Extension Candidate

Extension Candidate: Stanley Johnson

Twenty-three players became eligible for rookie scale extensions when the 2018/19 NBA league year began in July. One of those 23, Devin Booker, quickly finalized a new deal with the Suns, leaving 22 other players who could sign rookie scale extensions before the October 15 deadline.

In the weeks leading up to that deadline, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the strongest candidates for new contracts.

[RELATED: 2018 NBA Extension Candidate Series]

Our examination of this year’s candidates for rookie scale extensions continues today with Pistons swingman Stanley Johnson. Let’s dive in…

Why the Pistons should give him an extension:

The ability to guard multiple positions has become an increasingly valuable skill in the current NBA. With so many teams going with smaller lineups, defenders must be able to switch onto smaller, quicker players and bigger, stronger opponents alike and still hold their own. Therein lies Johnson’s calling card.

The No. 8 overall pick in the 2015 draft, the 6’7” Johnson has proven he can defend four positions. He’s got the strength to mix up with a LeBron James and the athleticism and quickness to match up with a Kyrie Irving.

For the most part, Johnson is assigned to the other team’s top wing player. Given the composition of the Pistons’ roster, Johnson serves as a complimentary piece to the team’s other top wings, Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard. Bullock and Kennard are known for their perimeter shooting but aren’t considered noteworthy defenders.

New coach Dwane Casey has indicated he’d like to play Johnson at power forward at certain times, which would allow him to attack taller, slower defenders off the dribble.

Why the Pistons should avoid an extension:

If Johnson has shown any growth offensively, it’s been a very gradual process. In his rookie season, he averaged 8.1 PPG while making 37.5% of his shots and 30.7% from long range in 23.1 MPG.

He experimented with a new release in his second year and regressed even from those subpar figures. Johnson’s offensive woes and questions about his work ethic led to a dip in playing time, as he averaged 4.4 PPG while shooting 35.3% from the field and 29.2% on 3-point tries in 17.8 MPG.

He got back in former coach Stan Van Gundy’s good graces last season but remained a work in progress offensively. Johnson averaged 8.7 PPG on 37.5% shooting whiile making just 28.6% of his threes in 27.4 MPG.

Points of comparison:

Among  recent recipients of rookie scale extensions, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist may be the best point of comparison for Johnson. In 2015, the Hornets gave Kidd-Gilchrist a four-year, $52MM deal, mainly due to his reputation as a lockdown defender.

Kidd-Gilchrist has been a fixture in the team’s starting lineup during the first two years of the extension but his offensive numbers have actually gone down compared to his first three seasons in the league. He doesn’t even attempt 3-point baskets, which makes it easier for defenders to load up on Charlotte’s shooters.

Johnson at least provides some hope of developing into a perimeter threat. In six April games last season, he averaged 12.0 PPG and made 36% of his long-distance tries.

Cap outlook:

Due to the acquisition of Blake Griffin and some poor decisions by the previous regime, the Pistons won’t have a lot of flexibility in terms of their payroll next summer.

The trio of Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson alone will eat up $79.6MM of their cap space. The Pistons will still be on the hook for the final years of Jon Leuer‘s and Langston Galloway‘s deals, chewing up another $16.8MM in cap room. And the stretch provision used on Josh Smith will wipe out an additional $5.33MM.

Handing Johnson a deal comparable to Kidd-Gilchrist, i.e. in the $13MM annual range, would leave the Pistons with very little wiggle room to upgrade the roster. They’d have to be convinced that Johnson could expand his game offensively while remaining a bulldog on the defensive end.

It’s not far-fetched, considering Johnson exited college after his freshman season at Arizona. He’s still only 22 and could thrive under the guidance of Casey.

Conclusion:

Under a different set of circumstances, the Pistons might consider locking up Johnson at the right price. He can contribute without being a major offensive factor and the Pistons probably don’t need him to become a 15- or 20-point scorer.

They’ve got two All-Star level frontcourt talents in Griffin and Drummond, an offensively-gifted point guard (when healthy) in Jackson, and some quality 3-point shooters dotting the roster. It’s still difficult to make a long-term commitment to Johnson until he becomes at least enough of an offensive threat that defenders have to pay some attention to him.

It’s even more difficult for the Pistons to lavish Johnson with a multi-year deal given their salary constraints next summer. They can still extend a qualifying offer and see how the market plays out when Johnson becomes a restricted free agent.

It’s unlikely Johnson will develop so dramatically that other teams will be beating down his door with lucrative offer sheets. Better to see if Johnson can make the necessary upgrades in his game before giving him long-term security.

Will Johnson get extended by October 15?

Our prediction: No.

Our estimate: RFA in 2019.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extension Candidate: D’Angelo Russell

Twenty-three players became eligible for rookie scale extensions when the 2018/19 NBA league year began in July. One of those 23, Devin Booker, quickly finalized a new deal with the Suns, leaving 22 other players who could sign rookie scale extensions before the October 15 deadline. In the weeks leading up to that deadline, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the strongest candidates for new contracts.

[RELATED: 2018 NBA Extension Candidate Series]

Our examination of this year’s candidates for rookie scale extensions continues today with Nets guard D’Angelo Russell. Let’s dive in…

Why the Nets should give him an extension:

The second overall pick in the 2015 draft, Russell was the first player to come off the board after Karl-Anthony Towns was selected. A play-making point guard with size, the former Ohio State star has shown intriguing upside during his first three NBA seasons, averaging 14.6 PPG, 4.3 APG, and 3.6 RPG in 191 games (27.8 MPG).

Given the Nets’ dearth of lottery picks in recent years, a result of their ill-fated trade with the Celtics years ago, the team was willing to surrender longtime center Brook Lopez and a first-round pick for Russell last summer, taking on Timofey Mozgov‘s oversized contract in the process.

That trade signaled that the Nets believed in Russell’s potential, and with the club’s cap now cleared of pricey long-term deals, this could be the time to invest in his future. Injuries and adjustments to Kenny Atkinson‘s system limited Russell’s impact in his first year in Brooklyn, but the club is reportedly excited to see what he can do in year two. If the 22-year-old enjoys a breakout season, he’ll only get more expensive as a restricted free agent in 2019.

Why the Nets should avoid an extension:

Beyond clearing Mozgov’s contract and clearing a path for Lonzo Ball to assume point guard duties, there’s a reason the Lakers were willing to trade Russell in 2017. The young guard faced scrutiny about his work ethic and his drive in Los Angeles, with president of basketball operations Magic Johnson hinting after the trade was completed that the franchise didn’t necessarily view Russell as a “leader.”

Russell’s on-court production may also be a cause for a concern, as he hasn’t shown much improvement in that department since his rookie season. Most players who enter the NBA as 19-year-olds and develop into reliable regulars see their numbers steadily rise over the course of their rookie contracts, but Russell’s 2017/18 stats (15.5 PPG on .414/.324/.740 shooting) look awfully similar to his 2015/16 figures (13.2 PPG on .410/.351/.737 shooting).

Russell didn’t exactly make a strong case for a long-term contract during his first season as a Net, with injuries limiting him to 48 games. He was outplayed by former second-round pick Spencer Dinwiddie at times, and his on/off-court numbers weren’t flattering — Brooklyn had a -7.1 net rating when Russell played, including an ugly 111.7 defensive mark. Those numbers improved to -2.8 and 107.0 when he wasn’t on the court.

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Extension Candidate: Larry Nance Jr.

Twenty-three players became eligible for rookie scale extensions when the 2018/19 NBA league year began in July. One of those 23, Devin Booker, quickly finalized a new deal with the Suns, leaving 22 other players who could sign rookie scale extensions before the October 15 deadline. In the weeks leading up to that deadline, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the strongest candidates for new contracts.

Our examination of this year’s candidates for rookie scale extensions continues today with Cavaliers big man Larry Nance Jr. Let’s dive in…

Why the Cavaliers should give him an extension:

The Cavaliers liked Nance enough at last season’s trade deadline that they were willing to give up a first-round pick and take on Jordan Clarkson‘s contract – not exactly a bargain – to acquire him from the Lakers, despite the fact that the deal helped pave the way for LeBron James to eventually sign with L.A.

Nance struggled a little to adjust to his new team, playing just 15.4 minutes per game in the postseason, but he provided the Cavs with the sort of energy and athleticism that their frontcourt had been lacking. For the season, Nance established new career highs with 8.7 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and a .581 FG%, showing an ability to run the floor, finish at the rim, and guard multiple positions on defense.

While the sample size wasn’t huge and his numbers were certainly boosted by playing major minutes alongside James, Nance’s on/off-court stats for the Cavs were impressive — the team had a 102.7 defensive rating during his minutes, compared to a 110.9 mark for the rest of the season.

Taking into account his on-court ability, his age (25), and his familial ties to the franchise – Larry Nance Sr. was one of the best players in Cavs history – it makes sense that the Cavs would view Nance Jr. as a long-term building block.

Why the Cavaliers should avoid an extension:

Nance has yet to enjoy a true breakout season, and it’s not entirely clear what such a year would look like. He doesn’t have an outside shot and probably isn’t the type of player who will ever average 20 PPG in a season.

Of course, that same sentiment applies to Clint Capela, who just secured a five-year deal with the Rockets worth between $80-90MM, so it’s not as if Nance doesn’t have value. But unlike Capela, who has developed into one of the NBA’s best interior defenders, Nance isn’t an elite rim protector. While he’s solid on that end of the floor, Nance may not be capable of anchoring a defense.

Even if the Cavs do view Nance as part of their future, the team may want to see what he looks like in a LeBron-less rotation during the 2018/19 season before making a significant financial investment in him. After years of the Cavs’ game plan revolving around James and Kyrie Irving, it remains to be seen how the leftover pieces will fit together going forward.

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Extension Candidate: Kristaps Porzingis

Twenty-three players became eligible for rookie scale extensions when the 2018/19 NBA league year began in July. One of those 23, Devin Booker, quickly finalized a new deal with the Suns, leaving 22 other players who could sign rookie scale extensions before the October 15 deadline. In the weeks leading up to that deadline, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the strongest candidates for new contracts.

Our examination of this year’s candidates for rookie scale extensions continues today with Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis. Let’s dive in…

Why the Knicks should give him an extension:

Porzingis’ unique skill-set, which helped earn him his Unicorn nickname, is also his strongest argument in favor of a lucrative long-term deal. There simply aren’t any other NBA players – now or in the history of the league – who stand 7’3″ but still possess the athleticism and outside shooting ability (.395 3PT%) of Porzingis.

In his first three NBA seasons, Porzingis just kept getting better, increasing his PPG from 14.3 to 18.1 to 22.7. He has also developed into one of the league’s best shot-blockers, establishing a new career high with 2.4 BPG in 2017/18.

While his play has yet to translate to much team success for the Knicks, Porzingis’ on/off-court numbers reveal his value to the team — New York was noticeably better both offensively and defensively when the Latvian big man was on the court (+0.1 net rating) in 2017/18 than when he sat (-7.0 net rating).

Porzingis is still just 23 years old and there’s a sense that he still has plenty of potential yet to be unlocked. New head coach David Fizdale could be the man for the job — reportedly, he and Porzingis have hit it off already, which is a positive sign for the franchise after the young star didn’t always see eye-to-eye with former head coach Jeff Hornacek.

Why the Knicks should avoid an extension:

The 2017/18 season was Porzingis’ best as a pro, but it was also his briefest — a torn ACL ended his year after just 48 games, and he’s not expected to be ready to play at the start of the 2018/19 campaign.

While it’s probably unfair to say Porzingis is injury-prone, he has never played more than 72 games in a season, and many players who stand 7’3″ or taller have battled leg injuries throughout their NBA careers. ACL tears are no joke, so even if New York expects Porzingis to make a full recovery, the team should be wary of making a massive investment in him while he’s still rehabbing the injury.

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Extension Candidate: Karl-Anthony Towns

Twenty-three players became eligible for rookie scale extensions when the 2018/19 NBA league year began in July. One of those 23, Devin Booker, quickly finalized a new deal with the Suns, leaving 22 other players who could sign rookie scale extensions before the October 15 deadline. In the weeks leading up to that deadline, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the strongest candidates for new contracts.

Our examination of this year’s candidates for rookie scale extensions begins today with Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns. Let’s dive in…

Why the Timberwolves should give him an extension:

Towns’ case for a new deal is obvious. A former first overall pick, he’s already one of the NBA’s most talented big men, earning his first All-Star and All-NBA nods in 2017/18. He has averaged a double-double in each of his three NBA seasons, recording 21.6 PPG and 11.7 overall over the course of his young NBA career.

Unlike many other NBA bigs, Towns figures to have no problem adapting as the NBA continues to evolve — his .387 career 3PT% (.421 in 2017/18) reflects his ability to score from the outside as well as the inside, so he’s hardly a one-dimensional offensive player. He can also pass the ball effectively (2.4 career APG), and while he’s not an elite rim protector on defense, he’s capable of blocking shots (1.4 career BPG).

On top of all that, Towns has displayed a skill that’s over overlooked and undervalued — durability. He has yet to miss a game since entering the league, playing all 82 contests in three consecutive years.

At age 22, Towns still has plenty of room to develop into a more complete and effective player, a scary possibility for opposing teams to consider. He’d likely be one of the first few players named if NBA general managers were given the ability to lock up any current player for the next decade.

Why the Timberwolves should avoid an extension:

While Towns is already a monster on offense and on the glass, his play on defense leaves something to be desired. Tom Thibodeau brought in Taj Gibson a year ago in order to pair Towns with a tough, defensive-minded veteran in the frontcourt, and the young star may need to be complemented by similar frontcourt partners in the coming years.

Additionally, there may be some concern about how Towns meshes with his fellow stars in Minnesota. Reports of tension have followed around the Timberwolves’ three most important players – Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Jimmy Butler – and if there’s truth to those rumors, locking up Towns to a long-term deal may help push someone like Butler out of Minnesota.

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Extension Candidate: Julius Randle

For the third straight season, Julius Randle made progress establishing himself as a significant factor in the Lakers’ frontcourt. However, that progress won’t impact whether or not the 22-year-old inks a contract extension prior to the October 16th deadline.Julius Randle vertical

No, Randle’s fate – perhaps more than any other player headed into the final year of a rookie contract – is tied to the lofty ambitions of the franchise that he plays for.

Put simply, the Lakers are all-in on preserving cap space for the 2018 free agency period — a period in which they’ll inevitably pursue LeBron James and Paul George. Or LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. Or LeBron James and any other star player who opts to test the waters next summer, it really just depends on which barber you ask.

This isn’t a knock on Randle. It’s a reality. The same reality that saw L.A. ship D’Angelo Russell out of town just to alleviate the club’s $16MM obligation to Timofey Mozgov in 2018/19.

Signing Randle to any extension in the realm of what he would justifiably qualify for before the October deadline would unnecessarily eat into the room that the Lakers would need in order to make a big, nay, massive splash next offseason. As it stands, Los Angeles has just under $54MM on their books for the 2018/19 season and you can bet the farm that they club will do anything within reason to unload Luol Deng‘s 18MM as soon as conceivably possible.

Of course, the Lakers can always circle back to Randle as a restricted free agent once they have a better idea of how their 2018 offseason will play out, but that obviously comes with inherent risk. It’s not inconceivable that Randle will raise his value this season and coax an aggressive offer sheet out of a team with cap space to burn.

So the question isn’t whether Randle will earn a contract extension in the next month – that almost certainly won’t happen – but rather if his play thus far has warranted it.

In his two full seasons with the Lakers, Randle has averaged just under a double double, putting up 12.2 PPG and 9.4 RPG while flashing impressive vision for a post player and a handle reminiscent of a slightly less polished Blake Griffin (that’s still a good thing).

Randle’s per-36 numbers ooze Zach Randolph-esque potential and the fact that he’s a productive contributor who doesn’t require much of the spotlight bodes well for a Lakers team that has every intention of filling the lineup around him with stars.

Expect Randle, already a competent third or fourth option, to take yet another step forward in 2017/18. The power forward has committed to improving his physical conditioning this summer and will now play alongside Lonzo Ball, one of the most exciting playmakers to come into the league in years.

We saw excellent rebound and assist rates out of Randle last season, as well as a modest 13.2 points per contest. That last figure could jump up to a more headline-worthy level, conveniently ahead of July 2018, when he hits the market for the first time.

If the pending restricted free agent drives his value to a level that precludes Los Angeles from retaining him, then that’s simply a consequence of the Lakers’ own ambition.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extension Candidate: Jusuf Nurkic

After slowly establishing himself as one of the most efficient, low-usage big men in the NBA, Jusuf Nurkic got his first consistent opportunity to shine when the Nuggets shipped him off to the Trail Blazers partway through the 2016/17 campaign.Jusuf Nurkic vertical

And shine he did.

It’s not Nurkic’s fault that Nikola Jokic caught up to him and surpassed him on Denver’s depth chart last season but, regardless, it was Nurkic’s value that seemed to dissipate over night. Fast forward to the end of the campaign and there’s more confusion than ever as to what the bruising low post threat really is worth in today’s NBA.

One can’t exactly blame the Nuggets for getting impatient and trading Nurkic for pennies on the dollar — there were clearly elements of addition by subtraction at play considering Nurkic’s reported attitude regarding his demotion in Denver. Still, they gave away a possible star to a division rival in exchange for Mason Plumlee, a 26-year-old with a considerably more modest ceiling.

Nurkic, just 23 years old, is entering the fourth year of his career this season and is thus eligible for a rookie extension prior to the October 16 deadline. There’s no consensus, however, about whether the Trail Blazers should rush out to sign him to one.

With few reported updates, other than Blazers general manager Neil Olshey saying that he doesn’t typically talk about ongoing contract negotiations, there’s no clear sense as to whether locking Nurkic in long-term is even a priority of the organization.

On one hand, Nurkic hit the ground running in Portland, averaging 15.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game over the course of his 20-game stint with the Blazers post-trade.

The inflated numbers aren’t just the byproduct of a particularly motivated young player either, Nurkic’s 18.7 points and 12.8 rebounds per 36 were only slightly higher than the 15.3 points and 12.0 rates he posted through two and a half years with Denver.

So, yes, Nurkic knows how to fill a stat sheet and, even better, his production contributed to tangible success with his new club. In his taste of action with Portland, the Blazers went 14-6. As Joe Freeman of the Oregonian wrote at the time, the club soared with Nurkic in the lineup, his presence solidifying the squad’s offerings on both ends of the court.

Alas, the sudden arrival of the dominant young big man was, in at least one sense, too good to be true. In late March, Nurkic fractured his right leg and missed the remainder of the 2016/17 season, including the club’s four-game sweep at the hands of the eventual NBA champion Warriors.

Whether the non-displaced fibular fracture was the result of a seven-footer in supposedly sub-optimal condition being suddenly thrust into the heaviest workload of his career or an omen of things to come, the fact that he missed the last chunk of the season is a concern.

While Nurkic’s injury isn’t as catastrophic as the words “out for the remainder of the season” may seem – a similar issue set Steve Nash back a total of 24 games… at age 38 – this isn’t Nurkic’s first significant injury and that’s something that could impact whether the Blazers do or do not offer him a sizable contract earlier than they need to.

If Nurkic can return to the court healthy and put forth 70-plus games at the same standard as last season, it’s hard to imagine him having any trouble finding suitors as a restricted free agent next summer. In that regard, locking him in now could potentially save the organization money in the long run.

The risk, however, may not be worth it.

A more pragmatic approach would be to wait for Nurkic’s borderline cult-like following to normalize over the course of a full season. Then with a larger sample size on which to base expectations, Olshey and company could decide whether or not that’s a direction they want to take the franchise.

Worst case scenario, Nurkic struggles to stay on the court next season and Portland walks away unscathed. Best case scenario, Nurkic Fever continues to sweep the Pacific Northwest and the Blazers are socially obligated to max out a 24-year-old franchise talent that already thrives with the teams existing star backcourt just as they hit their respective primes.

There are worse fevers to succumb to.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extension Candidate: Clint Capela

The Rockets can be forgiven for not coming to terms on a contract extension with 23-year-old Clint Capela so far this offseason, but despite the fact that the franchise is undergoing a change in ownership, the deadline for locking in fourth year players looms.Clint Capela vertical

While Capela has been regarded as a low-key game-changer for Houston ever since a strong showing in the 2015 postseason, the steady strides that he’s made ever since have put him firmly on the fringe of the mainstream hoops community’s radar.

In 65 games for the Rockets last season, including 59 starts, Capela averaged 12.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Those are per-minute production rates on par with some of the best versatile big men in the game. That the 6’10” center did so while shooting a staggering 64.3% from the floor puts him in a class of his own.

Houston will welcome Chris Paul this fall, and it’s hard to imagine Capela’s offense will do anything but continue to expand, considering the legendary playmaker’s ability to work with athletic big men like Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan.

Of course whether or not Capela has made a case for an extension is only half the battle. The team will need to justify spending the money, something that’s not necessarily a given considering that the Rockets can so easily obliterate the luxury tax line in the coming years if they’re not careful.

Per Kevin Pelton of ESPN (via ABC), Houston will presumably sign Paul to a max contract next summer. That, paired with James Harden‘s monster extension, will give the Rockets over $80MM in committed salary for their backcourt alone.

Throw in the fact that Houston will commit over $40MM to the trio of Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker through 2019/20 and it’s not hard to forecast major luxury tax bills in new owner Tilman Fertitta‘s future.

Pelton projects that Capela and fellow free agent-to-be Trevor Ariza could seek a combined $20MM in salary (a figure that Capela alone could draw, if you ask me) and suddenly Houston runs the risk of annihilating the luxury tax line by nearly $20MM come 2019/20.

The Rockets, of course, could choose to let Ariza walk in the hopes of the recently acquired Tucker filling the role of scrappy perimeter defender, but even that scenario is complicated by the fact that Ariza and Paul have a close enough friendship to have supposedly influenced the trade that brought Paul over from the Clippers in the first place.

As Pelton suggests, the Rockets could make life considerably easier for themselves by finding a taker for the $60MM owed to Anderson through 2019/20. Doing so won’t be easy though.

If Houston has a plan in place, it’s not one that’s been broadcast at this point in the offseason. In May, we discussed a rather innocuous quote from general manager Daryl Morey suggesting that it would be “normal business” to discuss an extension, but all has been silent since.

If the Rockets choose to hold off on extending Capela, the big man would become a restricted free agent next summer. While the 2018 offseason is projected to be slightly tamer than the ones we’ve seen over the past two years, it’s hard to imagine Capela’s value going anywhere but up, relative to where it is currently.

Relative, however, is the operative term. Should the parties decide to go that route, Capela will look to compete with potential free agent centers like Joel Embiid, Jusuf Nurkic and Nerlens Noel, all promising anchors for teams looking to build youthful cores at a time when available cap room, a bountiful resource in 2016 and 2017, normalizes.

So sure, at the end of the day, the Rockets may be able to sit tight on Capela in hopes of retaining him at a lower rate via restricted free agency next summer but doing so would run the risk of letting a team like the Nets extend to him a poison pill offer sheet that Houston would be pressured to match, lest they let a significant part of their core walk just in time for the last few great years Paul will have left in the tank.

Perhaps the best bet for the Rockets when the dust settles from the ownership transition, then, is to square things away with Capela at a generous rate prior to the contract extension deadline on October 16 and then challenge Morey with the task of making the numbers work before Paul’s and Harden’s annual salaries start escalating dramatically after next season.

Regardless, just how the team handles the Capela contract could really shed light on Fertitta’s mentality with his new franchise. While it’s only my speculation, it seems logical enough to infer that an individual who just spent $2.2B on a sports franchise (well over the projected value) wouldn’t be opposed to shelling out extra luxury tax money to preserve one of the most talented cores of NBA players outside of the Bay Area.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extension Candidate: Jabari Parker

It’s been a long three seasons for Bucks forward Jabari Parker, longer still if you consider that there was a brief period in time ahead of the vaunted 2014 NBA Draft that the Chicago native was in the running to be selected with the first overall pick.Jabari Parker vertical

Fast forward three seasons and Parker hasn’t exactly had the franchise-altering impact on the organization that fans may have hoped for but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t shown flashes of legitimate value either.

Through three significantly compromised injury-shortened campaigns, it’s been rather difficult to get a handle on what Parker is and what he isn’t. Such uncertainty doesn’t help teams plan for the future in the simplest of times, let alone when there are contract extensions to be negotiated, as is the case now for the forward coming off the third year of his rookie deal.

In 50 2016/17 contests the 21-year-old showed glimpses of the future that draft prognosticators predicted, averaging 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while shooting .365 from beyond the arc.

This wasn’t empty production either, it came alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo in a Bucks lineup that finished sixth in the Eastern Conference and firmly established itself as a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future.

Alas, Parker’s particular role in Milwaukee’s ascension – not to mention future – is a complicated one and the new-age power forward fell by the wayside with a torn ACL in early February, remained out for the duration of the campaign and is now expected to be sidelined until the 2018 All-Star Game.

We wrote last week that Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler had heard the Bucks were open to getting a deal done ahead of the Oct. 31 rookie scale extension deadline but sought team-friendly terms. That’s not surprising, all things considered.

Even though the organization believes Parker will ultimately make a full recovery from the latest ACL tear, it’s hard to blame them for being reluctant to commit big money to a player with Parker’s track record.

The February, 2017 ACL tear was actually Parker’s second tear in the same knee. In December, 2014 – his rookie season – he tore the ACL for the first time, missed the remainder of the 2014/15 campaign and didn’t get back into full swing until well into the 2015/16 season.

If history repeats itself, Parker may recover along the previously forecast timeline and take the court following the All-Star Break next February, but it could be months after that before he’s physically capable of playing a full work load at his highest level.

It’s not unreasonable to think that Parker could expand upon his impressive 2016/17 line eventually, but if that’s unlikely to happen prior to the 2018/19 season, then venturing into a long-term commitment in the form of a contract extension due less than two months from now seems unnecessarily risky for a franchise at a critical juncture on its path to contention.

Given the context of Parker’s latest injury and the recovery process that stretched well after he returned to the court the last time, the Bucks would be wise to hold off on earmarking a significant portion of their payroll for him sooner than they absolutely have to – nothing is precluding them from throwing money at him next summer.

That said, if Parker’s camp was interested in a locking in a guaranteed deal at a team-friendly rate rather than gambling on restricted free agency after a fourth-straight injury-impacted campaign, the Bucks would have no reason not to listen.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extension Candidate: Joel Embiid

News: The 2017 ESPYSDuring the weeks leading up to TNT awards show in late June, one of the biggest mysteries was whether Sixers big man Joel Embiid would be named Rookie of the Year despite playing in just 31 games. Embiid clearly posted the biggest numbers and displayed more talent than any other first-year player in his limited body of work.

Ultimately, voters decided Embiid didn’t play in enough games and handed the prize to Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon.

The Sixers have an even bigger decision to make — does 31 games in three seasons equate to a max contract extension or something close to it?

That’s the biggest dilemma currently hovering over the team’s management, as it must determine what approach to take with the oft-injured Embiid. Virtually from the instant he finally took the court, Embiid essentially removed all debate over which of the three power forward/centers the Sixers invested high draft picks on in recent seasons — Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor — was the best of the trio.

Embiid averaged 20.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG and 2.5 BPG in those outings, even though the Sixers were being cautious about his minutes. In ESPN’s Player Efficiency Rating, Embiid finished fifth among all centers. Embiid, whose career was stalled two full seasons by right foot ailments, still suffered another significant injury.

He was shut down at the beginning of March with torn meniscus and a bone bruise in his left knee. He underwent arthroscopic surgery later that month and has reached the point in his recovery where he’s doing non-contract drills. He’s expected to be ready for training camp and GM Bryan Colangelo has said that he anticipates Embiid will be able to play back-to-backs this season.

With all the time Embiid has spent in the trainer’s room, it would be reasonable to assume that Sixers management would be reluctant to make a long-term commitment to him. Think again. Josh Harris, the team’s managing owner, told reporters in late June he’s focused on locking up Embiid before the October 31 extension deadline.

“Look, I’d just say we want Joel to be on the team for a long time,” Harris said at the time. “We want us all to grow old together. That’s the way I would put it.”

How much would Harris and the rest of the ownership group have to fork over to max out Embiid? The current projection for a five-year max would be $147.9MM, while a four-year commitment would entail $114.24MM in resources.

If the Sixers could have any reasonable expectation that Embiid will stay in one piece for a majority of the next five or six seasons, the investment would pay off handsomely. With a core trio of point guard and top overall pick Markelle Fultz, point forward and 2016 top pick Ben Simmons and Embiid, Philadelphia projects to be one of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams during that stretch.

It’s hard to think that way with the injury issues that Embiid has endured since the tail end of his brief collegiate career at Kansas. Embiid missed the NCAA Tournament as a freshman with a back injury, then underwent his first foot surgery a week before Philadelphia selected him with the No. 3 overall pick in 2014.

It’s been a long and ongoing process to get Embiid, who will make $6.1MM in the upcoming season, on the court since that point. If the Sixers decide to play it a little more cautiously, they could forego an extension to see how his health holds up and then extend a qualifying offer of $8MM next summer to make him a restricted free agent. Taking that approach would also allow the Sixers to see how Embiid’s talents blend with Fultz and Simmons.

The Sixers would then have the option of matching any offer sheet but would also risk the possibility of Embiid gambling on his future and signing the qualifying offer. That would allow him to be unrestricted the following summer.

A more likely scenario is that the Sixers offer Embiid a max extension, or something very close to it, but insist on contractual protections in case his major injury problems persist. The easiest way to do that would be to purchase disability insurance on Embiid but as ESPN’s Bobby Marks pointed out this spring, the Sixers probably won’t have that option due to his injury history.

Instead, as Marks suggested, Philadelphia could follow the approach the Nets took when they re-signed another injury-riddled center, Brook Lopez. Under the multi-year terms of that deal, Brooklyn’s contractual obligations would have been cut in half during the second year and down to 25% in the third year if Lopez had re-injured his right foot and wound up playing fewer than 60 games and averaging less than 15 minutes. The Sixers and Embiid’s representatives could hash out similar minimums in terms of games and minutes played.

If the Sixers take that route, negotiations on an extension could get very sticky and go down to the wire. Should Embiid agree to such a deal, he’d once again be gambling on his health while allowing the club to hedge its bets. Philadelphia also has to be careful not to risk alienating a player who could be a perennial All-Star for years to come.

That’s what makes Embiid’s potential contract extension one of the league’s most intriguing storylines right through training camp. He is the ultimate high-risk, high-reward Extension Candidate.