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NBA AM: Will Vucevic’s Deal Push The Market?

Only five first-rounders from the 2011 draft class have been extended. Are more deals in the works?

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Magic lock up Nikola Vucevic as extension deadline looms

Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, NBA teams have until October 31 each year to reach extension agreements with former first round picks entering their fourth season.  For select guys, it’s a foregone conclusion that a new deal will be offered at a maximum level. For guys in the middle tier, their respective front office may opt to allow the deadline pass in order for the market to set the value for the player in restricted free agency the following summer.

A few of the notable players fitting this criteria have gotten deals done already such as Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Denver’s Kenneth Faried and Marcus and Markieff Morris out in Phoenix. However, the rest of the eligible group has been playing the waiting game as we’re a little over a week away from the deadline.

The Orlando Magic had two of these decisions to make heading into the season. Center Nikola Vucevic and forward Tobias Harris are two pieces who have held prominent roles with the franchise during its rebuilding efforts post Dwight Howard.

On Tuesday, the Magic reportedly locked up Vucevic to a four-year deal that could be worth over $50 million if certain incentives are reached. Vucevic becomes the fifth first round pick from the 2011 draft to secure an extension prior to the October 31 deadline.

Vucevic, who was the No. 16 overall pick in 2011, has averaged 13.6 points and 11.5 rebounds in 134 career games with the Magic. The emerging center is one of only five current players to average double-digit rebounds the past two seasons joining Kevin Love, Howard, Joakim Noah and Zach Randolph.

Other notable players eligible for extensions include Golden State’s Klay Thompson, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Charlotte’s Kemba Walker, Oklahoma City’s Reggie Jackson, Milwaukee’s Brandon Knight, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson and Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio.

The Magic also have a decision to make on Harris. The forward has averaged 15.5 points and 7.4 rebounds on 46 percent shooting in 88 games since arriving in Orlando. Harris may be headed to restricted free agency where Orlando would still be able to match any offer received for his services. This would allow the franchise to let the market set Harris’ value instead of bidding against themselves. But there is risk involved in this type of scenario. The team could save a few million playing the waiting game or risk another franchise paying an addition premium to lure the player to sign an offer sheet (see the restricted free agency of Roy Hibbert as an example).

Playing the blame game in Los Angeles

Just going by the win-loss percentage, the 2013-14 Lakers were the second worst team in franchise history. Of course missing future Hall of Famers Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash for the majority of the season played a strong role in the dysfunction, but the unit just wasn’t any good.

Naturally when the ship is sinking, people start playing the blame game. The first parties to get it are typically the guys no longer in the situation moving forward. In the Lakers’ case, former head coach Mike D’Antoni’s name continues to be a safe haven for a unit that underperformed last season.

Lakers big man Jordan Hill, who re-signed with the team this past summer, took a few parting shots at the much maligned coach in the media this week.

“If Mike was here, I wouldn’t be back,” Hill told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. “That’s the way it was. No disrespect to Mike, but apparently I didn’t fit his system. Why would I come back?”

Hill says he feels less pressure under new head coach Byron Scott.

“Last year, I was thinking too much about playing,” Hill said. “If I messed up, I wondered if I would see the floor again. Right now, Byron is relying on me and I’m one of his guys. That really builds more confidence in me to come out this year and play my game.”

To the naked eye, Hill’s comments make sense. The big man averaged 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Lakers last season while playing just 20.8 minutes per game. On the surface, at that production level and minutes played per night, it would appear D’Antoni underutilized one of his prime assets in a season of disaster – a huge mistake.

However, to those following the team closely, Hill’s absence during long stretches had little to do with a coach having a vendetta, but with a player also struggling tremendously with his conditioning.

Hill admitted he had to make changes during the offseason to be in better condition moving forward. One of the habits Hill has tempered was alcohol intake.

“It was that time to step out of my old ways and to grow up,” Hill said. “Now I feel really, really good. I can run and down more often. My wind is back. My body feels good. I feel like I could go for days.”

The Lakers signed Hill to a two-year $18 million deal over the summer. The second year is a team option.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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