Southeast Notes: Okongwu, Anthony, Hawks, Coulibaly, Poole

Although a handful of players who didn’t sign rookie scale extensions prior to Monday’s deadline have insisted they won’t let their contract situations be a distraction during the 2023/24 season, Hawks center Onyeka Okongwu admitted on Tuesday that he’s happy to have gotten a deal done, since he didn’t want to have 2024 restricted free agency hanging over his head.

Okongwu signed a four-year, $62MM contract extension with the Hawks that doesn’t include any incentives or options.

“Definitely a stress relief because you know, you don’t want to have to go through all that next year,” Okongwu said, per Lauren Williams of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Awesome. I love the guys here, coaching staff, my teammates. I wanted to stay here and do it with the guys. So I didn’t even want to do all that but now I can play basketball freely.”

Okongwu’s new deal will have a starting salary of $14MM in 2024/25, reports ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link), and will gradually increase from there, albeit not at the maximum rate of 8% per year.

The big man will eventually earn $16,880,000 in 2027/28, according to Marks, who notes that the deal is never projected to be worth more than 10.3% of the cap. That may turn out to be a team-friendly rate for a player who could eventually become Atlanta’s starting center.

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

  • Magic guard Cole Anthony offered a similar line of thinking to Okongwu’s in explaining why he was happy to sign a rookie scale extension of his own prior to Monday’s deadline (Twitter video link via Jason Beede of The Orlando Sentinel). “The main reason I really wanted to get this deal done is one, I obviously love it here and I really think we have a chance to build something,” Anthony said. “But for me… (to be able to) play the game stress-free. Do what I love, have fun, and just not have to worry about a looming contract. Just go out there and know I’m cool for a few more years and just hoop and have fun.”
  • The Hawks are under pressure to take a step forward this season, according to Jeff Schultz of The Athletic, who notes that – after replacing Nate McMillan with Quin Snyder in February – another underwhelming year would result in changes that go beyond the head coach.
  • While Bilal Coulibaly started four of the Wizards‘ preseason games, the team will take a more patient approach with its rookie forward in the regular season, according to Josh Robbins of The Athletic, who observes that Coulibaly’s workload in Wednesday’s opener (23 minutes) is an indication of what’s to come for the 19-year-old — and may even be inflated due to garbage-time minutes. “He’s going to get some minutes,” head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said after the game. “We’re going to progress him slowly, yes. We’re not going to heap too much on him too soon. But his minutes will vary.”
  • Wizards guard Tyus Jones is impressed with what he has seen so far from new teammate Jordan Poole, suggesting that the former Warrior is determined to take his game to new heights even after averaging 20+ points per game last season. “He’s just a worker. A worker, daily; he’s dedicated,” Jones said, per Ava Wallace of The Washington Post. “I don’t want to say he’s not happy, but he’s not happy with where he’s at in his development. He’s not satisfied.”
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