The 2014 rookie-extension class is one of the most interesting in several years due to the high number of quality players entering their fourth seasons. As most readers likely know by now, teams have until October 31 to reach extensions with first-rounders entering their fourth season or the players become restricted free agents next summer. This year, many of these players fall into the fascinating middle ground between total busts and obvious max outs, and their negotiations are further complicated by the unknown effect of the league’s recently-announced new TV deal.*
Due to the rising cap, it is useful to think of new deals in percentage terms. For example, a $10 million contract under the $58.044 million cap in 2012-13 was 17.2 percent of the cap. For the 2016-17 season, assuming the cap is $80 million for that year, an equivalent contract would be $13.8 million.
Age: 25 (September 14, 1989)
Draft Position: 30
2013-14 PER: 13.57
2013-14 ORPM: 0.90
2013-14 DRPM: 1.23
2015-16 Cap Hold: $5,021,870
Butler’s extension talks may be the most fascinating on the board. He is universally considered one of the league’s best defenders on the wing at either position. That is the principal source of his value, and is just about unquestioned among basketball cognoscenti.
Yet despite the fact he has featured prominently in nightly jokes about Tom Thibodeau’s minutes the last two years, we still do not know what he is offensively. Which of these two players is he?
In 2012-13, Butler shot 38.1 percent on 105 three point attempts, raising hopes that he could evolve into one of the league’s best three and D wings. Those subsided some a year ago. Butler upped his three-point attempt rate to 34.6 percent, but his percentage cratered to 28.3 percent on 240 attempts. Overall he was a ghastly 39.7 percent on field goals. His usage rate increased, but only to below-average 16.8 percent of the Bulls’ possessions. The only saving grace offensively was his gargantuan free throw rate, which allowed him to salvage 52 percent true shooting. This was a very disappointing performance offensively, and one that casts doubt on his ability to avoid being an offensive detriment in big minutes on the wing. That is exacerbated by the fact that he is not a natural ballhandler either, possessing little ability to create off the bounce in the pick-and-roll even on secondary action. The Bulls have devoted most of their resources to point guard and the frontcourt, while Doug McDermott (another non-driver) is the long-term three. Butler’s inability to handle is a structural concern for a squad that must improve its offense to get into championship contention.
But two major caveats apply: The first is that Butler really struggled with a toe injury that cost him 11 games in November and December. Afterward, he seemed to lack his signature lift and shot miserably from the field. The second is that the Bulls had perhaps the fewest shot-creators of any team in the NBA for much of the season. Butler’s open looks were few and far between, which should be far less of a problem on a Bulls team that will have much more firepower going forward.
It seems reasonable to conclude that Butler’s shooting will settle in at a level between his last two years. Recent research has shown that three-point shooting takes about 750 attempts to really stabilize, and Butler has less than half that amount so far in his career. Nevertheless, it seems likely he will always be a made rather than born shooter who is only going to take wide open attempts. The question is whether they go in. The league average on three-pointers is 36 percent, and it probably makes sense to project him a bit below that number at least over the next couple years.
Butler has helped his bid for an extension by coming into camp in phenomenal shape. The bounce has returned and he looks absolutely ripped. He’s been all over the floor in the preseason with steals, blocks, offensive rebounds and hard cuts to the basket off the Bulls’ post players. The only thing missing has been the three-pointer, although his midrange jumper has fallen at a solid rate.
So what is one of the best wing defenders in the league worth? Butler is not quite at the Tony Allen level where he can plausibly shut down a superstar like Kevin Durant for large portions of a game or series, but just about nobody is. Butler makes life as difficult on wings as just about anyone else.
Over the last five years when the cap remained relatively flat prior to this summer, the going rate to extend a rookie contract for a solid starter with upside on the wing has been around $10 million per season. Nicolas Batum (four years, $46.1 million), Danilo Gallinari (4/$44 million), DeMar DeRozan (4/$38 million) are three recent examples, although they were all a few years younger than Butler and thus had a bit more upside. Among free agents, Andre Iguodala signed for 4/$48 million as a 29 year-old in the summer of 2013.
Last summer though, the wing market exploded for even restricted free agents. Normally RFAs experience a chilling effect on offers due to the incumbent team’s ability to match, but the league’s desperation for wings fueled maximum offers for Chandler Parsons* and Gordon Hayward, both of which started at about $14.7 million.
Butler is by far the superior defender to either player, although he cannot compare to either with his playmaking. But if he continues to play as he has in the preseason offensively, or if he returns to 38 percent from beyond the arc on reasonable volume, it is conceivable he could receive a maximum offer sheet as well from a team desperate to upgrade its defense. The Bulls would also run the risk that he receives the now-famous Parsons offer, which could allow him to reach free agency again in two years or stick out a third-year player option. With Butler turning 26 years old next September, a chance to hit the market again before turning 28 could allow him another fat contract under the new TV deal. If he were a free agent right before turning 30, another big long-term contract would be far less likely.
On the other hand, this could be the year he cements himself as an unacceptably bad three-point shooter. That could cast doubt on his ability to be a starter on a championship-level offense.* Butler and his agent Happy Walters can still sell the possibility of an improvement from beyond the arc at this point. If he shoots poorly again this year, that may not fly.
The usual caveats about the security of an extension may apply even more to Butler, who has made comparatively little as the 30th pick in the 2011 draft and must survive another season in the Tom Thibodeau wing minutes meat grinder to get paid sans extension. But the Bulls also face risk if Butler blows up. They would be forced to match a maximum offer sheet for him, since they will be capped out with no way to replace him in free agency.
A maximum offer sheet also poses a particular risk to the Bulls since it could imperil their ability to sign free agents using the full $5.464 million mid-level exception (MLE) and $2.139 million bi-annual exception (BAE), especially should they wish to retain Mike Dunleavy.
If the Bulls have to match a max offer sheet to Butler, they will be only about $3 million short of the projected Apron, including Dunleavy’s cap hold. If they use either the MLE or BAE, they would be hard-capped at the Apron for the season. Even if they were to let Dunleavy go, they would have difficulty using both the full MLE and BAE while staying below the Apron.* They also might reenter the luxury tax, although after two years below it and a rising cap in the succeeding years the repeater tax would not be a concern. A maximum offer sheet for Butler could really crimp the Bulls’ 2015 offseason, and potentially their profits.
A compromise could be a four-year contract starting at $11-12 million per year for Butler. While this is potentially overpaying for Butler, it acknowledges his potential market value if he blows up while giving him security and allowing the Bulls to use the MLE and BAE in 2015. This compromise also acknowledges Butler’s leverage because the Bulls will have no way to replace him since they are capped out. Butler should have a relatively high floor considering his defense and the fact that his offense almost certainly will improve at least a bit from 2013-14, so they will still get quite a bit out of him even if he it not quite “worth” the money.
By percentage of the cap, this contract would be similar to those of Gallinari, Batum, DeRozan, and Iguodala in past years. And the Bulls would be about $7 million below the Apron even with Dunleavy’s cap hold, and by even more if he were to re-sign for less or be let go. This would allow far more flexibility in potentially using their full exceptions. A lower salary for Butler in the summer of 2016 could also allow the Bulls to open up maximum cap room with some maneuvering if they were to move on from Joakim Noah (extinguishing his likely $20 million cap hold) at that point, when he will be 32 years old.
Unfortunately, one other potential reason for delay looms—that of which Chicago fans must not think of, but management should. If Derrick Rose were to suffer another major injury this year, it would change the entire direction of the franchise. Counting on him would become foolhardy, and could require a total reload in advance of the summer of 2016. Rose will be on the books through 2017, but Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah are all potential trade pieces in that scenario. If the Bulls are looking for major signings in the summer of 2016 or 2017, paying a lot for Butler could become a lot less palatable than when they projected to be capped out with this group for the foreseeable future while trying to contend. Getting more information about Rose and the ultimate direction of the franchise is a powerful reason to wait.
Despite the possibility of this doomsday scenario, the incentives seem aligned for a compromise in line with previous wing contracts given the significant risk to both sides from waiting.
NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.