The biggest names among 2015 unrestricted free agents have been out there for some time – Marc Gasol, Rajon Rondo, DeAndre Jordan, Paul Millsap and Tyson Chandler. A nice collection of players, sure, but nothing like the star power of the potential 2016 free agency market.
Greg Monroe joined the fray when he accepted his qualifying offer from the Detroit Pistons. And there are likely opt-outs coming from Goran Dragic, Arron Afflalo and Thaddeus Young, which deepens the talent pool a bit.
But things really got interesting when Friday’s deadline passed for contract extensions for members of the 2011 draft class, flooding next summer’s market with a half-dozen restricted free agents.
Among the names above, only Monroe is under 25 years old. But he will be joined by fellow youngsters Kawhi Leonard (23), Jimmy Butler (25), Tristan Thompson (23), Tobias Harris (22), Reggie Jackson (24) and Brandon Knight (22).
All were seeking extensions averaging eight figures annually and will be looking for similar money next summer. And while their teams will have the right to match any offer, restricted free agency is nowhere near the formality it once was.
Two years ago, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey introduced the “poison pill” contracts he gave to Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, which had overbearing third-year salaries that made it virtually impossible for teams to match.
This past summer, the Dallas Mavericks turned the tables on Morey. The Mavs gave a three-year max offer sheet to restricted free agent Chandler Parsons that included a player option in the final year and a 15 percent trade kicker, elements Morey found too restrictive to keep on his payroll and maintain flexibility.
So it is not a foregone conclusion that Leonard, Butler, Jackson et al will stay with their current teams beyond this season. All six also become candidates to be traded at February’s deadline, possibly for other players still on their rookie deals.
Two players who won’t be on the free agent market for some time are guards Klay Thompson of Golden State and Ricky Rubio of Minnesota, who signed extensions Friday, hours before the deadline.
The Warriors held firm in not including Thompson in a trade for Kevin Love, and Thompson held firm in his demand for a max contract. The sides ultimately agreed on a four-year contract worth the $70 million max that will keep him and Stephen Curry backcourt mates into the distant future, as first reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein.
Rubio and the Timberwolves agreed on a four-year, $55 million extension, reported by the omnipresent Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo Sports. Rubio initially was believed to be seeking a max extension but backed off, citing his desire to remain in Minnesota where the fans have treated him very kindly.
Rubio actually was drafted in 2009 but spent two years in Spain before joining the Wolves. Thompson brought the number of 2011 draft members receiving extensions to eight, two more than the decidedly weaker 2010 class.
Earlier Friday, the Utah Jazz signed guard Alec Burks, who has been almost exclusively a bench player through his first three seasons, to an extension of $42 million for four years.
Burks has started the first two games of this season and likely will continue to do so as the Jazz wait for teenage rookie Dante Exum to develop, which could take several years. Moving Burks into the starting lineup accomplishes several things. It allows coach Quin Snyder to avoid throwing Exum to the wolves. It allows Gordon Hayward – who played shooting guard much of last season – to return to his natural position of small forward. And it allows the Jazz to justify an eight-figure salary for a guy who has been basically a reserve. Burks may seem overpaid now but won’t once the staggering new TV deal begins in 2016.
Below is a rundown of all 30 first-round picks from the 2011 draft, what they did or didn’t get, and why.
1. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland (5 years, $90 million): The first member of this class to get an extension, although you could argue that a couple of others have shown more based on their relative draft position. He got the max of 25 percent of the salary cap – nearly $90 million over five years – and likely will trigger the “Derrick Rose Rule” escalator to 30 percent next season by being voted an All-Star starter for the second time. He also agreed to an escalator of “just” 27.5 percent (instead of the max 30) in exchange for a player option on the fifth year.
2. Derrick Williams, Sacramento: Since Kevin Durant was picked second in 2007, this hasn’t exactly been a good slot. He was followed by Michael Beasley, Hasheem Thabeet, Evan Turner and Williams, none of whom will get an extension. And with a qualifying offer of $8.7 million, Williams is headed to unrestricted free agency next summer.
3. Enes Kanter, Utah: His per-36 numbers are very similar to teammate Derrick Favors, the third overall pick who got a four-year, $49 million extension last summer. But the Jazz had to max out Gordon Hayward this summer and gave supersub Alec Burks an extension. A deal averaging eight figures for Kanter seemed a bit much. UPDATE: Earnest talks broke off, and Kanter is headed for restricted free agency. His agent, Max Ergul, told the Salt Lake Tribune that the new TV deal was a factor. Uh, yeah.
4. Tristan Thompson, Cleveland: Kevin Love’s arrival neutralized any bargaining power Thompson may have had. He certainly is a nice piece to retain for frontcourt depth, but there is now less money available because the Cavs gave Anderson Varejao a three-year, $30 million extension.
5. Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto: Spent one year in Europe before joing the Raptors in 2012, so he’s not eligible until next summer. But he should get a pretty big deal.
6. Jan Vesely: A true bust. He didn’t have his fourth-year option picked up by the Wizards, who traded him last season. He received no interest as an unrestricted free agent and signed a two-year deal with Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkey, where he belongs. He’s not an NBA player.
7. Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte: Yet another team with two lottery picks coming due in the same offseason. The arrival of Al Jefferson last season stunted his development, which was going in the wrong direction already. He is just 22 and a jumping jack, so he likely will get his qualifying offer of $5.48 million. But as we predicted, the extension went to the guy two spots down.
8. Brandon Knight, Milwaukee: The Bucks were willing to pay Jeff Teague $32 million over four years before the Hawks
matched the offer last summer. They should have been willing to go a click below that for Knight. There is a huge rebuilding project underway in Milwaukee, and Knight should be part of it. UPDATE: The sides were supposedly were not far apart but unable to make it work.
9. Kemba Walker, Charlotte (4 years, $48 million): With Irving having signed, no team was over a barrel more than the Hornets, who had to retain Walker to keep things moving in the right direction. Walker let them off the hook by not holding out for a max deal. When he looks at the money being thrown around two summers from now, he will regret it.
10. Jimmer Fredette, New Orleans: When you look up bust in the dictionary, there is a picture of Fredette, who didn’t have his fourth-year option picked up, was waived by the Kings and signed a minimum deal this offseason to be the fifth guard for the Pelicans.
11. Klay Thompson, Golden State (4 years, $70 million): It is possible that a lack of superstar depth at the position and Golden State’s refusal to include him in a deal for Love may have elevated him to max status. We don’t believe he is quite there yet, but he held firm and got his money. But ask yourself this: Would you rather have Thompson or Stephen Curry, who got a less-than-max $44 million extension over four years? UPDATE: Even if the max seems like a lot now, it won’t when the money from the new TV deal triggers in a couple of years.
12. Alec Burks, Utah (4 years, $42 million): He doubled his scoring average last season, although he doesn’t do much else besides get to the line. We are also always wary of players who pile up numbers on bad teams. Having said that, Burks has already carved a niche for himself as a sixth man and probably warranted a deal in the mid-level neighborhood. UPDATE: Starting certainly helps; he got twice as much as we thought he would. Maybe GM Dennis Lindsey just gave him Kanter’s money, too.
13. Markieff Morris, Phoenix (4 years, $32 million): The better of the brothers, probably because he has had the head start of playing for one team. With Channing Frye gone, he becomes a starter, which likely drives up the annual price from $6 million to about $8 million. Given the hard line GM Ryan McDonough has drawn with Eric Bledsoe and the lack of a resolution, it’s hard to see this extension getting done. UPDATE: McDonough relented on Bledsoe, then gave ‘Kieff exactly what we thought he should get.
14. Marcus Morris, Phoenix (4 years, $20 million): McDonough needs to remember why he traded for the twin in 2013: The brothers play better when they are together. Letting one go may negatively impact the production of the one he keeps. And allowing both to become restricted free agents could get expensive unless McDonough planned all along to not retain Bledsoe. UPDATE: Smart move to keep the brothers together.
15. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio: The talk of a maximum extension initially was ridiculous, because the Spurs haven’t maxed out anyone at a young age since Tim Duncan’s second contract in 2000 and Leonard is not anywhere near ready to assume a leading role. But the new TV deal means the Finals MVP should hold out for more than a four-year, $40 million deal, our original projection. UPDATE: Agent Brian Elfus told Yahoo Sports, “There will be no shortage of teams interested in Kawhi’s services next year. There will be a lot of contract scenarios available to us, and we will explore them all.”
16. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando (4 years, $53 million): A certified double-double machine, he was the more expensive of the two Magic players eligible for extensions but a no-brainer as far as retention. If Vucevic asks for the max, things could get hairy. But a package equivalent to the five-year, $60 million deals given to Nikola Pekovic and Marcin Gortat seems more than fair. UPDATE: He got slightly more than we projected.
17. Iman Shumpert, New York: A nice two-way player, but his scoring and shooting have dropped each season, and Tim Hardaway Jr. looks like a better long-term solution at shooting guard. Throw in the fact that president Phil Jackson has been salivating over his projected cap room next summer, and an extension is virtually out of the question.
18. Chris Singleton, Washington: Like Vesely, also didn’t have his fourth-year option picked up by the Wizards and has received very little interest as an unrestricted free agent. Passed on overseas offers believing he would play in the NBA and could end up unemployed. Worked out for NBA execs this summer at Tim Grgurich’s camp in Vegas and was cut in camp by the Pacers.
19. Tobias Harris, Orlando: Certainly a piece worth keeping. Magic GM Rob Hennigan probably could have gotten it done early with $28 million over four years – especially if he plans to cut bait down the road with any two among Mo Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Evan Fournier – but Vucevic’s deal changed the dynamics. Unlike Thompson or Leonard, Harris is not a max player, now or next summer. UPDATE: Basketball Insiders reported that the Magic were offering about $9 million per season and Harris wanted considerably more.
20. Donatas Motiejunas, Houston: Not yet eligible because he spent one year in Europe before joining the Rockets in 2012. His rookie deal runs concurrently with fellow power forward Terrence Jones, who is more likely to get the extension next year.
21. Nolan Smith, Portland: Things went downhill after his rookie season, when he was taken off a Summer League court on a stretcher with a concussion and did not have his third-year option picked up. He has been out of the league since 2013 and was cut this week by Galatasaray in Turkey.
22. Kenneth Faried, Denver (4 years, $52 million): With three 3-point tries (all misses) in three seasons, he is the antithesis for the 4-spot in today’s NBA. But his per-36 numbers (18.1 ppg, 11.3 rpg) are awesome. The timing of his extension coincides with Arron Afflalo’s anticipated free agency, and both players are going to be a lot more expensive. Faried’s Team USA performance didn’t make him any cheaper, either. But the Nuggets might be able to extend Faried at $10 million annually and keep Afflalo without becoming a tax team if they decline the options on Wilson Chandler and Randy Foye. UPDATE: There is no doubt that the TV deal made Denver’s dalliance with the luxury tax more palatable.
23. Nikola Mirotic, Chicago: Originally drafted by Houston and traded twice on draft day, he has spent the last three years in Europe, where he became arguably the best player not in the NBA. By waiting three years, Mirotic moved outside the scope of the rookie scale and received a three-year, $16.6 million deal, which almost serves as an extension. Now he has to prove he was worth it.
24. Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City: He should be extended, because his jump in salary coincides with the $9.65 million salary of superfluous Kendrick Perkins coming off the books. The bigger question here is whether GM Sam Presti tries to pinch pennies like he does with everyone not named Durant or Westbrook. Jackson is a combo guard who could start for about half the teams in the league and believes he should start for the Thunder. He should not accept a penny less than $8 million per season. UPDATE: With Westbrook hurt again, Jackson has another chance to showcase his talents – and broaden the market for him. Letting Jackson become an RFA was penny wise and pound foolish because a rival may throw starter money at him.
25. MarShon Brooks: He actually averaged more points as a rookie than Walker, both Thompsons and Leonard; only Irving and Knight were better scorers. But he has been in a career tailspin since, being dealt to Boston, Golden State and the LA Lakers while not having his fourth-year option picked up. He signed with Milano of the Italian League.
26. Jordan Hamilton: Another class member who did not have his fourth-year option picked up and received next to no interest this summer as an unrestricted free agent. He is only 23, has fantastic size and has made his 3-pointers in limited minutes. Cut by Toronto, he was picked up by Utah.
27. JaJuan Johnson: Traded for Aaron Brooks on draft day, no first-round pick in recent memory has been treated more like a used car than Johnson, who was dealt from Boston to Houston after his benchwarming rookie season and waived despite a guaranteed second year by Rockets mad scientist Daryl Morey. He played for three D-League teams in 2012-13, spent last season in Italy and has signed with Besiktas of Turkey.
28. Norris Cole, Miami: An extension would put a minor crimp in the 2016 plans of Pat Riley, and this summer’s re-signing of Mario Chalmers appeared to keep him a backup, although he started the season opener. He was not extended and will become a restricted free agent next summer with a manageable $3.2 million qualifying offer.
29. Cory Joseph, San Antonio: In a similar situation to Cole, except he is a third-string point guard behind the recently extended Tony Parker and re-signed Patty Mills, whose recovery timetable from shoulder surgery should give Joseph a chance to show the Spurs a little more. Also likely to be a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer of $3.2 million.
30. Jimmy Butler, Chicago: His two-way skills warrant an extension in the range of $7-8 million per year, and the Bulls should lock him up now before he becomes more expensive as a restricted free agent next summer. His raise would fit into the combined slots of Mike Dunleavy and Aaron Brooks. UPDATE: The Bulls reportedly offered $11 million per season. Butler’s agent, Happy Walters, told the Chicago Tribune, “We’re done talking. Jimmy loves Chicago, and hopefully is there long term. But future is in his hands, not the Bulls’.”
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His column appears every Monday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.