B/R Staff Roundtable: Mock Negotiating Rookie-Scale Max Extensions
While the NBA is on hiatus amid the coronavirus pandemic, there’s hope that this season will eventually be completed and that the league and players will reach an agreement to offset the financial losses brought on by the shutdown.
Looking ahead to that future, what will the offseason look like for max or near-max players eligible for rookie-scale extensions?
For the sake of the exercise, we’ll operate under the assumption that the league’s salary-cap projections for the next two seasons hold firm at $115 million for 2020-21 and $125 million for 2021-22. To be clear, it’s still very possible the cap could drop due to financial fallout from the pandemic.
The B/R staff has taken on the roles of various player agents, representing the likes of Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox and Lonzo Ball, among others. Representing each team is B/R capologist Eric Pincus.
Their agents will make the case for max extensions to executives Dennis Lindsey, Danny Ainge, Vlade Divac, David Griffin and others. Will the teams agree, counter or walk away from negotiations entirely?
The Reality: How Rookie-Scale Extensions Work
For former first-round picks, before they start the fourth and final season of their rookie-scale contract, they’re eligible for a contract extension. While that window is normally open from July to the day before the opening game of the season, this year’s crop will be on an abbreviated timeline once this season's games restart and are completed (or canceled outright).
They can agree to contracts of varying years and dollar amounts. For a standard extension, the players can add on four additional years (in what is called a five-year extension). If the team chooses to give the player the "designated rookie" tag, they can sign for five more years (technically a six-year extension).
A designated rookie can sign for either four or five additional years but must be offered a maximum salary starting at 25 percent of the salary cap. They can additionally agree to a “supermax” deal that climbs above 25 percent to a maximum of 30 percent, but that player will need to qualify by reaching one of three criteria:
- NBA Most Valuable Player for 2019-20 or 2020-21.
- Defensive Player of the Year for 2019-20 or 2020-21.
- All-NBA first, second or third team twice over the three years prior to the extension’s first season, or the most recent season before the extension begins.
In the case of the upcoming class, none were named to an All-NBA team for the 2018-19 season, so what will be significant is making an All-NBA team in 2020-21. Teams can only have two designated rookies on extensions.
Other points to consider in an extension include incentives, trade kickers (up to 15 percent) and general structure of a deal. Is it a flat salary per year or does it ascend or descend (by up to 8 percent) throughout?
If a deal is not reached before the start of the next season, that player will hit restricted free agency the following summer. Their teams will have the right of first refusal to match offers that come in from competing franchises, which by definition cannot be longer than four years and are capped at 5 percent raises.
Jayson Tatum vs. the Boston Celtics
Agent Pitch: Tatum Has the Makings of a Celtics Great
Our client, Jayson Tatum, has earned a max contract from the Boston Celtics after making the leap this year. We are expecting a designated rookie tag with room for the supermax should he become eligible and a 15 percent trade kicker. He is on pace to become the face of the franchise and should be compensated as such.
Tatum is the Celtics' leading scorer at 23.6 points per night. He really exploded in February, averaging 30.7 points per game. Tatum has also become a better passer. His assist percentage is at 13.9 percent and has him in the 77th percentile for wings, according to Cleaning The Glass. This is a big jump from his rookie year, when he was in the 39th percentile among wings with an 8.1 assist percentage.
Tatum's improvement has not just been on the offensive end. The Celtics' defensive rating is at its best with Tatum on the court (minimum of 1,000 minutes) at 103.5. This is an improvement from the 105.1 defensive rating the Celtics had with him the court last season.
In his third season, Tatum made the first of many future All-Star appearances and has emerged as the Celtics' No. 1 option. He already has two seasons of playoff experience, with a career average of 17.4 points. Tatum is a superstar in the making and has a chance to be a Celtic great.
Team Response: You Get What You Ask For (Except One Thing)
So you don't want us to also model the leprechaun logo after Tatum, but everything else. Got it. There's no question he's an important part of our future. We're excited to continue that partnership moving ahead.
We're happy to commit to the six-year extension. He would initially qualify for the 25 percent of the max, but he will need to earn one of the major awards (Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year) or earn an All-NBA placement next season. We'll work to help him get there, but it's up to Tatum to do the work.
Drop the trade kicker, though—we're giving you everything you're asking for without an argument. We're not extending him to trade him.
Agent Response: Done Deal
Actually, if we can make it a ripped-looking leprechaun, we'd like that too. Tatum will accept the deal with no trade kicker and is excited to become the new face of the franchise.
Bam Adebayo vs. the Miami Heat
Agent Pitch: Max or You're Crazy
Bam Adebayo deserves a max contract, as his game has grown exponentially to where he's now a core member of the Miami Heat.
With the trade of Hassan Whiteside opening the door last offseason, Adebayo's scoring has jumped from 8.9 points per game to 16.2.
Coach Erik Spoelstra is able to run offensive sets through him since his passing game has blossomed. In fact, he is second in assists among power forwards, behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Heat have a net rating of 4.6 when Adebayo is on the floor and a 0.5 when he is off. He is the team's leading rebounder at 10.5 boards per night while being the second-leading scorer and playmaker.
There are few big men who can do what Adebayo does, and he's only at the beginning of his career. Can the Heat afford not to give him the max?
Team Response: Let's Figure This Out, But See It From Our Perspective
We love Adebayo. He's done everything that's been asked of him and is absolutely in our plans. As you know, the Heat are about winning championships, and we expect Adebayo to be an integral part of what's to come.
To that end, we have prioritized the summer of 2021 as the best opportunity to make that push. Cap space is at a premium, which is why we would like to wait until then. His cap hold before signing as a restricted free agent in 2020 would be just $15.3 million. Our goal would be to first use our cap space and then re-sign Adebayo immediately after.
We're willing to extend him now, starting at the cap hold amount of $15,346,476, but anything above that would limit our flexibility. We want to make sure Adebayo finishes his career in Miami with multiple championships—this is the best path to that end.
We have no intention of making him fish around as a restricted free agent.
Agent Response: Adebayo > His Comps at That Price
That extension offer puts Adebayo in the same market range as Clint Capela despite having a superior skill set. Our expectation is that there will be a max contract waiting for Adebayo on the market. It's just a matter if that is going to come from the Heat or someone else.
Team response: RFA It Is
We have no doubt that he'll continue to put in the work to become max-worthy. When the time comes for restricted free agency, we're confident we'll continue our relationship for many years to come.
Donovan Mitchell vs. the Utah Jazz
Agent Pitch: Donavan Deserves the Designated Rookie Player Extension
The Utah Jazz fanbase was leveled on July 4, 2017, when Gordon Hayward bolted for the Boston Celtics. It was one of the shortest-lived melancholies in league history, though, thanks to Donovan Mitchell.
Utah traded up in the 2017 draft to select Mitchell, and he almost instantly made the Denver Nuggets look silly for being on the other end of that deal, becoming just the second rookie in the last 20 years to average 20-plus points and take his team to the postseason.
And he hasn't let up since then. Mitchell has been Utah's leading scorer during each of his three campaigns. Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Walter Davis are the only players in NBA history who matched or exceeded Mitchell's averages for points, assists and steals per 75 possessions through their first three seasons. And across all regular-season and playoff games over these three seasons, the Jazz scored 2.6 more points per 100 possessions with Mitchell on the floor. The offense depends on him. And despite the presence of Mike Conley on the roster for at least one more season, Mitchell remains the team's point guard of the future.
Now, having said all that, the on-court value brought by Mitchell is only part of why Utah has to keep him. This team hasn't had a star this marketable since perhaps the Stockton-and-Malone era. And even they didn't capture national attention as quickly as he did. Big names don't pick the Jazz in free agency in their primes. Premier talent generally has to be drafted and homegrown. If the organization lets Mitchell walk, or even test restricted free agency, it could be years—or even decades—till they find someone who brings the same off-court value.
The Jazz should give Mitchell the "designated rookie player extension" tag and give him the most money and years they possibly can.
Team Response: Let's Work Some Incentives into the Deal
We're very happy with Mitchell and what he's brought to the franchise. We're excited to see what we can do together over the coming years. I want to emphasize before we reach any agreement, he and Rudy Gobert need to reconcile whatever issues they may have with each other. The organization is happy to help facilitate a conversation, if need be, but both players are vital to our team's long-term success.
That said, a six-year extension would work for us as well. We are happy to give out a designated rookie extension, but it's up to Mitchell to earn supermax eligibility. If he is named NBA Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year or makes the All-NBA first team through the 2020-21 season, we'd be willing to give the full 30 percent max. If he gets there by the All-NBA second team, we would do 28.5 percent of the max. All-NBA third team qualification will earn him 27 percent of the max.
If he doesn't meet any of those milestones, which we'll do everything within our power as an organization to help him reach, by rule, Mitchell will lock in at 25 percent of the cap. We look forward to a long, fruitful partnership!
Agent Response: Done Deal
We're on board on all fronts. We agree that the team is most likely to reach its ceiling with both Donovan and Rudy on board. We'll do what we can to bring Donovan to that table, so to speak.
John Collins vs. the Atlanta Hawks
Agent Pitch: We Expect a Major Offer
John Collins is an All-Star in the making. Over his last two seasons, he's averaged 22.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.2 threes and 1.1 blocks per 75 possessions. He and Karl-Anthony Towns are the only players in league history to have multiple seasons with averages of at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and one three per 75 possessions before their age-23 season. His production is borderline unprecedented.
What may be more important, though, is how well Collins fits with Trae Young. The point guard has drawn plenty of comparisons to Stephen Curry in his young career, but he may be closer to a more aggressive Steve Nash. Collins has the potential to be Young's Amar'e Stoudemire, only with three-point range. This, ultimately, could be the evolution of those Seven Seconds or Less Suns.
Over the course of their time together, Atlanta is minus-2.6 points per 100 possessions when both Collins and Young are on the floor, but they're minus-9.6 when Young plays without Collins. The big man's ability to either roll or pop out off ball screens makes him the most modern 5 on the Hawks roster. And his explosiveness suggests the ability to develop into a defensive anchor as well.
Atlanta would be wise to surround these two with gritty, switchable wings, but even if the team feels determined to slot Collins at the 4 alongside Clint Capela, he can do that too. His expanding range and off-the-dribble game show he won't crowd Capela inside, and he has the lateral quickness to defend other modern 4s outside.
As a foundational piece alongside Young, Collins deserves a six-year designated rookie extension. He'll put in the work to earn a supermax.
Team Response: Sure, But Let's Not Go Crazy
We can't agree more that Collins is a special player with a bright, bright future in the league with the Hawks organization. Young and Collins are a dynamic pair. We're really excited to see what our trade-deadline acquisitions will do, given the chance, especially with Capela providing defensive support inside next to Collins.
The challenge for our young team is overinvesting too early, given our 20-47 record. We would need more time to seriously consider a contract at that level. If and when he proves himself, that's a number we'd be more open to discussing when he's a restricted free agent in 2021. Assuming he helps the team blossom, we won't be outbid by any competitors on the market.
Another advantage in waiting is taking advantage of his relatively low cap hit of $12.4 million next summer. Waiting will give the franchise even more spending power to build a contender around Collins, Young and the rest.
We'd be happy to lock him in ahead of that in a five-year extension, adding on four additional years, but not at the numbers requested. Something closer to the $18 million-per-season range feels like a reasonable compromise, on par with players like Julius Randle or Aaron Gordon. We'd be willing to sacrifice some of our flexibility for 2021 to make sure Collins has peace of mind and financial security.
It's too early for us to consider a max contract, but we are open to finding that middle ground.
Agent Response: Let's Find a Solution
All those concerns make sense, especially given the changing landscape for bigs in today's NBA. However, we feel Collins profiles as well as anyone for life as a modern 5. He has the physical profile to anchor a defense and has a rapidly developing perimeter game that even suggests playmaking 5 potential down the road.
A team will chase him aggressively in restricted free agency, but the idea of playing long term with Trae is enticing too.
How about the length of the five-year extension you offered, along with an escalating salary starting at $18 million?
Team Response: How About 4 Years, $17M?
Four additional years starting at $16.1 million would pay out $72.1 million, averaging $18.03 million per season. An $18 million starting salary would pay $80.6 million, averaging at $20.16 million.
Let's meet in the middle at $17,050,000 starting for a four-year total of $76.38 million.
Agent Response: Done
You have yourself a deal. Now, let's sit back and enjoy those Young-Collins pick-and-rolls.
Lonzo Ball vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Agent Pitch: Keep Lonzo Happy to Keep Zion Happy
Let's cut to the chase: With Lonzo Ball by his side, Zion Williamson is a surefire All-Star.
Zion's 11.9 plus/minus shrinks to minus-6.8 without Ball per 36 minutes, and there's a wild net-rating swing of 15.2 to minus-7.5. Per Basketball Reference, Ball and Zion outscore opponents by 14.5 points per 100 possessions.
Zion needs Lonzo, and their two-man game is pure synergy.
From full-court lobs to drive-and-kicks, the two have already established a connection that allows them to bully opponents in transition and in half-court sets. While putting up Shaq-like numbers at the rim, Zion still relies on others to put him in position to succeed. In fact, 75.6 percent of his made baskets were assisted in his 19 games.
Their off-court connection has been notable too.
"We do feel the hype, but right now I am just trying to get a feel for my teammates," Williamson said on ESPN+'s NBA Rooks. "Lonzo went through a similar situation, so he knows what I am going through right now, and he is giving great advice on how to handle it."
"Zion can come to me for anything," Ball added. "It doesn't have to be basketball-related. I am always here for him, and obviously you know his play on the court is amazing."
Ball's effect isn't limited to Zion.
The starting group of Ball, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Williamson and Derrick Favors produced the best net rating in the NBA among units that played 180 minutes or more. Since Dec. 18, Ball averaged 13.6 points, 7.9 assists and 7.2 rebounds while shooting over 40 percent from three on 6.8 attempts per game in addition to posting the team's fourth-best plus-minus. Only LeBron James, Luka Doncic and Ben Simmons bettered that production over the second half of the season.
The Pelicans were flying with this young group and need stability after being forced to deal their second franchise icon less than one year ago. The team and Ingram came to an understanding due to his complicated injury history that forced him to play out the season after being extension-eligible in 2019. No such excuse lies with Ball.
Request: five years, 25 percent maximum salary. Starting salary can increase to 30 percent of the cap if Ball finishes on the All-NBA team, plus a 15 percent trade bonus and player option in his final season.
— Preston Ellis
Team Response: That's Wild. Let's Look at Some Comps...
The future is bright in New Orleans. There's no question we're at the start of something special with our young group, including Ball. The challenge will be forging ahead wisely to turn this squad into a perennial contender. We have to worry about Holiday, Ingram, Zion and our veterans like JJ Redick and Favors.
To tie up that amount in Ball would be difficult. If that's the ask, we're better off waiting until restricted free agency next summer to let the market decide.
For reference, here are salaries for some other capable point guards around the league: Spencer Dinwiddie ($11.5 million), Ricky Rubio ($17 million), Eric Bledsoe ($17.5 million), Terry Rozier ($18.9 million), Malcolm Brogdon ($21.3 million).
An $18 million average over four years would make sense for Ball. We'd prefer to start at $20.5 million and then descend each year for a total of $72.16 million. We'd include the requested trade bonus as an additional incentive, but we have no intention of trading him.
Agent Response: We're Not Bluffing
My client is dedicated to New Orleans. He wants this group to stay intact while still earning what he deserves in his prime.
Lonzo, the No. 2 pick in 2017, hasn't reached his ceiling. He is also the perfect fit for what you are building in New Orleans and fully unleashes your franchise player. In the interest of making a deal, we've convinced him to waive his trade kicker.
We are willing to come down to the deal Jaylen Brown signed last summer (four years, $115 million) in de-escalating value, giving your franchise long-term relief. Lonzo is willing to do what it takes to bring the core back.
We want to keep Zion focused on his development, not on outside distractions. Since these two players are already so close, it would benefit your organization to make sure Ball keeps him focused on New Orleans and not on contract negotiations.
Let's make a deal now and focus on the foundation the Pelicans have built in 2020. If the above terms are not met, my client will earn the full max in 2021 when teams that miss on Giannis have money to spend.
Team Response: Good Luck Out There!
We're going to have to wait until July if that's the demand. We'd be willing to add almost $10 million to the offer: $22 million starting salary, descending for an $82 million total.
Given Ball's history, physically, that's a lot to turn down.
De'Aaron Fox vs. the Sacramento Kings
Agent Pitch: Secure Your Future All-Star at All Costs
De'Aaron Fox is the face of the Sacramento Kings franchise as well as a future All-Star and needs to be paid as such.
Despite missing 17 games with a Grade 3 ankle sprain in 2019-20, my client was one of just nine players to average 20 points, 6.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds or more per game, joining Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Nikola Jokic, LeBron James, Trae Young and Luka Doncic.
Each of those players were selected to play in the 2020 All-Star Game (Booker was an injury replacement for Lillard). Had he finished the remainder of the season, my client would've moved definitively into the top 15 all-time in points, assists, rebounds and steals among players 22 or younger.
Prior to the season, FiveThirtyEight's predictive algorithm graded Fox as a future All-Star with a five-year market value of $194 million after he graded in the 86th percentile in efficiency differential in 2018-19, per Cleaning The Glass. Fox attacks the rim, draws contact and puts defenses on their heels as well as anyone at his age.
My client is happy in Sacramento and looks forward to bringing the team back to the playoffs after an NBA-leading and seemingly endless 14-year hiatus. Fox brought the Kings within spitting distance of the eighth-seeded Grizzlies; the team won seven of the last 10 games before an abrupt end stopped him.
Request: Five years, 25 percent maximum salary. Starting salary can increase to 30 percent of the cap if Fox finishes on the All-NBA team plus a 15 percent trade bonus and player option in his final season.
The Kings have been far from a free-agent destination during that time, but now you have the opportunity to secure this future All-Star for the foreseeable future.
Team Response: Let's Temper Expectations
We're very fond of Fox. We know how valuable he is on the court, but if you're asking for the world, why wouldn't we just wait until next summer to give him everything in our coffers?
Player option and a trade kicker, in addition to supermax? We were hoping to do something on par with Fox's teammates Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield. Barnes got four years, $85 million. Hield's contract can pay him up to $106 million if he meets incentives.
We'd be willing to make Fox the highest-paid player on the Kings, starting at an estimated maximum of $31.25 million, but we'd ask for his salary to decrease from year to year. That's up to four years at $110 million. We'd like 15 percent of each year to be broken evenly into three incentives: All-Star, playoffs and NBA Finals. No trade bonus, no player option.
That's a significant investment. It may not be the supermax, but it's a very healthy contract.
Agent Response: This Is Fox's Team...Act Like It!
We know how much our client thinks of his teammates, and his selfless attitude is well known throughout the league. However, my client's value is immeasurably higher than Barnes and Hield's. In addition to being your most important player, the optics surrounding playing out his contract could be disastrous for your franchise. The Kings can't afford a Gordon Hayward scenario, much less a Kristaps Porzingis one.
Fox is over five years younger than both players mentioned above and is the focal point of your team's direction. Barnes is a solid role player. Hield was benched late in the season and may be dealt so that you can pay Bogdan Bogdanovic this summer.
This is Fox's team.
After having missed the playoffs in 14 consecutive seasons, the Kings cannot afford another rebuild. They also need to send a message throughout the NBA that they take care of their stars. Put the same faith the Denver Nuggets put in Jamal Murray and let my client reward you and your franchise. My client's three-year numbers (20.4/6.8/4.0) are demonstrably better than Murray's (18.8/4.8/3.9).
You don't want fans talking about selecting Marvin Bagley III over Luka Doncic. You want them talking about my client and his future in Sacramento.
My client is willing to play out this season, rightfully earning what he deserves next summer. However, he fears a contract dispute may weigh him and his teammates down throughout the season. He'd prefer to have the security of the deal beneath his belt so that he can put this matter aside and focus on becoming an All-Star and taking his teammates to the next level in 2020-21.
We are willing to waive the trade kicker but hold firm to the rest of our offer.
Team Response: Let's See What the Market Says...
Our opinion on Fox hasn't changed. We value him tremendously, but we'd prefer to wait until summer if you're not willing to negotiate the dollars on a deal.
Agent Pitch: You Can't Put a Number on Upside
Through three seasons that have been up and down for everybody in the Bulls organization, Lauri Markkanen has shown what kind of player he has the potential to be. Shooting big men are in high demand, and at 22 years old, Markkanen can still develop into one of the best ones out there. It's the kind of proactive investment the Bulls need to make.
In February 2019, the period of greatest relative franchise stability during his Bulls career, Markkanen had the kind of stretch that shows he can be an All-Star. From Feb. 2 to March 1, he posted 11 straight games scoring at least 20 points, including five games of 30 or more. He averaged 12.2 rebounds per game during that month as well—when he was being utilized the way he should alongside the Bulls' other starters—before a rash of injuries derailed their best stretch of the season.
Markkanen continued to play well in stretches in the 2019-20 season, particularly in December, when he shot 41.6 percent from three on his most attempts of any month. He is a player who excels when he's in a rhythm, and the dysfunction of the Bulls' old front-office regime and coaching decisions played a bigger part in hindering that than any regression on his end.
As the Bulls look to move into a new era under new management, it's time to identify which players currently on the roster are going to be part of the long-term core. Markkanen has the talent and upside of one of those cornerstone players and should be paid as such.
Team Response: $15M/Year Sounds About Right
We're excited to see what Markkanen will become as a Bull for a long, long time. Our record doesn't reflect our excitement for the future, but it does show how far we need to go as a franchise to become a contender once again.
We are certainly open to extending Markkanen. The challenge will be finding the right number to reflect the player he is today plus what he may grow into.
If we look around the league at centers (Brook Lopez, Jonas Valanciunas, Clint Capela) or scoring forwards (Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle, Bojan Bogdanovic, TJ Warren), the price range may be closer to $15 million per season. Some are higher, some lower, but most are on par with what Markkanen is today statistically.
Yes, Markkanen is unique with his combination of size and style. He'd be a valuable player with the Bulls moving forward, but we're still a team searching for an identity. We wouldn't be ready to overinvest at this early stage of his career. If that means you prefer waiting until the summer when Markkanen is a restricted free agent, so be it.
Agent Response: Nah
It seems we're far apart. On our end, we're confident in his ability to prove his worth next season and test restricted free agency in the summer of 2021 if Chicago is not willing to go to a max.
Team Response: OK!
We look forward to Markkanen making a max deal inevitable next summer. We'll put all our resources into improving the roster and helping him develop into the special player we expect him to be.