Raef LaFrentz, Erick Dampier and Jerome James may each be a “poster child” for one of the best known facts about being a free agent in the National Basketball Association: big men get paid handsomely.
From Brook Lopez to Roy Hibbert to even Nikola Pekovic, if you can walk and chew gum and stand at or near seven feet tall, you will cash in. That is exactly why Enes Kanter of the Oklahoma City Thunder will get a lucrative contract this summer.
Since being drafted by the Utah Jazz with the third overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Kanter has been somewhat polarizing. There are those who have believed in him and his skills from day one, while there are many others who felt that he was inconsistent and would ultimately go down as “just another” foreign-born big man who couldn’t cut it at the NBA level. The biggest criticisms of Kanter come on the defensive end, where he really struggles at times.
To this point, we do not know for certain what Kanter can do over the course of a full 82-game season wherein he and his tendencies have been the focal point of the opposition’s scouting reports, but what we do know is that he formed a dynamic duo with Russell Westbrook – at least in spurts.
Westbrook was the primary catalyst for the Thunder and their playoff push, but without Kanter’s 18.7 points, 11 rebounds and 57 percent shooting from the field, we would not have had to wait until the final game of the regular season to see the Thunder eliminated from contention.
For Kanter, being traded to the Thunder was an absolute windfall. He played 26 games with Westbrook and had an opportunity to show his full array of skills. His career averages of 10.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game saw incredible spikes and it was largely due to the opportunity to play off of an All-NBA performer and the simple fact that his usage rate increased out of necessity.
Now, after playing professionally for four years, though we still have no idea how good Kanter can be for a full season, he does have a solid 26 game sample size that he and his agent can use to sell teams on this offseason. The fact that Kanter will turn just 23 years old this May means that he is nowhere near his physical peak, and that fact will make any and every talent evaluator drool.
For the most part, big men with promise do not hit the free agent market. Although the Thunder certainly have incentive to re-sign Kanter to a long-term deal, there are no guarantees. By rule, the Thunder may re-sign Kanter to a new contract without him actually becoming a restricted free agent, but odds are, a promising 23-year-old who has played himself into a fairly high market value will look to do the prudent thing for his pocketbook and test the free agency market by opting to not immediately re-sign with Sam Presti’s club.
The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks will both have a lot of cap space and desperately need an infusion of talent. The Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, in theory, could also emerge as suitors that make sense.
And yes, of course, Presti may need to ensure the re-signing of Kanter to give Kevin Durant a fighting chance of winning a championship next season.
All signs point to Kanter cashing in this summer, big time. For the most part, it will be based on a 26-game sample.
It must be nice.
– Moke Hamilton