NBA AM: Are Drummond and Beal Playing It Safe?

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The Long-Term View

The Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards have a few more days to try and lock in an early extension for franchise cornerstones Andre Drummond and Brad Beal, but it is far more likely that all involved let the November 2 deadline pass without a deal. While that might sound like a bad thing on the surface, over the long-term both players could be doing themselves and their team a favor by waiting.

The Pistons currently have $48.227 million in salary commitments, which includes Reggie Jackson’s new deal and very little else that would impact the cap picture. Detroit will carry a cap hold of $8.180 million on Drummond, which is far lower than the expected $20 million max salary he’ll be eligible for in July.

The size of the cap hold makes it worth it to the Pistons to overpay Drummond next summer and the fact that so many teams will have cap space means there is little threat to Drummond that he’d lose value.

Early cap projections for next season peg the 2016-17 salary cap at near $90 million, meaning even with Drummond’s hold and the $48.227 million they are firmly committed to, the Pistons could have somewhere in the neighborhood of $33 million to play with in July and still have the ability to max out Drummond after they spend it.

Trying to force a deal now would only cause the Pistons to think about cap space next summer in their offer. Equally, a deal today does not start until next year anyway, so tabling talks as both the Pistons and Drummond have decided to do is smart. In the long-term, Drummond likely gets his max-level deal in July and the Pistons can surround him with a lot more talent.

The Wizards are in a similar situation with Beal. Washington has $39.358 million in salary commitments, which includes John Wall and Marcin Gortat. Those two represent the biggest chunk of the Wizards’ cap commitments – the rest of the roster is pretty reasonable. Beal will have a slightly higher cap hold, worth $14.734 million, which is still much lower than the $20 million maximum deal Beal would be eligible for in July.

The Wizards are looking at roughly $54.092 million in cap commitments and holds, against a projected $90 million cap, giving them what could be as much as $35 million in usable cap space and they’d still have the ability to do a deal with Beal after they spend it.

Like Drummond, if Beal plays ball with Washington he could find himself looking at a much larger deal after the Wizards spend their space, especially if he posts a strong season.

The common objection to waiting is the risk of injury; however, with so much cap money projected to be available, it’s highly unlikely that either Drummond or Beal are at much risk. In fact, both could find themselves looking at max deals for helping their current teams make the cap math work.

Teams have until midnight on November 2 to reach rookie-scale extension deals with the 2012 rookie class. So far, only Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, Blazers guard Damian Lillard, Bucks center John Henson and Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have reached extensions.

Thunder guard Dion Waiters, Raptors guard Terrence Ross, Warriors center Festus Ezeli and Magic guard Evan Fournier are among the remaining extension-eligible players who could reach a deal before the deadline.

A big contributing factor to doing a deal now is the massive escalation in the salary cap expected in July. A few teams are trying to lock in talent now before they face a bidding war for those players, while some agents are urging their clients to roll the dice on the possibility of a big offer sheet in July given the expected flood of cap money.

Do We Really Know?

The Cleveland Cavaliers will open the regular season tonight and while LeBron James says he is ready to go, do we really know what to expect from the Cavs?

This team has been pegged as the frontrunners to win the Eastern Conference and that very well may turn out to be true. However, with the specter of injuries, a few new faces and the daunting task of another 82-game regular season  under the microscope, are the Cavaliers really the frontrunner they appear to be?

The Cavs will open the season without Kyrie Irving, who is still recovering from a knee injury. The word is Irving should be ready by late December or early January, but no one wants to lock in a recovery timetable until Irving progresses more.

Iman Shumpert will also open the season on the sideline with a wrist injury that likely keeps him on the shelf until mid-December.

The Cavs do get Kevin Love back, but with Love’s injury history and inconsistent production last season, can he be the second option that keeps Cleveland above the waterline?

The elephant in the room is the status of James’ back, as there have been reports that James recently underwent a third round of injections for his troublesome back. Some medical experts have described it as a possible disc injury. The Cavaliers’ season comes to a screeching halt if James has to miss any real time due to injury, so the status of his back is obviously important.

There is no question that a healthy James can carry a team to the post-season all by himself, so making the dance isn’t in question. The question becomes will the wear and tear of a long 2015 postseason create a hangover effect for the Cavs and can a less than 100 percent Cleveland team stay out front enough to win the conference?

Do we really know?

Time will tell if the Cavaliers are indeed the team to beat in the East, but it’s far from a given that they are the team everyone is labeling them to be.

There are three games to tip off the NBA regular season tonight. The Detroit Pistons are at the Atlanta Hawks at 8 p.m. EST, The Cleveland Cavaliers are at the Chicago Bulls at 8 p.m. EST. The New Orleans Pelicans are at the defending champion Golden State Warriors at 10:30 p.m. EST.

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