5 Young NBA Stars Teams Must Lock Up with Extensions This Season
If we've learned anything from the past month, it's that free agents leave all the time.
With the exception of Deron Williams, who re-signed with the Brooklyn Nets, players have been changing teams at an alarming rate.
Steve Nash to the Lakers. Jason Kidd to the Knicks. Chris Kaman to the Mavericks. Goran Dragic to the Suns. Jamal Crawford to the Clippers.
It goes on and on.
Again, there are certainly plenty of cases of unrestricted free agents staying with their original teams, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for teams to hang onto their All-Stars once they hit the open market—just ask Cleveland.
Yeah, I'm still making LeBron jokes, what are you going to do about it?
The situation is becoming just as dicey with restricted free agents. Just this year we saw Eric Gordon proclaim his disdain for New Orleans, only to have the Hornets match his offer sheet. That's not going to be awkward. We also saw Jeremy Lin force New York's hand and subsequently leave town.
The biggest stars are usually safe from departure as restricted free agents, but as evidenced, it's not always a sure thing anymore.
The moral of the story? Avoid free agency at all costs.
The solution? Find a way to give your young studs an extension before you get to that point.
For guys like Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, that's impossible. But for the following players, teams better get going on the contract talks.
James Johnson, Sacramento Kings
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James Johnson, while not a "star" per se, is about as underrated as they come.
After a solid season with the Raptors,—one in which he averaged 9.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocks in just 25.2 minutes per game—Toronto shipped him off to Sacramento for practically nothing.
Johnson's offensive game still needs some work, but his length and tenacity on defense make him the perfect role player who's willing and capable to do just about everything on the court.
The 25-year-old becomes a restricted free agent next summer, and while he seemingly has been disrespected throughout his first three years in the league, someone out there will give him a hefty contract, and it will be tough to match.
If the Kings want to hold onto the perfect role player, they should just sign him to a solid extension right now.
Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves
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With solid centers being such a rarity in the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves might want to make sure they keep Pekovic for the long run.
The international center is 26 years old, but in just his second NBA season, he truly exploded onto the scene. He averaged 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, but as a starter, those numbers jumped up to 15.4 points and 8.5 rebounds, with some solid defense in the middle.
Pekovic, who makes for a perfect complement next to Kevin Love, will likely only improve on his first full NBA season, and if that happens, he will get a raise next summer.
The T-Wolves should extend him before it gets to that.
James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
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James Harden is set to be a restricted free agent in 2013, and there's no doubt a team will offer him a max contract that the Thunder will have to match, but his value is only going to rise from this point on.
Considering the ridiculous season Harden had at just 22 years of age, it's hard to imagine him not taking yet another step forward toward the NBA's elite, if he's not there already.
In 31.4 minutes per game off the OKC bench, the Beard established himself as easily one of the most efficient offensive players in the NBA. He shot 49 percent from the field even though he attempted 4.7 threes per game, he averaged 16.8 points per game and he scored 1.11 points per play, good for third in the league.
The more Harden plays, the more money he's going to eventually earn. It would be smart of the Thunder, if they don't plan on trading him, to just re-sign him now.
Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder
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The Oklahoma City Thunder are going to have a lot of decisions to make, as not only Harden but also Serge Ibaka enters restricted free agency next summer.
If Omer Asik got $25.1 million for three years, it's hard to imagine what Ibaka—a 22-year-old stud who has already established himself as arguably the best shot-blocker in the league—will get.
Ibaka and Harden both being on this list doesn't necessarily mean the Thunder should sign them both to max deals, which is what they probably both already deserve.
What the Thunder need to do, however, is try to convince the duo to re-sign for slightly less money than they would get on the market. At the very least, get them both extended on a contract that doesn't include the poison pill, which is what another team would inevitably offer them.
It's not going to be an easy situation for the Thunder.
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
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There's constant talk about where Chris Paul is going to go in the summer of 2013, but if the Clippers have anything to say about it, that question will be answered long before July.
According to ESPN, the Clips are confident they can re-sign the star point guard:
Paul wasn't asked directly about his future intentions, but a source close to the situation said he has given the team indications he intends to stay long term.
Paul—who is good for about 20 points, 10 assists and two steals almost nightly—is easily one of the best point guards in the NBA, and although it seems like he's been around forever, he's still just 27.
For the Clippers to lock him up long term before it becomes a distraction would be a smart move.