The Next ‘Early Extension’ Wave

We saw last week how messy the NBA’s early extension deadline has the potential to be for the relationship between some teams and their third-year talent’s. While Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook signed long-term deals without incident with the Bulls and Thunder, respectively, things got a little awkward for Kevin Love, Eric Gordon and Roy Hibbert, among others.

Love actually was locked up, inking a four-year, $62 million deal (with a player option after three years). However, reports surfaced that Minnesota refused to offer their star forward, who actually wants to be there, a fifth year, thereby effectively identifying him as a non-franchise guy. Think that won’t be in the back of Love’s mind in 2015 when he’ll be just 27-years-old and, potentially, an unrestricted free agent?

Beyond Love and Minnesota, Gordon’s refusal of a contract extension from New Orleans could be damaging to both the player and franchise and Indiana is at risk of losing a viable, 7’2” center in what is a center-starved league. You don’t think someone might put forward an offer sheet on him for stupid money? Look at what Nene/Tyson Chandler/David West/Marc Gasol got this past summer.

It’s far too early to offer any kind of observation or analysis into any of those situations (although it’s hard to see the Gordon/Hornets dynamic ending smoothly barring a trade). However, it does offer some insight into how, even in what appears to be a relatively low-risk situation (even if these players don’t sign early extensions, they remain under team control for no less than three more years), can set the table for a rocky player-team relationship as egos and feelings get involved.

Which takes us to next year, where the 2009 draft class promises to be low on no-brainer long-term extendees and high on question marks.

 The no-brainer, of course, is Blake Griffin. Even with fellow max contract deserver Chris Paul in tow, Donald Sterling can’t screw this one up. Then, however, it gets awfully dicey for what is one shallow-looking talent pool.

The next tier below Griffin would likely feature Tyreke Evans, James Harden and Stephen Curry, with Evans being the closest to superstar-calibre but still an inconsistent player who hasn’t proven he can win on a financially-shaky team. Harden and Curry are in more stable – albeit, hardly big-market – situations, but Oklahoma City can’t afford to break the bank on a sixth man and I’m not sure new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber can keep Curry and Monta Ellis (and David Lee) on payroll while still having the flexibility to improve their team elsewhere.

Beyond that is a group of players with an as-of-yet-undetermined ceiling (DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Jennings and Jrue Holliday), a few probable role players (Gerald Henderson, Tyler Hansbrough, Austin Daye and James Johnson) and an over-achieving guard who seems to be tapping into every inch of his potential talent (Ty Lawson). All told, none of these guys have shown that they can be anything more than a third- or fourth-best player on a good team.

The telling thing about the 2009 class is that none of these players (with the possible exception of the 76ers’ Holliday) come from ‘have’ teams. In most of these situations, the decision will come down to risking losing a young building block or over-paying for a guy who may never really pan out to any full extent.

About the Author

Ben Fisher Ben Fisher has covered the NBA for HOOPSADDICT.com and contributed to the Toronto Raptors' Gameday souvenir program. He has also written on the NHL, MLB, Olympic Winter Games and the ATP and WTA tennis tours.

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