Predicting Which 2013 NBA Free Agents Will Receive Early Contract Extensions
Blake Griffin got his money this summer. So did Serge Ibaka.
Of course, not every stud slated for restricted free agency this summer is going to rake in beaucoup bucks, be it before or after the 2012-13 season. There's only so much cash to splash around and only so much time to do it, what with the deadline for extensions falling on the first day of the upcoming campaign and all.
That said, these seven youngsters should do no worse than entertain long-term figures with their agents before the season tips off at the end of October.
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Ty Lawson is well on his way to establishing himself as the cornerstone of the Denver Nuggets franchise. The North Carolina product has been sensational since taking over as the team's starting point guard after the Carmelo Anthony trade in 2011.
In his first full season at the helm, Lawson posted averages of 16.4 points, 6.6 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from three. Along the way, Lawson nearly played his way into the 2012 All-Star Game and came agonizingly close to leading the Nuggets to a massive upset over the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.
Lawson's blinding speed and quickness with the ball make him a perfect fit to run George Karl's uptempo system in the Mile High City. And, at 24, there's still plenty of potential that's yet to be tapped.
Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri has already proven to be one of the most prudent executives in the NBA with the way he's retooled their roster into a fast-break-friendly bunch. Don't be surprised, then, if he convinces Lawson to sign on for another five years on a deal worth something in the neighborhood of $60 million.
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The Chicago Bulls don't appear to be taking their chances with Taj Gibson. The 27-year-old power forward out of USC told Scott Powers of ESPN Chicago earlier this month that the two sides have discussed an extension, though nothing appears too imminent just yet.
That figures to change soon enough, lest Bulls management decide to take a wait-and-see approach to Gibson's future. Of course, that didn't work out too well for them with Omer Asik, who left the Windy City for a windfall of his own with the Houston Rockets this summer.
Gibson will likely be called upon to absorb some of Asik's minutes this season and, perhaps, establish himself as a viable replacement for Carlos Boozer (should he be cut via the amnesty clause). As such, the sooner Chicago gets a deal done, the cheaper it'll be for the team going forward.
If there's anything Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf is looking for, it's a way to save money. His thriftiness and fear of the luxury tax played a part in the departure of much of Chicago's "Bench Mob" during the offseason. The last thing Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau needs is another reason to worry that his second unit might not be done crumbling.
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As valuable as he may be off the bench, Taj Gibson hardly deserves max money at the moment.
The same can't be said for James Harden. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year made clear his value to the Oklahoma City Thunder on the court this season while opening eyes around the league as to his superstar potential.
After all, if the Bearded One could average 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 39 percent from three as a reserve, imagine what he might be able to do as a full-time starter.
Or so the thinking around the league probably goes at the moment.
To be sure, Harden didn't acquit himself well in the NBA Finals and wasn't exactly a force of nature with Team USA at the 2012 London Olympics.
But the Thunder are well aware of what's at stake with Harden. As GM Sam Presti told Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman:
“James is somebody we value. We think he's an important part to what we're trying to do with our team and we're hopeful that he'll be with us.
“By the same token, we've been very upfront and transparent with everybody that we have some inherent challenges that we face as an organization as a result of the new collective bargaining agreement. I know we'd love to have him here. I think James would like to be here as well. But at the end of the day ... you have to find a way to make it work for everybody.”
This isn't to suggest that James is necessarily a goner, but if he's going to stay, it'll take a commitment between himself and the team before the season starts.
James Harden hasn't talked about max money but could get it if he wanted. Jrue Holiday, meanwhile, hasn't been shy to suggest that he "deserves" a huge deal, but has yet to show why.
To be sure, Holiday is a fine player who, at the age of 22, has only scratched the surface of his potential.
Still, Holiday is far from worthy of a cap-crushing contract. He actually regressed somewhat between years two and three and has plenty to prove as far as playing the point in the NBA is concerned.
That being said, the Philadelphia 76ers would be wise to talk Holiday down from his high horse sooner rather than later. They're already slated to have their hands full next summer, when star acquisition Andrew Bynum becomes an unrestricted free agent.
The last thing the Sixers need to worry about is crunching numbers for two stars in the span of a couple weeks, especially if Holiday plays well enough this season to make a max contract seem less preposterous.
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If you haven't heard of Nikola Pekovic by now, then it's about time you got familiar.
Surely, Minnesota Timberwolves GM David Kahn is, or should be after last season. The big Montenegrin was one of the league's most improved players in 2011-12, when he accounted for 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds while converting 56.4 percent of his shots from the field.
He also proved to be the perfect frontcourt complement for Kevin Love, as his physicality and presence on the interior allowed Love to slide back over to power forward full-time. Pek should be back and better than ever in 2012-13, when he'll have the center spot (almost) all to himself, with only free-agent signee Greg Stiemsma to challenge him.
If Kahn is smart—and fans in Minny know he isn't—he'll make sure Pek is a prominent part of the T-Wolves' long-term plans.
At the very least, Pek's skin is pale enough to render him a natural fit with the roster of the Great White North that Kahn has assembled in the Twin Cities.
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If it weren't for his troublesome ankle, Stephen Curry would've already put pen to paper on a long-term extension. Even so, Curry remains a prime candidate to secure his financial future before the season starts.
The 24-year-old scoring guard was phenomenal during his first two years in the NBA but saw his productivity dip in his third year on account of his physical ailments...and the fact that he played in just 26 of a possible 66 games.
In any case, the NBA is a point guard-league, and the Golden State Warriors would be hard-pressed to keep pace without taking care of their own. According to Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com, the Warriors will use the upcoming training camp and exhibition season to evaluate the strength of Stephen's ankle and determine whether to lock him up now or take their chances in restricted free agency next July.
Ultimately, it comes down to a very careful calculus for both sides. The Warriors don't want to tie up their cap space in a player with significant health risks, but also wouldn't care to see the expense of keeping Curry balloon if he fares well this season. As for Curry, he undoubtedly will be after the biggest contract he can get but might also be keen to hedge his own bets by extending early.
If Curry passes muster in camp, expect the Dubs to throw some numbers his way prior to the regular season.
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It's tough to tell where Brandon Jennings and the Milwaukee Bucks stand in relation to one another.
On the one hand, Jennings has never been shy to express his affections for big-market teams and the Bucks, for their part, would be just as willing to replace him Monta Ellis, who they acquired last March. On the other hand, Jennings has the talent to be a top-notch point guard, even if he hasn't played like one consistently, and recently told Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he would "love" to sign an extension to stay in Milwaukee.
It's a tough situation to read, to say the least—one that may well hinge on his rapport with Monta in training camp. Given owner Herb Kohl's refusal to extend head coach Scott Skiles and GM John Hammond after the 2011-12 season, it stands to reason that he might be willing to part ways with Jennings as a vestige of the managerial regime.
Then again, players who average 19 points and five assists don't exactly grow on trees, even in this golden age of point guards. Max money isn't likely in the cards for Jennings, though another four or five years at, say, $10 million per would be well within reason.