As basketball fans eagerly await the start of gameplay for the next NBA season, owners and front office personnel have been hard at work since the new league year officially began on July 1.
With that turnover comes a certain level of decision making for the very same front office folks. Beginning this offseason, players that were selected in the 2014 draft became eligible for contract extensions. This opportunity offers these particular players the first chance to really get paid following their rookie-scale contracts.
For some players, the decision to hand them a big time deal is a no-brainer by their team’s’ general manager. For others, and the various reasons that come along with the indecisiveness of inking that player to a second contract, the negotiating process isn’t so black and white.
When the shot clocks start ticking during next season, most of the following players will be performing with the thoughts of a new deal lurking in the back of their mind.
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
For the former No. 1 overall pick, the path to his second NBA contract in the neighborhood of $150 million is more of semantics than anything.
Wolves owner Glen Taylor spoke on Monday about his willingness to offer Wiggins a max contract extension on one condition. Taylor wants to sit down with Wiggins face-to-face a literally hear him say that he will work to become a better player than he already is.
Essentially, here’s a nine-figure contract, but you promise you’ll try hard right?
At just 22 years of age, Wiggins still possesses a “sky is the limit” label. He averaged 23.6 points per game last season, crossing the 40-point plateau five times, and his level of athleticism is nearly unmatched throughout the league. Wiggins can score the basketball, period.
However, and this may be what Taylor was alluding to when he requested of Wiggins to become more of a complete player, the small forward is just plain bad defensively. Even with his insane athleticism and 7-foot wingspan, Wiggins has never posted a positive defensive box plus/minus in his career. In fact, through his first three seasons, each DBPM was worse than the year before.
So, while Wiggins can score in bunches, his track record suggests he lets his man score at will too. Sinking $150 million into a one-way player is a hefty risk, which is presumably why Taylor wants to hear straight from the horse’s mouth that improvement is on the way.
All in all, Wiggins will probably get his extension barring some weird outcome where he tells the owner of his team that he doesn’t want to get better, therefore giving up millions of dollars.
But hey, stranger things have happened. Right?
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
Unlike Wiggins, Parker’s owner isn’t coming out publicly and offering a max deal with lip service stipulations attached to it. Instead, Parker’s next contract may be a bit more debated within the Bucks’ front office.
In his third season, Parker began to show great strides as the player that was selected second overall in his draft class. Through 51 games, Parker was averaging 20.1 points per game along with 6.2 rebounds and shooting 36 percent from beyond the arc. Parker was turning into a perfect complementary piece alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Then Parker tore the ACL in his left knee. Again.
After suffering the same tear just 25 games into his rookie season, another one of Parker’s prime developmental years was cut short. Along with losing another season, as well as the first half of next season presumably, Parker now has a reoccurring left knee concern that may have cost him millions.
Given the circumstances, and the fact that Parker may not return next season until around the All-Star break, his contract extension watch will be an interesting storyline to follow next summer.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Talk about injury concerns.
By the time opening night rolls around, Embiid will have played just 31 games through three seasons on an NBA roster.
And yet, if the Sixers signed Embiid to a max extension tomorrow, there would be a strong voice within the NBA community who support the decision. But, Philadelphia really needs to see that Embiid can complete more than half of a season before they pour boatloads of money into his bank account.
If another season of Embiid’s ends in injury, the Sixers will have to think long and hard about what kind of deal they bring to the table during Embiid’s negotiation.
However, just like everything else that surrounds the 7-foot-2 center from Cameroon, the Sixers are going to just have to Trust The Process.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
Gordon is an interesting case for the Magic.
Through three NBA seasons, it’s still unclear what position he actually plays — or should play for that matter. Over the course of his first two seasons, Gordon played about two-thirds of his minutes at power forward, with the other third coming at small forward. Last season, those numbers were flipped.
At 6-foot-9 with crazy hops, Gordon fits the bill physically as an impactful wing player in today’s NBA. There’s just one problem, he can’t shoot. Up until this point, Gordon is a career 29 percent three-point shooter. Granted, he’s just 21 years old with plenty of time to improve, but there is little chance that Gordon ever becomes a lights out shooter from beyond the arc.
With more than one extension decision to take into account, and a new regime who wasn’t responsible for draft Gordon, the matter of his next contract offer could be interesting, especially with Orlando selecting Jonathan Isaac No. 6 overall in last June’s draft.
Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
Speaking of more contract extension decisions, Payton is also on the list for Orlando.
With career averages of 10.8 points and 6.5 assists per game, Payton has shown that he can make a decent impact while on the court. However, similar to Gordon, Payton can’t shoot.
With an identical shooting percentage to Gordon’s from beyond the arc, the Magic are in a position to extend two players who both lack the singular skill that the league is transitioning to value the most.
How things shake out for these two 2014 lottery picks in Orlando will be an indication of where new management is headed for the rebuild of the Magic.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
After being selected towards the back end of the lottery on draft night in 2014, LaVine turned into a fine young player for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
So fine of a young player, in fact, that the Wolves were able to ship him off to Chicago in a deal that allowed them to acquire Bulls’ star player, Jimmy Butler.
Before tearing his ACL last season, LaVine was averaging 18.9 points per game and shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc while showing legitimate improvement in his game. At 22 years old, LaVine has plenty of time to recover from his knee injury and continue to grow into the next stage of his career.
Considering the position LaVine is in as the centerpiece of the haul Chicago got for their franchise player, common sense would assume the Bulls are all-in on resigning LaVine should his knee prove to be healthy.
For the sake of the Bulls’ franchise (and the All-Star weekend dunk contest) let’s hope LaVine’s knee comes back better than ever.
Other Notable Extension Eligible Players: Julius Randle (Los Angeles Lakers), Jusuf Nurkic (Portland Trail Blazers), Gary Harris (Denver Nuggets), Rodney Hood (Utah Jazz), Dante Exum (Utah Jazz), Kyle Anderson (San Antonio Spurs), Clint Capela (Houston Rockets).
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN