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NBA Extension Fallout

Ed. note: Originally written Tuesday 11.04, edited with new info Wednesday 11.05, published here today.

Halloween is circled on your calendar for a variety of reasons. For families, it’s trick-or-treating with your kids. For 20 somethings, it’s dressing up and hitting the town. For NBA fans, it’s more likely that “Favorite Team Home Opener” tops “NBA Contract Extension Deadline”, but it’s actually the latter that carries even more weight for your favorite team’s future. This past Halloween had as big an influence as any. Here is a breakdown of a few key rookies from the 2011–12 season that got a treat, a few that didn’t… and what it all means for the future. *Jimmy Kimmel voice* Apologies to Jan Vesely, we ran out of time.

Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson is surely a name you heard in one form or another this summer. He was famously kept by the Golden State Warriors in the Kevin Love trade discussions in a move widely criticized by experts and fans alike. He was lessfamously the second leading scorer on Team USA’s Gold Medal run during the second half of the summer, averaging 12.7 PPG on 52% shooting.

On Friday, Klay Thompson signed a reported 4-year max extension worth an estimated $70 million dollars. Grantland’s Zach Lowe reports today that the contract “sticks at four years and $69 million regardless of what happens to the 2015–16 cap between now and the start of next season,” meaning that Thompson still receives what’s equivalent to a max contract under today’s $66.5 million cap scenario, rather than his incremental raises rising at a percentage relative to the projected rising cap.

In the 2 games since Friday’s signing, Thompson scored 70 points, highlighted by a career high 41 versus his idol Kobe Bryant and the Lakers*, a posterization of Robin Lopez, and a game-winning runner over Wesley Matthews with 8.7 seconds remaining. Not bad. In fact, good enough to lead the league with 29.7 PPG (entering Tuesday’s play) and earn the season’s first Western Conference Player of the Week Award. Not to mention the team success as the Warriors possess a flawless 3–0 record.

(I must acknowledge though that Lakers* is now a thing. They’re last in the league in defensive efficiency, entering Tuesday’s play, by a whopping 9.5 PPG over the next to last team, thereby slightly diminishing impressive offensive accomplishments.)

The season’s first week has already quieted the Kevin Love trade critics, and even some full on Klayters, to believe in the potential the Warriors do in rewarding him with a max contract before restricted free agency. The eye test backs it up thus far, especially on offense in coach Steve Kerr’s new system. Gone are the heavy isolation post-ups and entering are dribble handoffs with 7-foot behemoth Andrew Bogut. Naturally, the latter has led to more high-percentage shots. And though it’s ridiculous to think that Klay will lead the league in scoring, for even the rest of the month, this is the type of upward trend that should last and ultimately lead to a career-high in scoring when the season is all set and done.

What the Warriors did by locking up Klay for the next 4 years was first and foremost, make a statement that the Splash Brothers are here to stay. Thompson is a great compliment to Steph Curry, both offensively and defensively, and should only keep improving through the duration of the contract. Besides, it would have looked pretty weak to not sign him for the long-term future after not budging on Klay for Kevin Love.

The Warriors also eliminated the possibility of a Chandler Parsons contract — the new benchmark for NBA teams to pry away a coveted restricted free agent. The Rockets declined to match the 3-yr/$46 million dollar contract that came with a 2-yr player option and 15% trade kicker this summer and front offices are absolutely taking note. Together with Gordon Hayward’s max-contract, the market is set for borderline, potential all-star wings, and Klay Thompson certainly fits the bill today, let alone come July. And at this pace, Thompson could even make the all-star team this season,even in a crowded Western Conference.

The Warriors now ensure a core of Thompson, Curry, Iguodala, and Bogut through 2017. The front office has other pressing issues to focus on now with David Lee’s contract running through 2016 and Draymond Green’s restricted free agency impending this upcoming July. If this week is any indicator, Warriors fans can see the scratches on the surface of this potential perennial Western Conference contender. With the core locked up and the results starting to show, that’s a secure a feeling as any fanbase can desire.

Jimmy Butler

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One can argue that Jimmy Butler is as important a player to his team as Klay Thompson is to the Warriors above. By no means is Butler worth a max contract today, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be come July.

Butler’s Halloween came up as a ‘trick’ as the deadline came and went without an extension, with Butler’s side rejecting an offer that was reportedly a multi-year contract averaging $11 million a year. But really, I think we’ll be calling it a ‘treat’ for Jimmy Butler by season’s end.

The market has been set by the aforementioned Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward and neither of those players have an All-NBA 2nd Team Award on their mantlepiece like Butler. Comparatively, Butler’s shortcomings come on the offensive end where he averaged 13.1 PPG on 40% shooting, 28% from 3. This comes with a footnote that Butler’s turf toe, no pun intended, affected his shooting rhythm throughout the year, as reasonably speculated by numerous talking heads close to the team.

Butler’s 2014–15 campaign is already indicative of improvement, with most translatable being Butler’s pension to get to the foul line throughout the preseason and into his first regular season game (even winning the game with 2 FTs). However, his playing style, where Butler sometimes recklessly flies into collisions, increases the chance of injury… and perhaps a big pay day too.

If an injury worse than the sprained thumb of the past few weeks shortens Butler’s season for an extended period, combined with stagnant shooting numbers, then we’re looking at a floor of 4-years $42 million. That’s the deal Utah Jazz shooting guard Alec Burks signed on Halloween. Good for him, absolute worst case scenario for Butler.

Conversely, Butler stays healthy, improves his shooting percentages, and proves in the playoffs that he’s one of the league’s best options to defend LeBron James. Then he’ll certainly garner offers more than the rumored $12-$13 million a year that Butler would have re-signed for on Halloween. This scenario would prove that the Bulls made a mistake in not locking up Jimmy Butler now.

Butler could even command a max contract with a career year, perhaps in the Parsons format, setting up a similar, but higher stakes scenario for the Bulls reminiscent of Omer Asik, who was let go in restricted free agency for nothing. The prospect of replacing Butler would be a daunting one given he is the roster’s only current, legitimate option to guard the best perimeter scoring wings in the game, including that big new division rival mentioned above. With a “career year” implying improved offense, Butler would become one of the league’s rare, two-way perimeter players. This would mean a long-term deal in the ballpark of at least $15 million annually, which could price out the notoriously stingy Bulls who are already committed to multi-year deals with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, and Nikola Mirotic.

Butler commented on the negotiations telling Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, “It came down to me deciding that I want to bet on myself.” He further stated to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, “People say I’m chasing the money when that’s not it… because I’m going to be in Chicago. I’m not worried about it. I say that with a smile on my face because I know that for a fact. We’ll resume [negotiations] in July.”

I’m betting on Jimmy too. But that’s why I can’t say with the factual assertion he does that Chicago will be his home this time next year.

Ricky Rubio

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Ricky Rubio, point guard of the Minnesota Timberwolves future. The Wolves made it official on Friday, inking their 2009 draft pick to a 4-year $55 million dollar deal. By now, you know the variety of Rubio’s strengths… and his one glaring weakness. His sub-40% shooting makes for a hot debate on whether you can win a title with him as your starting point guard. That will speak to the core of players around Rubio as much as his individual improvement can dictate.

Rubio is the type of player whose strengths and weaknesses can be amplified and covered up with complimenting players. The post-Kevin Love Timberwolves may already have the perfect backcourt fit in #1 pick, Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins is already an NBA-ready defender and projects to have the versatility and length to combat the league’s more powerful, athletic point guards that Rubio struggles with (think Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, John Wall). Though Rubio’s defensive instincts propel him among the league leaders in steals every year, it is much harder with his frame to keep those big guards out of the lane.

On offense, you can already imagine the possibilities as Rubio and Wiggins on the break make the Wolves a League Pass favorite. If Wiggins can improve his perimeter shooting, then he can become that 4th quarter option the Wolves didn’t have from the guard spot a year ago, when coach Rick Adelman would sometimes bench Rubio. The wildcard in the backcourt rotation is fellow rookie Zach LaVine. His outside shooting and athleticism also suggest he’d be a great long-term fit alongside Rubio and Wiggins.

Rubio growing as a leader with a young core of Wolves is an exciting thought for a fanbase constantly in a rebuild. On one hand, it would have been perfectly excusable if the Wolves were to wait and see how the year plays out with their new faces and the jury still out on Rubio being a top 10 point guard in the league. But coach and GM Flip Saunders was already convinced, and 3 or 4 years down the line, this $55 million dollar deal may look like a steal with the new TV deal increasing the salary cap, which would even give the Wolves flexibility to trade Rubio if things go south or stagnant. Best case scenario: Rubio is leading one of the league’s elite and exciting offenses as the Wolves become a playoff threat a la the Steve Nash era Suns.

Kawhi Leonard

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In what many consider the surprise of the Halloween extension deadline, Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard was not locked up for the long-term future. The non-deal speaks louder when you consider that coach Gregg Popovich claimed Kawhi will “be the face of the Spurs,” two years ago. So why not extend him with a max deal that he’s assuredly going to receive in the restricted free agency market?

Because the Spurs are trying to save valuable cap room to make a run at another free agent next offseason and re-sign a couple more of their own, namely unrestricted starting shooting guard Danny Green. If Leonard were to sign his extension now, his cap hold becomes $16 million as opposed to $7.2 million in July, per Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders.

That’s a large difference to spend on an impact free agent — the biggest name being speculated: Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, especially if Tim Duncan were to retire. In a NBA utopian world though, the 2015 season begins with one last year of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, and Marc Gasol starting at Center with the newly maxed-out Kawhi Leonard (the Spurs would use his Bird rights to sign him over the cap.)

Imagine for a moment a 10 pass possession leading to a lay-up. This lineup makes it possible even moreso, and with a higher likelihood of a wicked bounce pass, than the present-day Spurs.

So is there a way this backfires?

Yes, but in a way that won’t have an effect on the Spurs until the new TV deal enters its second year in 2017. A Chandler Parsons 2-year max + player option scenario is also in play for Kawhi Leonard. There really is no reason for the Spurs not to match any creative contract, but if Kawhi gets this offer sheet, then he’s entitled to an even larger payday 2 years sooner than if he was locked up to a 5-year max. on Friday.

If Leonard’s career progresses into the lead dog that many project, then the Spurs will be paying much more at the start of 2017 through 2020. A 5-year max., $90 million dollar deal averages to $18M annually and would last through the 2019–2020 season. With the cap projected to skyrocket by the hypothetical next payday for a 26-year old Leonard in 2017, he’ll likely break the bank in the mid-20s annually, easy, and that amounts to 3 more seasons of paying a higher price for Leonard, even if its relative to a higher cap.

The trade-off of not signing the Finals MVP now is another shot to retain, and add to their championship core this summer or replace a retiring Duncan with a marquee free agent. That’s a trade I would make everyday, especially with still so much unknown about the post-TV deal cap and the unlikelihood that Kawhi’s future deal cripples a team’s flexibility like present day Kobe’s deal, for example. At the end of the day, whatever you can do to extend the championship window or minimize the inevitable step backwards once Duncan retires, you have to do it.

Spurs gonna Spurs. This is just the latest example.

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