Will Extensions Become More Prevalent with Restricted Free-Agency Issues?

D.J. FosterContributor IJuly 23, 2014

Apr 30, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons (25) reacts to making a three-pointer during the third quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers in game five of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Sports

There are a few lessons the 2014 free-agency period has taught us. For example, shooting, and not necessarily scoring, is what the market rewards now. The luxury tax, as we saw for the Indiana Pacers, is still a real concern. 

But perhaps the biggest takeaway from this offseason is just how dangerous restricted free agency has become.

Teams are getting more comfortable with the collective bargaining agreement and simultaneously more aggressive in saddling their rivals with deals that kill flexibility, which in turn can make restricted free agency a minefield. 

DENVER, CO - APRIL 9: Chandler Parsons #25 of the Houston Rockets drives against the Denver Nuggets on April 9, 2014 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photo
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

The primary example of this is former Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons, who wasn't scheduled to become a restricted free agent but was made one by Houston general manager Daryl Morey when he declined his team option. 

Here's T.D. Williams for The Cauldron:

(...) the Rockets could have kept Parsons at the bargain price of $960,000 for the 2014-15 season, but they declined a team option so as to avoid letting the 25-year-old hit the market next summer as an unrestricted free agent.

In short, the Rockets lost Parsons because they strategized specifically not to lose him — a confounding turn of events. Morey either underestimated the demand for Parsons or overestimated the Rockets’ chances to sign marquee free agents Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh. Either way, this was a horrific misstep that, at least for now, cripples a team that was harboring immediate title aspirations.

While it's not exactly fair to ignore the details and the chance Houston had to build a dynasty, the end result is what it is.

Restricted free agency came back to bite the Rockets horribly, mostly because the Dallas Mavericks saw the opportunity to land a talented young player that they knew wouldn't pass up such a tremendous offer sheet. 

Here's what Morey told SportsTalk 790 AM in Houston:

'The Mavericks are a smart organization,' Morey said on SportsTalk 790 AM in Houston. 'They obviously wanted to get him. That structure of that [contract] is literally one of the most untradeable structures that I’ve ever seen. That’s why it came down to a bet of Harden, Howard and Parsons being the final piece, because we would have had no ability to do anything after that.'

There are a few different ways to view this. Players that are in the position to negotiate a contract extension may look at what happened with Parsons and see the dollar signs. If teams want to sign RFAs to massive offer sheets, it obviously behooves the players and agents to hold out and wait for free agency.

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 16: Eric Bledsoe #2 of the Phoenix Suns in a game against the Sacramento Kings on April16, 2014 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using t
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

The flip side of that is the high-risk, high-reward nature of it all. As cap space and demand around the league dry up, restricted free agents like Greg Monroe and Eric Bledsoe may be losing a good deal of their negotiating power. Essentially, they can no longer drive a hard bargain with the threat of a max offer in the offseason looming.

Bledsoe and Monroe should both be just fine financially at the end of day, despite the long wait, as they can always threaten to accept the qualifying offer and enter next year's offseason unrestricted. We've never seen players of their caliber do that before, so it's incredibly unlikely, but they likely didn't cost themselves much by failing to secure an offer sheet this offseason.

The main thing to consider is the situation restricted free agency can place teams in. It seems like a high-risk, low-reward endeavor for the most part, as you either end up having to let the player loose (like Houston) or paying far above what was previously being negotiated, as was the case with the Utah Jazz and Gordon Hayward. 

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - April 16:  Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz drives to the basket against the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 16, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadin
Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

Here's more on Hayward's deal via ESPN.com:

Utah could have kept Hayward off the open market had it negotiated a contract extension with the versatile swingman back in October.

But talks broke down last year, with Hayward reportedly seeking a four-year contract valued at $13 million annually and Utah reportedly holding firm at $12 million annually.

Instead of $13 million a year, Utah will pay Hayward over $15 million a season. That's not an insignificant chunk of change, and the player option negotiated by Hayward with the Charlotte Hornets for the final season holds for his new deal in Utah. Instead of just four or five years of being on contract, Utah may only have Hayward for three now. 

Don't forget about the panic that comes with having a restricted free agent dangling out there.

While it doesn't seem like the Sacramento Kings valued Isaiah Thomas in the first place, it's hard to justify paying Darren Collison about $1 million less a year to take his place, particularly since that's an asset Sacramento could have used to address a hole elsewhere (although that would take them into the luxury tax).

Point being, there's an uncomfortable amount of uncertainty that comes with having a restricted free agent out there on the market. 

The question is, will teams be more willing to sign fringe, non-max players to extensions in order to avoid the risk of losing them or overpaying in the next offseason?

This year could be a great test, as Kyrie Irving is the only player to extend to a max deal so far. With Kawhi Leonard being the only other player worthy of that kind of money, there will be a lot of teams with players that have talents more in the line of Hayward that might lean toward handing out an early extension.

TORONTO, ON - MAY 04:  Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Toronto Raptors tries to make a shot over Andray Blatche #0 of the Brooklyn Nets in Game Seven of the NBA Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at the Air Canada Centre on May 4, 2014 in Toronto, Ontario, Can
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Take Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, for example. Big men are always overpaid in free agency, and it's possible Valanciunas has a breakout year for the up-and-coming Raptors. Will it be worth it to negotiate a higher price and extend early instead of waiting for the offseason, where Valanciunas could potentially pull down a max offer sheet? 

Given how we've seen a few teams burned this offseason, it wouldn't be a surprise if non-max extensions became a little more prevalent.

Before, the risk always looked to be on the side of the player, as he was betting on himself having a great year.

But now with teams being more willing to sabotage a competitor's plans and use their cap space for both good and evil, the risk-averse move may be to offer players a real extension early and attempt to avoid the potential pitfalls of restricted free agency altogether.