Last-Minute NBA Rookie Scale Extension Predictions
The deadline for rookie scale extensions is nigh.
The top stars of the 2019 draft class received max money over five additional years ($194.6 million to $233.2 million), including Zion Williamson (No. 1), Ja Morant (No. 2) and Darius Garland (No. 5). Others got solid four-year deals done such as RJ Barrett (No. 3, $107 million to $120 million), Tyler Herro (No. 13, $120 million to $130 million) and Keldon Johnson (No. 29, $74 million to $80 million).
Teams have until Oct. 17 to lock in extensions for the remaining first-rounders from 2019. If deals are not reached, the players can be made restricted free agents in July. Sometimes it's best for both parties to wait. For others, like Deandre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns, the delay can cause chemistry and trust issues.
Everyone wants as much money as possible, but teams must also be careful where they invest their resources.
The following players are on the clock:
Jordan Poole in the Herro/Barrett Range?
The champion Golden State Warriors have been in the news for all the wrong reasons, with Poole (No. 28) the recipient of a Draymond Green punch. Regardless of the incident, the Warriors and Poole have been negotiating for some time.
According to multiple sources, a deal could be close in a range similar to what Tyler Herro and RJ Barrett got with their respective franchises. Like Herro, Poole brings firepower off the bench for a playoff contender. Both players hope to move into the starting group eventually. While Poole has played that role before for the Warriors because of injuries to others, he's currently behind legends Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
Poole started 51 games last season, scoring 18.5 points while shooting a league-best 92.5 percent from the free-throw line. If he's not in a starring role because of circumstances, he'd like to be paid like a star. Golden State could compromise on a four-year deal in the $110 million to $125 million range.
De'Andre Hunter Primed for a Payday
The Miami Heat ended the Atlanta Hawks' playoff run in the first round, but De'Andre Hunter (No. 4) went off in the final game for 35 points and 11 rebounds. He's the prototype three-and-D forward teams value highly, though the more significant concern for Hunter is durability, as he's missed considerable time over the past couple of seasons.
"He still has upside," a competing executive said. "Four years, $80 million would be solid, gambling on health and upside."
It's unclear where the Hawks stand near the extension deadline, but with the salary cap projected to climb almost 8.5 percent (some expect it to reach 10 percent), high-level players are looking for that rise to be baked into their deals. If Hunter is worth an $18 million starting salary under the current $123.7 million salary cap, he may expect that same percentage of the cap based on a $134 million projection for 2023-24 for a $19.5 million starting salary.
This one can go either way, but after a down season, the Hawks err on the side of caution and wait.
Cam Johnson may Have to Wait
Going by the precedent set with Deandre Ayton, the Suns may choose to wait until next summer to pay Cam Johnson (No. 11). The counterargument is that they gave Mikal Bridges and Landry Shamet extensions last season (which only compounded the awkwardness with Ayton).
According to an agent source, the Suns are hesitant with Johnson because, "When he's healthy [enough to play], he's still not healthy."
Johnson averaged 61 games a season over his first three years. Unfortunately, he suffered a sprained thumb four minutes into his second preseason game. The Suns may be looking for a Kyle Kuzma-type extension; he earned a flat $13 million per season in 2020 from the Los Angeles Lakers. Considering the rising cap, that might translate to a $15.5 million starting salary.
Is that enough for Johnson to commit? He likely chooses to bet on himself and explore restricted free agency for a healthier payday in July.
Three Important Role Players on Contenders
Three playoff teams and three role players eligible for extensions. Matisse Thybulle (No. 20) is a high-level on-ball defender who struggles to score for the Philadelphia 76ers. Brandon Clarke (No. 21) with the Memphis Grizzlies and Grant Williams (No. 22) of the Boston Celtics are bench players who can play either power position. Clarke relies on his mobility and athleticism, while Williams is a physical presence who has become a reliable weapon as an outside shooter.
All three could extend, though finding the right price may delay their contracts to restricted free agency. Would Thybulle get more than the two-year, $13.3 million deal Bruce Brown Jr. got from the Denver Nuggets? If Nicolas Claxton is the comp for Clarke, he received a two-year, $17.3 million to $19.9 million contract in July. Perhaps Maxi Kleber's $33 million over three seasons with the Dallas Mavericks matches Williams' role with Boston—or Bobby Portis' four-year, $48.6 million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks.
For Thybulle, Clarke and Williams, an extension must be enough to make playing through the year on an expiring contract too risky, but the number needs to be large enough to be worthwhile. Are they important enough to each franchise for that investment?
Pencil in an extension for Williams at $44 million over four years. The others have to wait.
Are They Part of the Team's Future?
If Lonzo Ball can get healthy, the Chicago Bulls have a long list of viable guards with Zach LaVine, Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu, Goran Dragic and even DeMar DeRozan. Coby White (No. 7) may be more of a luxury. He may be better off finding a new home with more opportunities.
The Washington Wizards have a still-intriguing prospect in Rui Hachimura (No. 9), but the 6'8" forward has averaged just 49 games per season. He could grow into a foundational piece, but it may be too soon for the Wizards to make that commitment.
P.J. Washington (No. 12) is a solid role player for the Charlotte Hornets. He could be near the Nicolas Claxton or Bobby Portis price range and may be most likely to get a deal in this section.
Kevin Porter Jr. (No. 30) was the most productive last season of the four listed, averaging 15.6 points with 6.2 assists per game in 61 starts for the Houston Rockets. He's become a viable contributor, but the Rockets are currently rebuilding. A viable comp would be Markelle Fultz's three-year, $50 million to $53 million contract in 2020. The Rockets may take their time before committing to Porter.
Put Washington down for three years, $33 million. The rest go to free agency.
Probably Not Happening
While some of the draft class may not have broken through yet, that does not mean they are not in the plans. If a team can lock in a player with potential at a discount price, perhaps a few smaller deals could get done in the $5 million to $10 million starting range.
Some have carved out regular roles, including Jaxson Hayes (No. 8) with the New Orleans Pelicans, Darius Bazley (No. 23) with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Nassir Little (No. 25) with the Portland Trail Blazers. But none have established themselves as clear priorities for their respective franchises. Hayes and Little might be able to get a deal in the $6 million to $8 million starting range, while Bazley may need to take an extremely favorable deal to stick with the Thunder.
Others do not appear to be priorities, including Cam Reddish (No. 10) with the Knicks, Romeo Langford (No. 14) of the Spurs and Dylan Windler (No. 26) on the Cleveland Cavaliers. Goga Bitadze (No. 18) played a lesser role with the Indiana Pacers than teammate Jalen Smith (who re-signed for three years, $15.1 million). The Utah Jazz's youth movement may open an opportunity for Nickeil Alexander-Walker (No. 17), who barely played last year after an in-season trade from the Pelicans.
No Deals for the Rest
While Chuma Okeke (No. 16) was drafted in 2019, he didn't sign with the Orlando Magic until 2020 and won't be extension-eligible until next summer.
Others did not last through their rookie scale contracts and cannot be extended, including Jarrett Culver (No. 6), Sekou Doumbouya (No. 15), Luka Samanic (No. 19), Ty Jerome (No. 24) and Mfiondu Kabengele (No. 27).
Second-round picks aren't eligible for rookie-scale extensions. Daniel Gafford (No. 38) of the Wizards, Terance Mann (No. 48) of the Los Angeles Clippers and Nicolas Claxton (No. 31) have already extended. Some are already on their second or third contracts, including Talen Horton-Tucker (No. 46) of the Utah Jazz and Bol Bol (No. 44) of the Magic.