Predicting Which Young NBA Stars Will Get Extensions by Halloween Deadline
Halloween is all about the three C's—costumes, candy and...ummm...what's the third one? EPA?
No, that's not it. Oh, right! Contracts.
As it happens, October 31 is also the deadline for teams around the NBA to strike deals with their players who'd otherwise be headed for restricted free agency in the summer of 2013.
If recent history is any indication, it appears as though organizations have been spooked by the prospect of dishing out dollars to youngsters like they're dispensing candy corn. The frequency of such agreements has declined over the years—from seven for the class of 2006 to six for the class of 2007 to only five for the class of 2008.
Two members of the class of 2009—Blake Griffin and Serge Ibaka—have already gotten paid, though the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement (along with a relative dearth of talent) may keep this year's crop of contract extendees to another low.
In the spirit of the season, let's have a look at which budding stars will have treats waiting in their respective goodie bags, and which will be stewing over tricks until July 1 rolls around.
The scuttlebutt over James Harden's contract situation with the Oklahoma City Thunder has been one of the most intriguing stories of the preseason so far. On the one hand, the Thunder would be loath to lose Harden, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and a budding All-Star at shooting guard. With him, OKC has three dynamic scorers (including Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant) serving as the core of a team that can contend for titles for years to come.
On the other hand, the Thunder have already shelled out big bucks to keep Westbrook, Durant and Serge Ibaka long term, and have an unseemly amount of money invested in Kendrick Perkins. Adding Harden to the payroll would almost certainly send OKC into the league's luxury tax, which folks in the organization have claimed it can't afford.
What the Thunder really can't afford, though, is to squander such a golden opportunity to compete for championships with a homegrown roster. If GM Sam Presti is going to keep the band together, he'd do well to get a deal done with Harden before The Bearded One hits the open market, whereupon he's likely to garner a max offer sheet in the neighborhood of $58 million.
Get a deal done now, and Presti can ensure that Harden's impending free agency won't hamstring OKC's 2012-13 season...and that the team won't have to drive over a fiscal cliff to lock Harden in for the foreseeable future.
Trick (No Extension) or Treat (Extension)? Treat
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Remember when Tyreke Evans looked like the league's "Next Big Thing"? The guy who went just after James Harden in the '09 draft burst onto the scene with a historic 20-5-5 season, bringing hope to the Sacramento Kings where once there was none.
Then came two seasons of regression brought on by injuries, poor conditioning and an allegedly subpar attitude on Evans' part. It certainly doesn't help that he's been stuck amidst such a malignant organization to begin with.
In any case, the odds of Evans earning an extension now are slim to none. Kings GM Geoff Petrie has already suggested that the team will take a wait-and-see approach with him this season before making any decisions.
In the meantime, don't be surprised if the Kings continue to shop Evans around, as they did in the days surrounding the 2012 draft.
Trick or Treat? Trick
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If I had to pick one extension-eligible player to come away with a new deal by the Halloween deadline, I'd take Ty Lawson.
The stocky point guard out of North Carolina came into his own as a full-time starter last season with the Denver Nuggets. His speed, strength, shooting ability and vision make him the perfect fit for George Karl's frenetic, up-tempo style of play.
Lawson has made it clear that he wants to stay in Denver over the long haul, and it appears as though the Nuggets are ready to make a firm commitment. According to Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal-Times, the Nuggets have discussed an extension in the neighborhood of four years and $45 million. That would put Lawson on par with Boston Celtics All-Star Rajon Rondo as far as yearly salary is concerned.
Negotiations could go into the 11th hour, but expect Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri, a rising star in his profession, to find a creative way to get the deal done, by hook or by crook.
Trick or Treat? Treat
If Brandon Jennings is to secure his future with the Milwaukee Bucks, his agent, Bill Duffy, had better get things moving with the team's front office soon. By all accounts (including Jennings'), there's been little (if any) movement on the part of either party toward that end.
That doesn't seem likely to change within the next six days. The Bucks have already committed some serious cash to the likes of Ersan Ilyasova, Drew Gooden and John Salmons, and may be more inclined to see how Jennings' backcourt partnership with Monta Ellis works out before they invest themselves in it too heavily.
It's well within reason that the Bucks will look to move the 23-year-old guard at some point before the February 21 trade deadline. The Los Angeles native has spoken openly in the past about his desire to play in a bigger market, though he's recently changed his tune to a certain extent.
But if things go south in Milwaukee this season, expect to see Jennings suiting up in different colors before too long.
Trick or Treat? Trick
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Stephen Curry's situation with the Golden State Warriors may be too close to call. Both sides decided to table discussions until after the preseason so as to better evaluate the progress of Curry's recovery from ankle surgery before making the call.
However, doing so leaves little time for those involved to strike a deal before the deadline passes. The recurrence of Curry's ankle troubles this month doesn't bring any more clarity to the situation, at least not in any positive sense of the matter.
Still, it's clear that the Warriors view Steph (along with Andrew Bogut) as the cornerstone of the franchise. A sweet-shooting combo guard like Curry is the perfect fit for a league that's smaller, more wide open and more point-guard-heavy than ever before.
Ultimately, though, the Dubs may be better off holding off till next summer, when they'll have a better idea of Curry's market value and on-court viability.
Trick or Treat? Trick
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The crack between what Jrue Holiday wants and what the Philadelphia 76ers are willing to offer may well be as jarring (if not more so) than the one that distinguishes the Liberty Bell in the City of Brotherly Love.
According to Steve Kyler of Hoopsworld, Holiday wants a max deal, while the Sixers have discussed something in the neighborhood of $9 million per season.
Holiday seems like he wants to stay in Philly and the Sixers would be glad to have him, but at what cost? They'll need to set aside substantial resources to bring Andrew Bynum back next year (assuming that's what they end up wanting to do) and to deal with Evan Turner's impending extension talks next fall. Fitting in all those deals under one roof will be no easy feat.
More importantly, Holiday has yet to prove that he deserves such a hefty commitment. He's shown flashes of star potential during his three years in the NBA, but also appeared to regress last season, when everyone and their mother expected a breakout campaign from the UCLA product.
Unless Jrue budges, the Sixers will likely wait to let the market decide Holiday's value come July.
Trick or Treat? Trick
Taj Gibson is unusually old for a player eligible for a rookie-scale extension—he turned 27 this past June—though his relatively advanced age should do nothing to diminish his value over the next few days.
He's essentially the frontcourt version of James Harden—an uber-valuable sixth man who's good enough to start and, as such, could command some serious cash on the open market. Like the Thunder, the Chicago Bulls find themselves in a bit of a fiscal bind.
Not because they don't have the money, but rather because team owner Jerry Reinsdorf isn't all that willing to spend it. This year will mark the first time in franchise history that the Bulls dip into the league's luxury tax and will be hard-pressed not to do so going forward.
Unless, of course, they make the obvious move and dump Carlos Boozer's contract via the amnesty clause. They'd still have to pay Boozer, but at least his figure wouldn't count against the cap.
A strong season by Gibson (as most expect) would make cutting Carlos much easier to stomach. After all, if Taj is good enough to start (which it appears he is), then why bother keeping an aging forward who doesn't defend, doesn't shoot as well as he used to and has trouble hiding how old he is?
And if there's any team that understands the perils of letting a player test restricted free agency, it's the Bulls. They took that approach with Omer Asik before he ultimately bolted for a pricy $25.1-million deal with the Houston Rockets over the summer.
If the Bulls want to contend in the Eastern Conference once Derrick Rose is back at full strength, they'll need Taj Gibson in their corner. And if they want Taj Gibson in their corner without breaking the bank long term, they'd do well to get him signed ASAP.
Trick or Treat? Treat