaves, the fear that Bledsoe could sign a lucrative offer sheet elsewhere in the summer of 2014 could motivate L.A. to ensure it keeps at least one of its point guards long-term. Prediction: No extension, since Paul seems likely to stay.
- John Wall, Wizards — Washington has played better since his return from injury, and Wall's per-36-minute points and assist numbers are up for the second straight season. Still, his lack of an outside shot (six made three-pointers in the last two years) is a glaring weakness. The Wizards probably don't see him as a maximum-salary player, but they surely don't want to lose the former No. 1 overall pick for nothing if another team signs him to a fat offer sheet. Prediction: Four years, $42MM.
- Avery Bradley, Celtics — His defensive prowess doesn't show up well in statistics, but his numbers are up since Rajon Rondo went down with injury and he's one of the best young players on an aging Celtics team. He could draw an extension similar to fellow defensive stalwart Taj Gibson's four-year, $33MM package with the Bulls. Prediction: Four years, $35MM.
- Paul George, Pacers — The swingman picked the right time to make his first All-Star Game, emerging in the absence of Danny Granger. The Pacers have held steady despite Granger's absence and Roy Hibbert's regression. Indiana could get cold feet after committing so much money to Hibbert, and the habitually thrifty Pacers also have free agent David West to worry about this summer, but I don't think George slips through their fingers. Prediction: Four years, $50MM.
- Gordon Hayward, Jazz — He was removed from the starting lineup this season and is seeing fewer minutes than last year, but playing with the second unit has meant more shot opportunities and a significant uptick in scoring, from 11.8 PPG last season to 14.1 this year. His PER is up as well, to 16.9. That increased production is belied by a shooting percentage that's declined each of the past two years. Prediction: No extension.
- Derrick Favors, Jazz — Utah's decision not to trade either Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap means the team won't get an extended look at Favors as a starter. He's averaging 15.0 points and 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes with a robust 17.7 PER, but it's unclear whether he'd be able to keep those numbers up if he actually received starter's minutes every night. Still, he represents a younger, cheaper option than either Jefferson or Millsap, and that value could be increased with a team-friendly extension. Prediction: Four years, $48MM.
- Larry Sanders, Bucks — Before the season, it seemed there was no way Sanders would get an extension, but his growth as a defensive anchor this season has put him on the map. He's leading the league with 3.2 blocks per game, but with the club's top three guards all potential free agents this summer and Ersan Ilyasova on a long-term deal, the frontcourt might not be a priority for Milwaukee. Prediction: No extension.
- DeMarcus Cousins, Kings — The future of the mercurial Cousins could be the hardest to predict, especially considering the equally tumultuous situation surrounding him in Sacramento. It seems likely new management will be in place for Sacramento/Seattle by the end of the summer, and they'll probably want to see how Cousins fits in under their watch before committing to him long-term. Talented centers are hard to come by, but a long-term deal with the wrong player can wreak havoc on a team's payroll. Prediction: No extension.
- Greg Monroe, Pistons — Monroe's agent, David Falk, said two weeks ago that his client was unlikely to sign an extension. That could simply be a negotiating ploy for a player who seems like one of the cornerstones of the Pistons' rebuilding effort, even as his per-36-minute numbers and shooting percentage have gone down this season. Perhaps Falk is trying to put pressure on the Pistons to increase any extension offer they might make after a down season for Monroe, but for now, we'll take Falk at his word. Prediction: No extension.