Zach LaVine

Injuries Will Complicate Key Rookie-Scale Extensions

Players who are currently in the third year of their rookie-scale contracts will become eligible for contract extensions beginning on July 1, and will have until the start of the regular season to work out new deals with their respective clubs. For the most part, that group is made up of first-round picks from the 2014 draft, which means that plenty of promising young players will be up for extensions this offseason.

Former No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins will be a top extension candidate for the Timberwolves, and other top-10 picks from 2014 – like Aaron Gordon (Magic), Marcus Smart (Celtics), and Julius Randle (Lakers) – figure to discuss new deals with their teams. Several players selected later in the first round, such as Gary Harris (Nuggets), Rodney Hood (Jazz), Clint Capela (Rockets), Jusuf Nurkic (Trail Blazers), and T.J. Warren (Suns) will also be viable candidates for extensions.

However, it would be hard to make a list of 2017’s top rookie-scale extension candidates that doesn’t include three players currently on the shelf due to injuries: Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, and Zach LaVine.

Joel Embiid (Sixers)Joel Embiid vertical

Embiid may be involved in the Rookie of the Year conversation for 2016/17, but he’s technically a third-year player, meaning the Sixers will be faced with a major decision on his future sooner than they’d like. Embiid, who won’t play again this season due to a knee injury, has only played in 31 games in his first three NBA seasons, a disconcertingly small sample size for the Sixers as they weigh a possible extension.

As impressive as Embiid looked during those 31 games this season, it’s hard to imagine Philadelphia making a long-term commitment to him in 2017 unless the team can get something done at a significant discount. Like the rest of his fellow rookie-scale extension candidates, Embiid would be eligible for restricted free agency in 2018 if he’s not locked up this year, at which point the Sixers would be able to match any offer sheet he gets.

If Embiid stays healthy – or at least healthier – in 2017/18, it would be an easier decision for the Sixers to go up to the max for him in the summer of ’18. If not, then perhaps other suitors will shy away from making aggressive offers in restricted free agency as well, reducing the cost for Philadelphia. Either way, it probably makes sense for the Sixers to take another year to gather more information on Embiid — if he proves worthy of a maximum-salary investment by that point, they’d certainly be happy to do it.

Jabari Parker (Bucks)

Unlike Embiid, who is expected to be ready to go to start the 2017/18 campaign, Parker is expected to miss a full year after tearing his ACL, meaning he may not get back on the court for the Bucks until about halfway through next season. Clearly, that’s problematic for Milwaukee — the club will likely have to make a decision on an extension for Parker when he’s still a few months away from playing.

Before going down last month, Parker was enjoying a breakout season, averaging career highs in nearly every key category, including PPG (20.1), RPG (6.1), APG (2.8), and 3PT% (.365). He likely would have been on track for an extension worth at least as much as Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s (four years, $100MM) if he had stayed healthy. But it remains to be seen if the Bucks will be willing to make a long-term commitment to Parker while he continues to rehab a second ACL tear.

If Parker is seeking financial security, and the Bucks are confident in his ability to make a full recovery, it could be a good opportunity for the team to roll the dice — something in the four-year, $70-75MM range might make sense for both sides. For Parker, it’s a huge payday that ensures he’ll be set for life no matter how his knees hold up going forward. For the Bucks, it would be Luol Deng money for a player who has the potential to develop into an All-Star. It would be a leap of faith, but with the salary cap set to exceed $100MM, such a contract wouldn’t necessarily be a huge albatross if Parker’s health prevents him from taking the next step.

Zach LaVine (Timberwolves)Zach LaVine vertical

LaVine tore his ACL just a few days before Parker did, though the Timberwolves didn’t announce a timeline for his recovery, so it’s not clear if he’ll remain off the court until 2018 as well. Unlike Parker, LaVine had been relatively healthy during his first two years in the NBA, missing just five total games, so perhaps there’s more optimism about his ability to get back to 100%.

With Wiggins also up for an extension, and a big payday for Karl-Anthony Towns potentially coming in 2018, LaVine likely won’t be Minnesota’s top priority this offseason. Still, he shouldn’t be overlooked. Having increased his scoring average from 10.1 PPG to 14.0 PPG to 18.9 PPG in his first three NBA seasons, LaVine adds a dangerous scoring punch to the Wolves’ backcourt. The team may view him as a piece of a long-term Big Three, alongside Wiggins and Towns, so exploring an extension this fall makes sense.

As is the case in the other two scenarios, the Wolves would likely only re-up LaVine in 2017 if they can do so at a discounted rate. The club won’t sign LaVine to a max extension, but if he’s open to doing something in the Dennis Schroder range (four years, $62MM), I think the team would jump on it. If LaVine’s asking price is closer to the $84MM that a healthy Victor Oladipo got on his four-year extension with the Thunder, that would make it more difficult for Minnesota to pull the trigger.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Western Notes: Williams, LaVine, Plumlee, Afflalo

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle did not hesitate to insert veteran point guard Deron Williams into the starting lineup despite the emergence of rookie  Yogi Ferrell, Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com reports. Carlisle called Williams “a better player” than Ferrell, adding that Williams was “playing at close to All-Star caliber” before a toe injury sidelined him for eight games, MacMahon adds. Williams played 16 minutes in a blowout victory over the Magic on Saturday night, contributed seven points, four assists and three steals. Ferrell, who earned a two-year contract while filling in for Williams, played 32 minutes off the bench with Williams on a minutes restriction.

In other news around the Western Conference:

  • Timberwolves shooting guard Zach LaVine will undergo surgery to reconstruct the torn ACL in his left knee on Tuesday, according to a league press release. Lavine, who suffered the season-ending injury driving to the basket against the Pistons on Friday, February 3rd, was averaging 18.9 PPG and 3.0 APG. Brandon Rush and Shabazz Muhammad have shared the shooting guard spot since LaVine was sidelined.
  • The Nuggets got the better of the pending trade with the Blazers, Ben Golliver of SI.com opines. While it’s unlikely that the pairing of Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee would work defensively, it gives Denver coach Michael Malone the ability to establish a clear offensive identity across his rotations if Plumlee is used in a backup role, Golliver continues. The Blazers were smart to get something now for Plumlee, who will become a restricted free agent, before he became too expensive to keep but the return of Jusuf Nurkic and a first-rounder the Grizzlies owed the Nuggets was modest, Golliver adds.
  • Kings guard Arron Afflalo is getting some minutes at point guard due to injuries, Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee writes. Afflalo has not played the point since high school but is unfazed by the situation, Jones adds. “It’s not really that much different; it’s just making sure the team gets into a play, into a set,” Afflalo told Jones. “I’m pretty familiar with the sets, and a lot of our spots are interchangeable.”

And-Ones: Christmas, Calderon, Fultz, Parker, Dolan

A right Achilles tendon rupture has brought an end to Dionte Christmas‘ season, Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly.com reports. It’s an unfortunate development for the 30-year-old, as Christmas had averaged 14.9 points with 3.2 assists in 31 games with the Delaware 87ers. Delaware’s GM, Brandon Williams, lauded Christmas’ efforts in a team statement:

“[Christmas] has been a consummate professional, positive influence on the development of our young roster, and vital to our energy and drive. We will certainly miss his leadership on the court, but are inspired by his confidence as he attacks the next steps on the road to recovery.”

Other stories from around the league-

  • Bobby Marks of The Vertical profiled the Lakers, Nets, and Heat in his trade deadline series; three teams “in the rebuilding process that have limited assets.” Marks cites Jose Calderon as a buyout candidate for GM Mitch Kupchak; Calderon has previously been reported as a target for the Cavs. Trevor Booker and Brook Lopez, who are each under contract for the 2017/18 season, would provide “good value” for contending teams. While Miami’s front office have made deals in three straight trade deadlines, the Heat may be quiet come February 23. Miami has “depleted draft assets,” and appear unlikely to trade Goran Dragic or Hassan Whiteside.
  • The Vertical’s writing staff released their 2017 NBA Mock Draft, with Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Jackson going to the Celtics, Suns, and Lakers, respectively. The Vertical has Malik Monk of Kentucky falling to the Knicks at #10, calling him a good fit “under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.”
  • Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker‘s ACL injuries will create “tricky” rookie extension negotiations, Kevin Pelton of ESPN writes. While Parker’s value has been better established than LaVine’s entering contract discussions, Milwaukee GM John Hammond could limit risk by adding “guarantees based on games played” in Parker’s next contract.
  • James Dolan and Knicks management were subject to a scathing write-up from Michael Powell of the New York Times, who criticized Dolan’s lack of accountability in their confrontation. Phil Jackson, too, was targeted by Powell: “He [Jackson] fires off obscure Twitter posts poking Anthony in one rib or another, suggesting his skills are eroding and his hoop IQ low.”

Zach LaVine Tears ACL, Out For The Season

Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine will miss the rest of the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee, according to Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune.

The injury happened during Friday’s loss to the Pistons and will require surgery, which will be scheduled at a later date.

LaVine has become a full-starter for Minnesota in his third NBA season. He was averaging 18.9 points and 3.0 assists through 47 games.

In October, the Wolves exercised their fourth-year option on LaVine, who will make more than $3.2MM next season. He will be eligible for a rookie-scale extension this summer.

Northwest Notes: Rubio, LaVine, Ingles, Blazers

A year ago, when his name came up in trade rumors, Ricky Rubio wanted to meet with management to discuss his role with the Timberwolves. However, this time around, Rubio is finding it easier to shrug off those rumors, like the one about Minnesota “actively shopping” him.

“My name or every name is going to be out there at some point, but you can only worry about things you can control,” the Timberwolves’ point guard said, according to Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune. “Right now, what I can control is playing my best and do what I’ve been doing.”

Here’s more on the Wolves and some of their Northwest rivals:

  • While Rubio’s name has surfaced in trade talks, one team that spoke to the Timberwolves recently was told that Minnesota “will not entertain” any trade discussions about Zach LaVine, per Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders (Twitter link).
  • The Jazz have no shortage of depth at wing, but Joe Ingles‘ strong effort on defense has earned him a role in Utah, and he’ll continue to see plenty of playing time with Rodney Hood sidelined, as Jody Genessy of The Deseret News writes. Ingles, who is shooting a career-best 46.0% on three-point attempts, will be eligible for restricted free agency in the summer.
  • According to Brett Koremenos of RealGM.com, the Trail Blazers are one of the NBA’s teams that finds themselves in no-man’s land, not good enough to contend for a title, but not bad enough to land a strong draft pick. Koremenos takes a closer look at how Portland got here, and what the next step is for a team that finds itself somewhat hamstrung financially.

Northwest Notes: Motiejunas, LaVine, Nurkic, Oladipo

The Timberwolves had planned to work out free agent forward Donatas Motiejunas, but the Pelicans swooped in before that could happen, according to Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune. Minnesota brought Motiejunas into town, but his agreement with New Orleans stopped a planned meeting and workout session. “His agent cancelled and we never got a chance to sit down with him,” said Wolves coach/executive Tom Thibodeau. The Rockets drafted Motiejunas in 2011 with a pick they acquired from Minnesota. He spent four seasons in Houston before becoming a restricted free agent over the summer.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Wolves guard Zach LaVine has become a candidate for Most Improved Player, contends Shams Charania of The Vertical. The third-year guard has raised his scoring average from 14.0 to 21.1 points per game and has become an important part of what Thibodeau calls the team’s “core three” along with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Charania added that owner Glen Taylor plans to commit financially to keeping all three.
  • Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic has vowed to be professional about his reduced role, even though he’s clearly unhappy with the arrangement, writes Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. Nurkic started the season’s first 25 games, but even then he didn’t always get starters’ minutes. Nurkic shared time with Nikola Jokic and only once topped 30 minutes in a game. His playing time has been cut even further since the Nuggets got healthier, and he was stuck on the bench for four straight games last week. “For sure it’s tough,” Nurkic said. “I’m 23 years old. I’m not here to sit on the bench. I’m here to play basketball. And it’s a tough decision for me, from a starting spot and 20 minutes to four straight [games of not playing]. … You control what you control, and I let my agent do the rest of the stuff.” The Nuggets have already exercised Nurkic’s option for 2017/18 at nearly $3MM.
  • Victor Oladipo returned to the Thunder lineup Saturday after a nine-game absence, relays Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. Oladipo hadn’t played since spraining his right wrist in a December 11th game.

Timberwolves Exercise Options On Four Players

The Timberwolves have exercised third-year options on Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones and fourth-year options on Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins, the team announced today.

Adreian Payne has been told his fourth-year option will not be picked up, according to Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News in Minneapolis (Twitter link).

Towns and Wiggins are the last two Rookies of the Year and Levine is part of the rotation, so all of those moves were expected. Minnesota has reportedly been in ongoing trade talks involving Jones, with the Sixers as the current front-runner.

Payne, a 6’10” power forward, appeared in 52 games for the Wolves last season, averaging 2.5 points and 2.1 rebounds in 9.3 minutes per night. He was acquired from the Hawks in a 2015 trade.

Northwest Notes: Durant, Ibaka, Murray, Dunn

Oklahoma City remains the favorite in the Kevin Durant free agency sweepstakes, according to Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman. The Thunder have a significant advantage in the amount they can offer Durant, Slater notes, as he can make $229.5MM over the next six seasons if he opts out of a two-year deal next summer and signs a five-year max contract. OKC can also offer a guaranteed contender, as the Thunder just fell one game short of reaching the NBA Finals. Slater rates the Warriors, Spurs and Celtics as having the best chance to take Durant away, with the Heat and Clippers as long shots and the Wizards and Rockets as “delusional pipe-dreamers.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Durant gave at least his unspoken approval to the draft-day trade that sent Serge Ibaka to the Magic, writes Sam Amick of USA Today Sports. Given the uncertainty surrounding Durant, Amick says the Thunder never would have made such a major deal if they didn’t know he was on board with it.
  • New Nuggets guard Jamal Murray can expect to begin the season in a sixth-man role, according to Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. Denver GM Tim Connelly says veteran shooting guard Gary Harris will continue to start, with Murray used for instant offense off the bench. “It’s Gary’s job,” Connelly said. “Certainly I hope Jamal does everything he does to potentially take the job, but Gary’s our starting two guard. [Drafting Murray] was an addition to what we think is a very strong backcourt already. We like the flexibility he provides us.”
  • The Nuggets haven’t decided whether to bring over No. 15 pick Juan Hernangomez next season, Dempsey writes in the same piece. The 20-year-old power forward played for Real Madrid this season. “Both options are open,” Connelly said. “There are some pretty good international situations, if we want him to marinate a bit overseas. I think certainly he has the game to come over. If you’re productive at the ACB level, it usually translates. But it’s a conversation we’re going to have with his representatives and figure it out.”
  • No. 5 pick Kris Dunn likes the situation he is entering with the Timberwolves, relays Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun. The Providence point guard will be surrounded by young talents such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine“All those athletes … [who] like to play up and down, and that’s how my game is,” Dunn said. “I like to play at a fast pace, that up-tempo. We’re all young so I think it’s going to make the relationship even stronger because we’re all trying to learn together, we’re all trying to build together, and we’re going to try to compete every game.”

Timberwolves, Bulls Discussing Dunn, Butler Deal

8:41pm: The Bulls’ negotiations with the Celtics at No. 3 for Dunn were more serious than their talks with the Wolves for Dunn, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune (Twitter link). ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne adds that Chicago was listening on Butler, rather than shopping him.

Shelburne agrees that the Bulls’ talks with Boston more serious than their discussions with Minnesota, and says Butler looks poised to stay put for now. According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com (Twitter link), the Wolves haven’t given up on a potential deal, but the longer they go without an agreement, the less likely it is to happen.

8:06pm: There are plenty of conflicting reports out there on the Bulls/Timberwolves talks now. ESPN’s Marc Stein tweets that discussions are in the advanced stages, and other reporters have suggested the deal is still very much in play. However, NBA.com’s David Aldridge (Twitter link) has been told there’s “no chance” of the trade being completed, and some reporters have echoed that report as well.

7:45pm: The Bulls and Wolves continue to have “serious talks” about a trade that would involve Butler and Dunn, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical (via Twitter). According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune (via Twitter), there is a strong sentiment within the Bulls front office to enter full rebuilding mode and trade for Dunn. There’s “rising optimism” on both sides that a deal can get done, tweets Marc Stein of ESPN.com.

7:22pm: The Timberwolves are still trying to get the Bulls to agree to a deal involving Jimmy Butler and Providence point guard Kris Dunn, tweets Marc Stein of ESPN.com. A potential deal between Minnesota and Chicago broke down earlier because the Bulls wanted Zach LaVine to be included rather than Ricky Rubio, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical (Twitter link).

The Bulls and Sixers were both trying to obtain the No. 5 selection before the Wolves took Dunn, Stein tweeted. Philadelphia offered the same package to Minnesota that it presented Boston for the third pick, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press (Twitter link).

If the Timberwolves hold onto Dunn, that probably means Rubio’s days in Minnesota are numbered, tweets Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, who adds that Rubio has been shopped all week. The initial feeling is that the Wolves are likely to hold onto Dunn, despite aggressive offers from interested teams, according to Stein (Twitter link). Dunn was atop the draft board of new coach executive Tom Thibodeau, Wojnarowski reports (Twitter link).

Trade Rumors: Butler, LaVine, Russell, Gay

The Bulls and Celtics are still discussing a deal involving Jimmy Butler, tweets Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical. Chicago, which traded Derrick Rose to the Knicks on Wednesday, reportedly wants to draft Providence point guard Kris Dunn, but isn’t enamored with Boston’s latest offer, according to K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune (Twitter link).

More trade rumors are heating up as the draft is under way:

  • Another deal the Bulls received came from the Timberwolves, who offered the fifth pick and Zach LaVine, tweets Ian Begley of ESPN.com. Minnesota is willing to listen to offers for anyone besides Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities, but he doesn’t believe that offer will be enough to land Butler.
  • The Kings have been “heavily engaged in trade talks” with several teams this week and are targeting Lakers‘ point guard D’Angelo Russell, tweets Marc Stein of ESPN. Sacramento is seeking a possible replacement for starting point guard Rajon Rondo, who is headed toward free agency.
  • Before picking up Thaddeus Young in a deal with the Nets today, the Pacers talked to the Kings about Rudy Gay, according to Wojnarowski.
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