While you were out celebrating Halloween dressed as a Stache Bro or Shirtless J.R. Smith, and while LeBron James was burying the 2015–16 Warriors one last time, NBA contract extension negotiations were happening across the league. October 31 was the final day for members of the 2013 draft class to extend their rookie deals and avoid becoming restricted free agents in 2017. Five major players from the class signed before the 11:59 p.m. ET deadline. Those players and their juicy extensions are as follows:
- C Rudy Gobert, Jazz: four years, $102 million
- C Steven Adams, Thunder: four years, $100 million
- G Victor Oladipo, Thunder: four years, $84 million
- C Gorgui Dieng, Wolves: four years, $64 million
- C Cody Zeller, Hornets: four years, $56 million
They join C.J. McCollum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Dennis Schroder as the players who extended prior to Monday’s deadline. Here are some takeaways on the new deals.
1. The Thunder Laid the Groundwork for an Unpredictable Future
Even if OKC rescinded all its cap holds next summer it’d still be over the projected salary cap of $103 million, so the Thunder will need to use exceptions or make trades to add veteran talent to the roster. There were rumors the Thunder planned on chasing Blake Griffin in free agency next summer, but that’s now more of a pipe dream than it already was. A league agent told me recently that he doesn’t see Griffin leaving the Clippers unless it’s for another big-city franchise. With Adams and Oladipo locked up, Thunder fans can kiss Griffin goodbye.
A trade for a star is always a possibility, but chances are slim. That’s why extending Adams and Oladipo is important. Adams is a blossoming two-way center with the greatest mustache in the history of mankind and Oladipo is a player the Thunder hope develops into the team’s second scorer behind Russell Westbrook. But Adams and Oladipo don’t feel like true no. 2 options, and now that the Thunder can’t bring in that player through free agency, he’ll have to come via trade. To make trades for stars, you need valuable assets. Besides Westbrook, Oladipo and Adams are the two most valuable assets on the roster. The Thunder couldn’t afford to risk losing them.
These extensions could also be read as doomsday prepping for the possibility of Westbrook opting out of his contract in 2018, or Sam Presti hitting the rebuild button and trading Westbrook before that point. By retaining Adams and Oladipo over the next four years, the Thunder have a core that can at least stay competitive. With other young talent on the roster — Domantas Sabonis, Cameron Payne, Andre Roberson — the Thunder have some nice pieces to build around. Presti also has a very good drafting record, so talent could be replenished quickly. The Thunder have a young franchise with a tiny, untested fan base, so they may not want to risk an all-out rebuilding phase. Oklahoma City fans don’t even want to think about the possibility of losing Westbrook, but the front office is planning for all scenarios. It has no other choice.
2. Gorgui Dieng Is a Potential Bargain
Dieng is almost 27 now, but he’s still young in terms of basketball development — he played soccer as a teenager in Senegal and didn’t come to the United States until 2009. Dieng’s had four different head coaches in his four NBA seasons; far from ideal for a player who was pretty raw upon arrival in the NBA. Despite the coaching changes, he’s made constant strides on offense. His defense hasn’t improved as much as expected, though. Luckily, he has the perfect coach for that part of his game.
Tom Thibodeau could be the coach who takes Dieng’s game to a new level. Last season, opponents shot 52.6 percent at the rim against Dieng, per SportVU, a rate only marginally better than the likes of Frank Kaminsky and notorious defensive punch line Enes Kanter. There will be a learning curve, but Thibodeau’s defensive acumen could turn Dieng’s athletic gifts into tangible rim protection if he tightens his rotations and improves his communication.
The fourth year of Dieng’s extension will earn him $17.6 million. That might seem like an overpay, but if the 2020–21 cap reaches $114 million as projected, that figure will account for only 15.5 percent of the salary cap, or the equivalent of the 60th-highest-paid player in the NBA this season. That seems like fair value for a double-double machine who has gotten better every season. Especially a player who can do stuff like this:
3. The Rudy Gobert and Cody Zeller Extensions Were No-Brainer Decisions
The Stifle Tower, the Gobert Report, Gobzilla. All well-deserved nicknames for a player with Gobert’s talents. The French big man is one of the league’s best rim protectors. He allowed the lowest field goal percentage at the rim, per Nylon Calculus, and ranked in the top five in block percentage last season. His pterodactyl wingspan, fearless attitude, and fast-twitch leaping ability made Gobert the centerpiece of Utah’s eighth-ranked defense in 2015–16. Now he’s locked in as a key piece moving forward.
Signing Gobert doesn’t have significant implications on Utah’s cap situation. The Jazz have a young, cheap core, and the only real objective is getting Gordon Hayward signed after he hits unrestricted free agency next summer.
Cody Zeller doesn’t put up the same type of defensive numbers as Gobert, but he’s an excellent positional defender who is key to Charlotte’s stout defense, which ranked ninth last season. Zeller makes on-point rotations, always communicates screens to teammates, and does a tremendous job of contesting or altering shots without fouling. He’s also an elite pick-and-roll finisher, scoring 1.22 points per possession, per Synergy, which ranks in the 88th percentile of the NBA. An average annual value of $14 million is fair for Zeller considering his efficient, reliable two-way contributions.
4. Teams Were Wise to Stay Patient
There were 14 players eligible for extensions that went unsigned: Otto Porter, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams, Kelly Olynyk, Shabazz Muhammad, Tony Snell, Mason Plumlee, Tim Hardaway Jr., Reggie Bullock, and Andre Roberson. There are three reasons those players were left unsigned:
- The player is unproven or just not good. Burke has received countless chances and hasn’t shown starter-level point guard talent. There’s a chance teams don’t even extend qualifying offers to players from this group, like McLemore, Snell, and Bullock.
- The player was worth extending, but only for a bargain. The players from this group — Porter, Plumlee, Roberson — could get paid next summer, but right now it’s just not worth the risk. A player like Caldwell-Pope reportedly wants a deal “north of $20 million per year,” which could turn out to be a fair price next summer. But right now he’s an inefficient, underachieving offensive player, so there’s no reason for the Pistons to potentially handcuff themselves by overpaying for him.
- The team was better off retaining flexibility. Olynyk might be a key bench player for the Celtics, but he’s not someone who puts them over the top. They were better off keeping cap space open next summer instead of filling it with a depth piece.
The new collective bargaining agreement could drastically change the restricted-free-agency process. Teams with pending restricted free agents must adapt to the changes coming next summer. In a nutshell, a team’s power in restricted free agency will be weakened if the reported changes are accurate. Teams could be disallowed from rescinding qualifying offers, which means a club can’t make a qualifying offer and then pull it later if it decides it doesn’t want the player. Restricted free agents can sign offer sheets from another team on the first day of free agency instead of waiting until the seventh, and their incumbent team will have only 48 hours to match instead of 72 hours. This limits the amount of time teams will have to make decisions on other transactions.