For eight seasons in Atlanta, Josh Smith has been a key part of the franchise through its stronger seasons (see: 2007/08-present) and it's less-than-stellar years (see: all three years preceding that). However, Smith hasn't always had the smoothest relationship with the Hawks' front office. A week prior to this year's trade deadline, the forward made it known that he wanted out in order to get a fresh start on his career. Smith stopped short of rehashing his trade demand in late May, but his comments didn't read like someone who wanted to play for the Hawks beyond his walk year in 2012/13. Those, of course, are just the most prominent stories of Smith's dissatisfaction with the club during the Hoops Rumors era - it's hard to remember a recent season in which Smith didn't have some degree of friction with the Hawks.
However, he seems to have turned a corner as General Manager Danny Ferry says that Smith is now open to a long-term future in Atlanta. Smith is set to earn $13.2MM in 2012/13 and on the surface would appear to be in line for a lucrative long-term extension after establishing career-highs in points (18.8 PPG) and rebounds (9.6 RPG). The durable forward also turned in another healthy and productive season, starting in all 66 regular season games. However, the collective bargaining agreement prevents Smith from securing an extension longer than three years.
Will Smith's rekindled love for the Hawks make him want to forfeit the opportunity for a four- or five-year commitment next summer? It's possible, but even Ferry doesn't like his chances of making that happen as he intimated that a new deal probably wouldn't be worked out until next summer. Regardless, the Hawks can be expected to try their best to get Smith to agree to a three-year pact at a team friendly price of ~$45MM. If not, Smith can put his toe in the water this time next year and stand out in a class of power forwards that will also include the likes of Paul Millsap and David West.
A few days ago when I looked at the extension candidacy of Al Jefferson, I surmised that if the Jazz want to re-up one of their pair of veteran big men eligible for an extension, Paul Millsap might be the better choice. In August, Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune wrote that the Jazz offered Millsap about $25MM over three years, all they're capable of paying him in an extension under the rules of the CBA, but Millsap has let the offer sit. He'll be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and Smith estimated that he could be in line for a contract worth at least $9MM a year, more than he could get in an extension. Yet it would be hard for Millsap to get the most out of free agency if he spends the year coming off the bench, and Smith wrote yesterday that he'll engage in an "old-school, winner-take-all position battle" in camp against Derrick Favors for the starting power forward job. Losing that competition might be enough to prompt Jefferson to reconsider the Jazz's offer.
Millsap's cap hit will be $8.6MM this season, though he'll actually only clear about $7.2MM, since the other $1.4MM came as part of a signing bonus in 2009. Either way, that's about half of Jefferson's $15MM salary this year. For a much cheaper price, Millsap comes off a season in which he delivered production that was remarkably similar to Jefferson's. Millsap shot 49.5% while Jefferson shot 49.2%. Millsap grabbed 8.8 rebounds per game, and Jefferson notched 9.6 RPG. Millsap's 21.8 PER is just a tick down from Jefferson's 22.8. Millsap scored fewer points per game (16.6 to Jefferson's 19.2), but saw fewer shot opportunities, attempting 13.5 field goals per game while Jefferson took 17.2. They're separated in age by little more than a month, but still, Millsap seems likely to continue to make less than Jefferson does when they sign their next contracts. That's in part because of what they've both made in the past and in part because the 6'10" Jefferson is two inches taller and capable of manning the center position, where there's a league-wide dearth of talent.
The Jazz only have about $25MM tied up for 2013/14, including team options, so they don't necessarily have to choose between Millsap and Jefferson. Still, cap space would become tighter if the team elects to re-sign its younger bigs, Favors and Enes Kanter, when they finish their rookie contracts in 2014 and 2015, respectively. It doesn't make much sense to pay four guys major money when only two of them can start without playing out of position, so one, if not two, of them will have to move on eventually. Millsap was reportedly part of trade talks involving Ryan Anderson this summer, and while the Jazz were apparently reluctant to make a deal, it certainly seems there's no guarantee Millsap will finish the season in Utah if he doesn't sign an extension.
Between trade rumors and the specter of a contract-year benching, there's plenty of motivation for Millsap to take the Jazz's offer, especially if he's truly interested in remaining in Utah. The priority for the 27-year-old Millsap, who made close to the minimum salary his first three seasons in the league and has spent his last three as a relative bargain, might be to seek the most guaranteed money he can get as he approaches unrestricted free agency for the first time. For that reason, I still think he's unlikely to accept the offer from the Jazz, though I wouldn't be completely shocked if he did. Unlike players coming off of rookie-scale contracts, Millsap is eligible to sign an extension right up until June 30th of next year, so if he loses the starting job to Favors in training camp or at a later point this season, that $25MM offer might start to look more attractive to him, providing it's still on the table.
After Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson figures to be the most prominent center on next summer's free agent market. He's never made an All-Star team, but he's been a consistent performer over the life of a five-year, $65MM extension that kicked in for 2008/09. He's averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds with a 21.0 PER over the first four years of the deal that will pay him $15MM in 2012/13, its final season. He's played in 86% of his team's games the last four seasons after playing all 82 the year before the contract took effect, and is just 27 years old. There's no reason to expect he won't command the maximum amount in his next deal. The question is whether that deal is a new contract or another extension.
Typically, it wouldn't be worthwhile for a veteran to extend his contract under the current CBA. Extensions are limited to three seasons, while a player can get a five-year contract if he waits until free agency to re-sign with his team. Even if he jumps to another team as a free agent, he can sign a four-year deal, and more seasons usually means more guaranteed money.
For Jefferson, there are mitigating factors at play, many of which also apply to Bynum, as Luke Adams of Hoops Rumors wrote. If Jefferson signs a five-year deal next offseason, he'll be 33 years old when it ends. He would be subject to the over-36 rule if he wanted to sign a long-term deal, and it's questionable whether he'd still be playing well enough to merit another lengthy commitment anyway. He would also be signing his next deal in 2018, after the league and the union will have had the chance to opt out of the current CBA in 2017 and negotiate new terms that might be less friendly to veteran players. If Jefferson signed an extension now, he'd be 31 when it ended, still young enough to sign a four-year deal without running afoul of the over-36 rule, which removes the incentives for teams to sign players to long-term contracts. Jefferson could even include a player option for the final season of his extension. That would allow him to become a free agent at age 30 in 2015, when could sign a full five-year deal. He would have more than 10 years of service at that point, making him eligible for 35% of the salary cap, instead of the 30% he could get as a nine-year veteran next summer.
In Jefferson's case, it might be the team that's more skittish to do the deal. As solid as Jefferson has been, the Jazz have a wealth of big men, from Paul Millsap to promising youngsters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, both of whom were third overall picks in their respective drafts. The Jazz may not want to commit maximum money to Jefferson when his presence in the lineup would prevent Favors or Kanter from getting the minutes they need to blossom. Millsap's contract is up after this season, too, and his $8.604MM salary this season means the Jazz could give him a significant raise that would still make him cheaper than Jefferson.
Jefferson has indicated a willingness to remain in Utah, so perhaps the Jazz could extract a hometown discount of sorts from him. Jefferson might argue that signing a maximum extension, which would represent less guaranteed money than a new maximum contract next summer, could qualify as a discount, but I don't think the Jazz would bite. If they wanted to keep Jefferson around, I think they'd want to do so long-term, given the team's focus on the future. I'm not so sure that new GM Dennis Lindsey wouldn't want to go in a different direction anyway, extending or re-signing Millsap and letting Jefferson walk next summer unless he agreed to less of an annual salary than his market value would dictate.
Three years ago, Austin Daye was drafted out of Gonzaga with a prototypical skill set. He's really tall (6'11") and he could shoot the three-ball, which on paper made him a perfect fit for the increasingly valuable "stretch four" role that's overcome the league. But instead of taking advantage of his abilities and evolving into the type of player teams all across the league are currently salivating for—think Ryan Anderson; both players are 24 years old—Daye has struggled mightily.
Playing out last season on a poor Detroit Pistons team, Daye found himself in and (mostly) out of the rotation. His three-point shooting dropped from 40.1% in 2010/11 to 21% in 2011/12, where he shot just 32.2% overall. Daye started just four games and faced constant trade rumors throughout the year.
In April, Daye sat down with Hoopsworld.com's Steve Kyler to talk about his future with Detroit, which as of today looks bleak. Daye said he didn't think he had found a role with the team, and that the chances of him establishing one in the year ahead would most likely be predicated on his health as well as the possibility of a teammate or two ahead of him on the depth chart going down with an injury.
Instead of giving their project some room to breathe and improve, Detroit made the puzzling decision to re-sign longtime Piston Tayshaun Prince to a new four-year deal, hurting Daye's already low confidence. Both players have identical skill sets which calls into question how exactly Pistons general manager Joe Dumars views Daye in terms of his future with the team.
His $2.96MM team option was exercised for the upcoming season, so he'll be back at least one more year, but after that Daye has a $4.14MM qualifying offer. Despite averaging just 5.9PPG in his three season career, Daye's body type and age make him an interesting prospect for teams searching for a diamond in the rough. If the Pistons choose not to extend Daye beyond next year, it most certainly won't be for as much as the four-year, $36MM deal Anderson was just given by the Hornets. In fact, this season should go a long way in deciding if his current contract will also be his last.
Nobody knows what to expect from Tyreke Evans. His rookie season, in which he was named Rookie of the Year, was historically productive, posting averages of 20.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 5.8 APG. (Those numbers hadn't been seen since LeBron James in 2003/04, and before that, Michael Jordan in his rookie year.) With his 6'6" body running the Kings, Evans was a matchup nightmare seemingly capable of doing whatever it was he wanted on the court.
The last two years have been a different story. After a bad case of plantar fasciitis forced him into an unfortunate sophomore slump, Evans came back last season to see a Kings roster full of young players in an overcrowded backcourt. The team responded by giving their franchise point guard minutes at the shooting guard and small forward positions, but his numbers remained down from that fantastic rookie season, calling into question whether Evans can ever reclaim his position as Sacramento's best player.
Things got so bad that once the season ended, Evans, a player who two years ago was touted as one of the league's brightest young stars, was placed on the trading block. Hoopsworld's Steve Kyler reported that the Kings were interested in dealing him by the 2012 draft, but by the end of July they'd decided to keep him on board for the time being. In late June, Cowbell Kingdom's James Ham wrote that Kings' general manager Geoff Petrie hadn't offered Evans an extension, but was working him out privately, suggesting a rooted interest in helping him grow as a basketball player within the organization.
Where things stand right now, it's highly unlikely the team offers Evans a max contract before he hits restricted free agency, and it's unclear how other teams around the league feel about his monetary value. What likely happens is the Kings take a patient approach and let Evans' market reveal itself next summer. It's unclear at this point whether or not they would match a max offer sheet should one get placed on the table.
When discussing Tyreke Evans it should be mentioned that he's only 22-years-old, serves as a solid if not above average perimeter defender, and knows how to get to the basket. His ceiling as a player remains that of a perennial All-Star, but accurately predicting right now if he can ever reach it is impossible to do.
With all of the hoopla surrounding the recently-inked contract extension for Serge Ibaka and the concern over whether the Thunder will have enough left over to retain James Harden, there hasn't been much talk about a new deal for point guard Eric Maynor. The former VCU star saw his season end just nine games into the season on January 7th when he tore his ACL on a drive to the basket, so he won't be dealing from a position of strength. He also doesn't have the kind of stats that scream for a sizable multi-year deal with career averages of 4.5 PPG and 3.1 APG in just over 15 minutes per contest.
However, as John Rodhe of The Oklahoman rightfully points out, the one-guard's numbers don't tell the entire story. The 25-year-old carries himself with the maturity of a much older player and plays a decidedly conservative game, especially when juxtaposed with starter Russell Westbrook. Maynor's career assist-to-turnover ratio is 3.04-to-1, a number that Rodhe notes would have ranked seventh in the league last season.
So, how much is a young point guard with a skyhigh basketball IQ but a less-than-skyhigh stat sheet worth? That's a tricky question to answer, especially when considering the financial quandry facing the Thunder. Of course, their top priority will be to keep the 2012 Sixth Man of the Year in place for the foreseeable future. Journalists and rival executives are already wondering if Sam Presti & Co. will be able to find space for Harden as they'll be pressed up against the luxury tax threshold. Maynor obviously won't command as much as the club's big four, but a multi-year commitment for a few million per season could be an indulgence that is simply to rich for their blood.
Maynor's agent Andrew Vye is keeping mum on how talks are progressing between him and the Thunder, but we can safely assume that the club won't come to the table with a solid offer until they know what the future holds for Harden. Maynor will earn just over $2.3MM this season and Rodhe suggests that locking him up could require anywhere between $14MM and $18MM over four years. With all due respect for Maynor's skillset, it's hard to imagine a club pressing the high end of that range for a backup point guard. The Thunder can probably get a deal done with an average annual value around $3.5MM - the question is, will they instead look to save some scratch and look to build a cheaper bench for the next few seasons.
It's tempting to write off everyone from the woeful 2011/12 Bobcats as unable to contribute to a winning NBA team, but at least a few of the players from the NBA's all-time worst outfit have futures in the league. There are no superstars in this bunch, but the team might want to hang on to Gerald Henderson, the team's leading scorer last year at 15.1 points per game. The 12th overall pick from 2009 has shown consistent improvement in his three years in the league, and for a team that found it difficult to attract even middle-tier free agents like Carl Landry and Antawn Jamison this offseason, developing and retaining its lottery picks must be a priority.
Henderson came to the Bobcats with a sterling basketball pedigree, having played three seasons at Duke after learning the game from his father, 13-year NBA veteran Gerald Henderson Sr. He saw limited run in his rookie season, and spent 2010/11 as a part-time starter before landing in the starting lineup for all 55 games in which he appeared last season. His increasing role led to healthy jumps in his scoring average the past two seasons, but he's backed that up with improvements in his shooting percentage, which he lifted from 35.6% in his rookie year to 45.9% last season, and true shooting percentage, up from 45.3% his first go-around to 51.1% in 2011/12. His PER has gone up in each successive season as well, from 9.7 as a rookie to 14.0 last year. Henderson isn't an effective distributor, averaging 2.3 assists and 1.8 turnovers last season, and his per-36-minute rebounding numbers have declined two years in a row. That's not too disconcerting, since wing players aren't often tasked with heavy rebounding or assist-making duties, but his outside shooting is cause for greater worry. He made just 23.4% of his three-point attempts last year, and that was a career high. Teaming him with fellow lottery picks Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, neither of whom is an outside shooting threat, might prove difficult.
The Bobcats will surely give Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 pick in this year's draft, every chance to prove he can hold down the starting small forward spot in Charlotte. Walker likely has a future with the team as well, but at 6'1", he'll probably have to prove he can handle the point guard position to become a full-time starter. Point guard Ramon Sessions is around for this season and next at $5MM a year, and 6'7" Jeffery Taylor, the first pick of the second round this past June, will be in the mix among wing players as well. The team has options when it comes to outside players, but Henderson looks like the best bet at two-guard. Shooting aside, his blossoming scoring punch complements Kidd-Gilchrist's defensively oriented game, and new coach Mike Dunlap's up-tempo attack could allow Henderson's athleticism to flourish. The Bobcats figure to be a lottery team for a while, so they could always look for another two-guard in the draft, but early returns on the next two draft classes don't offer much hope.
Henderson certainly isn't going to see anything close to a maximum extension, but the Bobcats might be wise to offer something in the neighborhood of $5MM a year for three or four seasons before the October 31st deadline. That would be roughly the equivalent of the mid-level exception and the annual salary of Sessions, Charlotte's lone veteran free agent signing this summer. Locking up the 24-year-old Henderson would be like signing a middle-tier free agent, but with more upside. Henderson could be in line for more money as a restricted free agent next summer if his improvement continues, but it probably wouldn't be too much more. Long-term security has its own value, particulary for a player who's started only 85 NBA games.
This will be a critical season for Jeff Teague, which might make the remaining two months of the offseason even more important. The Hawks brought in serious competition at the point guard position when they traded for Devin Harris. The pair put up similar numbers last season, with Harris averaging 11.3 points, 5.0 assists and 1.9 turnovers per game with a 16.0 PER for the Jazz, while Teague put up 12.6 PPG and 4.9 APG to go with 2.0 turnovers per game and a 15.8 PER. GM Danny Ferry gave an initial vote of confidence to Teague, as Lang Greene of HoopsWorld wrote earlier this summer.
“He’s still a young player,” Ferry said. “Last year was the first time where he just played. He got to play, totally green lighted. It will be interesting to see how he matures this year and continues to develop with things. It will be more his team. We don’t have Joe (Johnson). We don’t have Marvin (Williams). It will be more of Jeff’s team than it has ever been. I think he’s capable of stepping in and doing a good job with that.”
Teague was third behind Joe Johnson and Josh Smith in minutes played last season, so between that and Ferry's statement, it appears he'll get the initial nod as starter during training camp. That arrangement might not last. Johnson has suggested he and Harris could play together in the backcourt, as Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote, but with Lou Williams and Kyle Korver around, minutes at the two-guard spot will be tough to come by in Atlanta. The uncertainty should be enough to prompt Teague and agent Mike Conley Sr. to gauge Ferry's interest in a long-term extension before the October 31st deadline to do so. Though it would be a hedge against the 24-year-old's continued improvement in his fourth NBA season, an extension could provide security and a leg up on Harris, who's set to be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Teague's case centers around his play since the 2011 playoffs, when he stepped in as the starter for an injured Kirk Hinrich and averaged 11.8 PPG and 3.5 APG while shooting 51.4% in six postseason contests. He remained in the starting lineup for all 66 games last season, even when Hinrich was healthy, and drastically outdid his numbers of 4.2 PPG and 1.8 APG in 11.9 minutes per game over his first two seasons. His peripheral statistics demonstrate that his increased production has not simply been a function of more playing time, as his true shooting percentage (.551), turnover percentage (15.1) and win shares per 48 minutes (.131) were all better last season than in either of his first two years.
Despite that improvement and Ferry's stated confidence, the Hawks are likely to be a reluctant partner in extension talks. The team appears set on clearing space for the future, with only about $18.484MM committed for 2013/14. Harris, a former All-Star, has struggled in recent seasons, but at age 29 is still a reliable option at the point capable of delivering a career year. Given their similarities, it would seem wise for the Hawks to sit back and let the play of Harris and Teague this season dictate who they'll re-sign this summer. Even if Teague, given his age, appears to be the better long-term option, he'll be a restricted free agent next summer, when Chris Paul, Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, Stephen Curry, Jose Calderon, Darren Collison and others could all be part of a crowded buyer's market.
Teague's agent needn't look far for a comparison, as son Mike Conley Jr. averaged 12.0 PPG and 5.3 APG with 2.1 turnovers per game and a 16.8 PER in his third season back in 2009/10, numbers similar to Teague's last year. Conley got a five-year, $40MM extension from the Grizzlies, but that was under the old CBA. Teague isn't eligible for a five-year extension in the current set-up, and given the Hawks' leverage, I doubt they'd go for $8MM a year. If Teague would be willing to settle for $6MM a year over three seasons, a deal that would bring him to unrestricted free agency at age 28, I think that might get the job done.
In 2009, the Raptors drafted DeMar DeRozan with the intent of watching him eventually solidify a role as the team's primary wing scorer, an above average option in the backcourt who by the time his second contract came around could possibly surpass the team's former number one overall pick, Andrea Bargnani in terms of overall offensive responsibility. Unfortunately, things haven't quite worked out that way.
After showing very little to zero development from his second to third season, the Raptors have appeared to go in another direction, selecting Terrence Ross, a player who's skill set rivals Derozan's, with the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft. DeRozan's field goal percentage dropped four points from 2010/11 to 2011/12, and his per game scoring went from 17.2 PPG to 16.7 PPG.
As SI.com's Zach Lowe points out, the Raptors will likely play a "wait and see" game with Ross before deciding what they want to do with DeRozan:
"... The Raptors’ drafting of Ross was a clear signal that the organization is ready to move on from DeRozan next summer if he doesn’t develop, or if his price in restricted free agency climbs too high. The Raptors are on pace to have a decent chunk of cap room — something like $10 million — even after overpaying for Landry Fields.
But they could have max-level room without DeRozan’s cap hold, and given that DeRozan is still just 22 with room to grow, he may be in line for one of those four-year, $28 million deals that can hamper a team’s flexibility. Smart organizations understand the value of replacing so-so veterans with nearly equivalent players on rookie deals."
As Lowe correctly points out, the chances of Toronto extending DeRozan before he hits restricted free agency are extremely small and highly unlikely. If he isn't willing to take a hometown discount, and doesn't show significant improvement this year, there's very little chance DeRozan signs his second contract with Toronto.
The Thunder have made rapid progress toward an NBA championship in recent years, and are held up as a model franchise around the league. Yet the cloud hanging over the team after its trip to the NBA Finals this past June concerns the futures of James Harden and Serge Ibaka, two young cornerstones in line for significant raises soon. As Luke Adams pointed out when he looked at the prospect of an extension for Harden, the Thunder would be committing more than $60MM for four players if they gave maximum extensions to both Harden and Ibaka, since Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are also signed to maximum deals. The volume of chatter about Harden seems to indicate GM Rob Hennigan and company are giving him priority, but clearly they'd like to find a way to keep them both.
The contribution Ibaka makes to the team isn't as readily apparent in box scores as what Harden does, though Ibaka was far and away the league leader in blocks per game last year. His average of 3.7 BPG was 68% better than the 2.2 submitted by JaVale McGee, the league's second-best shot blocker in 2011/12. No active player has ever blocked more shots per game in a season than Ibaka did last year. All those rejections led to a first-team All-Defensive selection, and helped him to the league's 11th best defensive rating, according to Basketball-Reference. Perhaps most remarkable about his blocks is that he got them in just 27.2 minutes a game, much less court time than what most key contributors see. Even though Harden comes off the bench, he averaged 31.4 MPG, significantly more than Ibaka, who starts.
Ibaka might be pressed into longer minutes if the team unloads Kendrick Perkins and the $17.63MM he's owed between 2013/14 and 2014/15. Doing so would make it easier for the Thunder to squeeze in both Harden and Ibaka, though it's worth asking why the Thunder would be so anxious to get rid of someone who plays a role similar to Ibaka's. Both are Perkins and Ibaka are defensively oriented, offensively challenged post players. Perkins is five years older and doesn't possess nearly the athleticism of Ibaka, but he's sturdier and able to protect the basket, as evidenced by his 2.0 blocks per game for the Celtics in 2008/09. Factor in the presence of Nick Collison, who's signed to a team-friendly contract through 2015 and is another big man who specializes in the game's subtleties, and it seems the Thunder have an inside player to spare.
Ibaka is likely to receive a maximum offer sheet as a restricted free agent next summer if the Thunder don't extend him by the October 31st deadline, if for no other reason than his potential. Ibaka arrived in the NBA with underdeveloped skills but has quickly picked up the nuances of the game during his three-year career, his PER rising from 15.2 as a rookie, to 17.7 in 2010/11, and to 19.0 last season. At 22, he still has the capacity for marked improvement. Just how much farther he can go is a mystery, and last season there was even evidence of regression. Ibaka's scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and free throw percentage were all down last season, and his turnovers were up.
The Thunder, who've nurtured and monitored his development every day for the last three years, probably have as much of an idea about what he can do as anyone. There's motivation for the team to try to save a few million dollars with an extension this summer, since Ibaka might want to take the guaranteed money on the table and hedge against injury, poor play and other uncertainty. Yet if the Thunder have any inkling that Ibaka's growth as a player is about to level off, they might want to let him play out the season and take their chances with him as a free agent. If they can extend Harden for less than the maximum this summer, they'd already have a little money saved, and if Ibaka has an outstanding 2012/13, they'll have time to decide what to do with Perkins and make other moves to clear room in preparation to re-sign Ibaka for the max. If Ibaka falters or levels off, their patience would go down as yet another shrewd move by one of the league's most well-regarded front offices.