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NBA Saturday: Recapping the 2014 Rookie-Contract Extensions

Basketball Insiders recaps which 2011 rookies agreed to extensions before yesterday’s deadline.

Jesse Blancarte

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Yesterday was the deadline for first-round picks from the 2011 draft to agree to an extension of their rookie contracts. This year’s extension class featured a lot of quality players, but many of them are not clearly worth max-money. Further complicating matters for this year’s extension candidates is the uncertainty created by the NBA’s recently agreed to TV deal with ESPN and Turner Sports, which will cause a significant rise in the salary cap.

With this in mind, here is a recap of which notable 2011 first-round draft picks agreed to an extension with their teams, and which are heading to restricted free agency next offseason (Note: this list excludes players that have fallen out of the league completely and those who are not extension eligible this season due to staying in overseas for a season or more).

Enes Kanter, Utah Jazz: The Salt Lake Tribune reported on Wednesday that extension talks between the Utah Jazz and center Enes Kanter had broken off.

“We just looked at it and both mutually decided to wait to negotiate again next year,” Kanter’s agent, Max Ergul told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Enes can concentrate on the future. This is an important year for him and the Jazz. It will set a precedent for years to come.”

Kanter has posted impressive per minute stats, is a skilled offensive player, and has the potential to improve moving forward. However, Kanter was supposed to be the long-term answer at center for the Jazz, but proved ineffective in the starting lineup along power forward Derrick Favors. One major issue is Kanter’s defensive limitations. Last season, the Jazz started the season 1-14 with Kanter starting next to Favors, forcing Kanter to the bench. This issue is exasperated by the presence of promising young center Rudy Gobert, who has length and athleticism that rivals players like DeAndre Jordan and JaVale McGee.

Kanter’s defensive limitations, the TV deal and Gobert’s continued development all factored into Kanter not receiving an extension. Kanter has a $7.4 million qualifying offer for next season.

Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson will test restricted free agency next summer as he and the Cleveland Cavaliers failed to agree to a rookie-scale extension. Several media outlets reported that there was optimism that a deal could get done, but the Cavaliers seemed more focused on locking up big man Anderson Varejao, who agreed to a three-year, $30 million extension with Cleveland.

Thompson will be a restricted free agent, and will get a lot of attention from teams if he has a breakout season playing behind Kevin Love. If Thompson signs an offer sheet with another team next offseason, the Cavaliers will have the option of matching the offer and retaining Thompson. However, if the offer is too big, the Cavaliers may let Thompson go considering Love is already on the roster.

Thompson has a qualifying offer for $6.7 million next season.

Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Hornets: The Charlotte Hornets did not agree to an extension with big man Bismack Biyombo, who was selected seventh overall in the 2011 Draft.

Biyombo saw a huge drop-off in playing time last year with the arrival of Al Jefferson. Biyombo, in 13.9 minutes per game, averaged 2.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks last season. Biyombo has talent, and is an especially good shot blocker, but at this point, his effectiveness is limited.

The Hornets had another player that was extension-eligible in Kemba Walker, who was clearly their main priority.

Biyombo has a $5.1 million qualifying offer for next season.

Brandon Knight, Milwaukee Bucks: On Friday, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported that extension negotiations between the Milwaukee Bucks and Brandon Knight had ended and Knight would enter restricted free agency next July.

Knight is a solid point guard, but at this point it is hard to determine how much he is worth in comparison to other point guards. Knight has career averages of 14.8 points, 4.3 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game.

Last offseason, the Bucks signed Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague a four-year, $32 million offer sheet (which the Hawks eventually matched). Teague was coming off of a season where he averaged career highs in points (14.6) and assists (7.2) per game. Considering this, the Bucks were probably offering Knight a deal that falls short of the deal offered to Teague, which Knight probably rejected with the new TV deal in mind.

Knight has a qualifying offer for $4.7 million next season.

Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets: On Thursday, the Charlotte Hornets and Kemba Walker agreed to a four-year, $48 million extension.

Walker has career averages of 16 points, 5.5 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game. Walker arguably could have held out for money considering he puts up numbers in the same ballpark as Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, who received the same contract as Walker this offseason, but is four years younger than Lowry.

Nevertheless, now Walker has financial security and can focus on helping the Hornets take the next step in their development. He already rewarded the Hornets with a game-tying three-pointer on opening night against the Bucks, which forced overtime and led to a Hornets’ victory.

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors: The Golden State Warriors and Klay Thompson agreed to a four-year, $70 million extension on Friday, just hours before the deadline. The Sacramento Kings reportedly made a late push to swing a trade for Thompson, offering anyone but DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay.

Thompson’s contract situation caught more attention than just about any other player. He is arguably the best two-way shooting guard in the league, and with Stephen Curry comprises arguably the NBA’s best backcourt. The Warriors highly value Thompson, as evidenced by their reluctance to offer him up in trade negotiations for Kevin Love this offseason.

Alec Burks, Utah Jazz: On Friday, the Utah Jazz and guard Alec Burks agreed to a four-year, $42 million extension (including incentives that could drive the deal as high as $45 million).

The Jazz are starting to make big time investments in their core of players as they already locked up Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward. However, as previously discussed, the Jazz did not lockup Enes Kanter, and will let him hit restricted free agency.

Nevertheless, the Jazz are starting to assemble and lock in a core of young, promising talent.

Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns: The Phoenix Suns went all in on the Morris twins more than a month before the extension deadline. Markieff received a four-year, $32 million extension after averaging 13.8 points, six rebounds, and 1.8 assist per game last season.

Markieff is expected to step up and fill in for the loss of Channing Frye, who signed a contract with the Orlando Magic this offseason (though he will need to raise his career 33.2 three-point percentage to do so effectively).

Marcus Morris, Phoenix Suns: Marcus Morris received a four-year, $20 million extension to stay in Phoenix with his brother. Suns general manager Ryan McDonough knows that the Morris twins are more effective when they are playing with one another, so investing in Marcus makes a lot of sense.

“We wanted to lock these guys in for as long as possible,” McDonough said last month. “The twins and Leon Rose really wanted to get it done. Marcus and Markieff saw the value of playing together. If they went into restricted free agency without extensions, I don’t want to say it’d be impossible to stay together but it would’ve been harder.”

It’s not clear what either Morris twin may have received in free agency, but by extending them now, the Suns ensure that they keep both in Phoenix without worrying about another team overpaying for one of them next offseason.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs: Last season’s Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard will test his worth in restricted free agency next year. The San Antonio Spurs declined offering Leonard a max-extension now, and will re-explore the situation next summer.

Here is what Leonard’s agent Brian Eflus had to say about the situation.

“We feel Kawhi is deserving of a max contract, and we are disappointed that something couldn’t get done,” Elfus told Yahoo Sports. “There’s no debating Kawhi’s value. The market has been set. He’s done everything the Spurs have asked of him, exceeded all of their expectations. Coach [Gregg] Popovich has gone out of his way to call Kawhi the future face of the franchise. We have great respect for the Spurs organization, but here, we simply agree to disagree.

“There will be no shortage of teams interested in Kawhi’s services next year. There will be a lot of contract scenarios available to us, and we will explore them all.”

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, many league executives highly value Leonard and expect that he will command a max offer sheet on the market next offseason (though the Spurs would likely match any offer for Leonard).

Leonard has a $4 million qualifying offer for next season.

Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic: On October 21, the Orlando Magic and Nikola Vucevic agreed to a four-year, $53 million extension.

Vucevic has established himself as a double-double machine, and is one of the better all-around centers in the league. He has started off this NBA season strongly, averaging 19 points, 17.5 rebounds, two assists, and two blocks in the first two games of the season.

Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks: It has been known for over a month that the New York Knicks would not negotiate an extension with shooting guard Iman Shumpert.

Shumpert is a promising young player, but struggled with his offense all of last season. Shumpert was never going to receive an extension with Tim Hardaway Jr., on the team and the Knicks looking to stay as financially flexible as possible heading into next offseason.

Shumpert has a $3.7 million qualifying offer for next season.

Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic: Tobias Harris will become a restricted free agent next summer as he and the Orlando Magic failed to agree to an extension. Both sides say they want to stay together long term, but with the Vucevic extension and Mo Harkless also on the roster, the deal never came together.

Harris has a $3.4 million qualifying offer for next season.

Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets: Earlier this month, the Denver Nuggets and Kenneth Faried agreed on a five-year, $60 million contract. The contract was soon after amended to four-years, $50 million as the original deal was in violation of the CBA. Under the four-year deal, Faried will make $500,000 more per season.

Faried has shown substantial improvement in his game over the last year, and was a standout this offseason for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup Tournament.

Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder: The Oklahoma City Thunder did not reach an extension with guard Reggie Jackson.

Jackson filled in admirably for Russell Westbrook last season, and is one of the better young combo guards in the league. Jackson has ambitions of being a full-time starter, but it seems that Thunder coach Scott Brooks is still unconvinced of that.

Failing to extend Jackson conjures up memories of 2012 when the Thunder failed to reach an extension with James Harden and instead traded him to Houston for assets.

Jackson has a $3.2 million qualifying offer for next season.

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls: On Friday, Jimmy Butler rejected the Chicago Bulls’ final offer for an extension and now plans on testing his worth in free agency.

“It came down to me deciding that I want to bet on myself,” Butler told Yahoo Sports on Friday. “It was about me believing that I put the work in this summer to become a better player with the hope that my improvement will give the Bulls a better chance to win a championship.”

Butler is one of the best perimeter-defenders in the league, but struggled with a lingering foot injury last season. Butler is highly thought of around the league and could receive an offer in free agency that makes it difficult for the Bulls to retain him.

Butler has a $3 million qualifying offer for next season.

Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves: Though he was drafted in 2009, Rubio did not officially play in the NBA until 2011. For this reason, Rubio was extension-eligible this year. On Friday, just three hours shy of the extension deadline, Rubio and the Timberwolves agreed to a four-year, $55 million extension. Rubio will earn $13.75 million per season, making him Minnesota’s highest paid player (replacing Nikola Pekovic, who will make $12 million this season) and the eight highest paid point guard in the league.

Rubio’s deal envisions the potential Rubio has, and the player he may become one day. While Rubio is a gifted passer and underrated defender, his inability to shoot the ball consistently limits his effectiveness.* Consider that Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry both agreed to four-year, $48 million deals, while putting up bigger per game numbers, and it is apparent that the Timberwolves expect major growth in Rubio’s game.

*Note: Several news outlets are reporting that Rubio’s deal includes a $1 million incentive, which is tied to serveral shooting benchmarks, including field goal and free throw percentage.

This has been one of the more active seasons for rookie-scale extensions. A lot of players landed nice extensions that offer significant financial security, but there will be plenty of good players like Kanter, Thompson, Leonard, Jackson and Butler who will  test their worth in the restricted free-agency market next offseason. Only time will tell whether gambling on themselves over accepting guaranteed money now was the right choice.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Danuel House Optimistic About Future

David Yapkowitz speaks to Danuel House about life as a two-way player for the Houston Rockets & what he hopes comes out of his time in the G League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

David Yapkowitz

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Opportunity is everything in the NBA. Last season’s implementation of two-way contracts gave a lot more players potential opportunities in the league that may not have been previously available.

One player who has used two-way contracts to showcase himself and really prove that he belongs in the NBA is Danuel House Jr.

House actually began his career two years ago as an undrafted rookie with the Washington Wizards. However, he suffered a wrist injury only about a month into the 2016-17 season.

He was subsequently cut by the Wizards and used the summer to heal up before joining the Houston Rockets for training camp prior to the start of last season. He ended up being one of the final cuts in camp, and he joined the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

His strong play earned him a two-way contract with the Phoenix Suns after only two months of G League play. This year, he rejoined the Vipers, only to earn another two-way contract with the Rockets. Having had some experience now with a two-way, it’s something that House sees as being beneficial.

“It’s got its good perks and its bad perks. But then the NBA is just trying to open more doors for more guys to be seen and have an opportunity,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s a good idea, it’s gonna work the kinks out so it can be more beneficial to the players. It’s still new and it’s still trending and working itself through the NBA.”

This season has been a bit of a whirlwind for House. He initially joined the Golden State Warriors for training camp, only to have them cut him before the start of the season. After spending about a month with the Vipers, the Rockets called him up, only to cut him and then eventually re-sign him to a two-way deal.

Due to injuries in the Rockets lineup, House saw meaningful minutes right away, even being placed in Houston’s starting lineup. He had some solid performances down the stretch of last season with the Suns, but this season he really looked the part of a legitimate NBA rotation player.

When a player signs a two-way deal, they are allotted a maximum of 45 days of NBA service, meaning that the rest of the time they must remain in the G League. If a player exceeds the 45-day limit, they must be sent back down to the G League unless they’re able to reach an agreement on a standard contract with the NBA team.

Because of the Rockets’ necessity of House in the rotation, he used up his NBA days last month. He and the Rockets were unable to agree on a contract, so he returned to the G League with the Vipers. While there haven’t been many updates as of late, he’s still hopeful that something can work out with the Rockets.

“Hopefully I can go back to Houston and compete for a title. There’s nothing like learning from James [Harden] and Chris Paul, Gerald Green, Eric Gordon and those guys,” House told Basketball Insiders. “And now with the additions of [Iman] Shumpert and Kenneth Faried, I’m just excited to hopefully get something done so I can be out there and competing with those guys.”

Initially, House wasn’t playing with the Vipers upon returning to the team. But he made his return to the court a few weeks ago on Feb 8. In that game, House shook off some initial rust and ended up having a solid performance including hitting the game-winning free-throws.

In the past, the G League was often times seen as a punishment for NBA players. The league didn’t have that great of a reputation, but over the past few years that image has started to change. The competition has gotten a lot stronger, and according to House, there are plenty of guys who are that close to making it to the NBA.

“The competition here is real. There’s a lot of dudes out here that got a lot of talent that they can showcase. They just want their one opportunity, their one chance that I was so fortunate and blessed with,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I know not to come out here and take it for granted, that’s why I’m playing hard and of course still trying to be a student of the game and learn.”

Recently, during a media availability session, Rockets star and perennial MVP candidate James Harden expressed hope that the Rockets and House could work something out. Harden told reporters that they all know how good House is and what he brings to the team.

In 25 games for the Rockets this season – including 12 starts – House put up nine points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 39 percent from the three-point line. He’s in the mold of a three-and-D type player, but he also moves well without the ball on cuts to the rim and can attack the basket as well.

“My role was to play defense and make the right read,” House told Basketball Insiders. “Shoot when I’m open, drive, attack the rack, and run the floor. Of course, defend and rebound and make good reads. It was easy.”

As it stands, the Rockets have 12 players on their roster, and a pair of two-way deals for House and Vincent Edwards. House is not eligible to rejoin the Rockets until the G League season concludes. Even then, he won’t be eligible to play in the playoffs as per two-way deal restrictions.

The Rockets will need to add at least two players to get up to the league-mandated 14 players on the roster. House would appear to be a good candidate for one of those spots, but that remains to be seen. But regardless of whether or not it works out in Houston, House is confident that he’s done enough to prove he belongs in the NBA.

“It gave me the utmost confidence, but my hard work, my passion, and my faith in the man upstairs gave me the ability. I asked him to guide me through the journey and he’s been taking care of me,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I’m so grateful that the opportunities and I used my ability to perform and do something I love to take care of my family.”

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PODCAST: Checking In On Clippers & Lakers, East Arms Race, Warriors’ Challengers

Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.

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NBA Daily: Ujiri Leading Golden Era of Raptors Basketball

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri has taken big risks in going all in for the 2019 season and – with a potentially shortened window – it’s the right move, writes Lang Greene.

Lang Greene

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The Toronto Raptors (43-16) are on pace for their fourth consecutive 50-plus win season and barring a collapse of epic proportions will shortly secure their sixth straight trip to the playoffs.

Make no mistake, this is the golden era of Raptors basketball. Period.

The easiest thing in the world to do is play a situation safe. Minimize risk and accept the near certain outcome. Heading into the season, as previously constructed, the Raptors were already on a trajectory to reach 50 wins and secure a playoff berth. However, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri made the risky decision to turn off cruise control and go all in on a championship this season.

The reason was simple – five straight trips to the Eastern Conference playoffs netted only one trip past the second round and some seriously embarrassing postseason eliminations. So sure, the franchise could have stayed the course with the previous roster framework, but realistic title aspirations were a stretch at best.

To begin the roster reconstruction, the Raptors traded All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan, big man Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first round pick to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and veteran guard Danny Green.

Green and Leonard immediately provided Toronto with championship heart and grit, something lacking from the team in year’s past. The trade was a huge risk for Ujiri with free agency looming this summer for Leonard (and Green) and having to say goodbye to DeRozan, a homegrown talent and the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.

Toronto rolled early this season and have remained near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, but Ujiri doubled down at the trade deadline by acquiring former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol in exchange for Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and a 2024 second-round draft pick.

In just over six months, Ujiri was able to acquire two former Defensive Player of the Year award winners while gutting his roster of familiar faces fans came to know during the team’s recent run to prominence.

The Raptors currently sit one game out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The moves are driving results and most believe the Raptors are legitimate title contenders. But the risk for the franchise is most definitely real. Gasol, Leonard and Green are all expected to hit the unrestricted free agency market this summer which could leave the franchise facing a real possibility of losing all for nothing in return.

The prospect of losing Leonard and Gasol would undoubtedly take Toronto from the top of the East to a club scrapping to even make a playoff run in 2020. Ujiri went all in for a title this season. Leonard’s future is uncertain and so is Gasol’s. But the prospect of truly competing for a title was too tantalizing to pass up after years of setbacks around playoff time.

Inevitably all teams must go through a time of rebuilding or reloading. Despite Toronto’s previous success, their window was limited in nature and closing rapidly, so you have to admire Ujiri’s daring to be great mindset.

For reference, the Atlanta Hawks reached the postseason 10 consecutive times from 2008-2017 but the franchise’s front office played it relatively safe during their run devoid of any major moves. The Hawks watched All-Star performers Al Horford and Paul Millsap ultimately leave for nothing in return. Atlanta’s rebuild is in good shape with guard Trae Young, big man John Collins and an additional lottery pick this season.

However, the team never swung for the fences during their run – something Ujiri wouldn’t let happen – despite the huge risks needed to be potentially a champ.

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