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October 3, 2008
Tough Calls
The Class of 2005

by Kevin Pelton

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As MLB and TBS are sure to remind us about a million times over the next few weeks, there is, in fact, only one October. Should any NBA general managers happen to catch the commercials, they might actually serve as a useful reminder, because October means not only the baseball playoffs but also the last chance for teams to come to terms on contract extensions for players entering the fourth and final season of their rookie contracts. The deadline for these extensions is Oct. 31, just as the NBA season is tipping off.

Whether or not to extend a player is one of the more underrated major decisions front offices face. At worst, extensions can become millstones on the salary cap (see Steve Francis, who is still getting paid to complete the six-year extension he got from the Houston Rockets in the summer of 2002). On the other hand, allowing a player to go into the restricted free agent market can be dangerous, as the Atlanta Hawks found out the hard way with Josh Childress this summer.

Last fall marked an interesting shift in the extension market. Just six players signed extensions, and while that number wasn't low by itself (five extensions were signed by the unremarkable 2002 draft class), the fact that so many players preferred to test the market was surprising. Childress and teammate Josh Smith, Charlotte's Emeka Okafor, Chicago's Luol Deng and Ben Gordon, Golden State's Andris Biedrins and Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala passed on extensions and became the cream of this year's free-agent crop. For most of the players, that decision worked out, but Gordon continues to debate between playing this year for the Bulls' qualifying offer and trying free agency again next year (when he would be unrestricted) or signing a long-term deal below his expectation.

It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, last year's group has on the 2005 draft class as its players come up for extensions. So far, four players have come to terms on long-term deals. A handful of other first-round picks are ineligible, either because they've already hit free agency when their fourth-year contract options were declined or because they came to the NBA late or not at all. Here's a snapshot of the 2005 first round three years into the draftees' careers.

Pk  Player                 WARP   Notes

 1  Andrew Bogut           17.7   Extension - 5/60
 2  Marvin Williams         0.4
 3  Deron Williams         22.1   Extension - 4/70
 4  Chris Paul             52.9   Extension - 4/68
 5  Raymond Felton          9.9
 6  Martell Webster        -3.0
 7  Charlie Villanueva      7.0
 8  Channing Frye           2.9
 9  Ike Diogu               2.9
10  Andrew Bynum            9.9
11  Fran Vazquez             -    Yet to come to NBA
12  Yaroslav Korolev       -0.4   Option declined
13  Sean May                3.7
14  Rashad McCants         -1.6
15  Antoine Wright         -5.4   Option declined
16  Joey Graham            -2.7
17  Danny Granger          11.8
18  Gerald Green           -2.2   Option declined
19  Hakim Warrick           3.7
20  Julius Hodge            0.1   Option declined
21  Nate Robinson           4.1
22  Jarrett Jack            4.7
23  Francisco Garcia        3.7   Extension - 6/30
24  Luther Head             3.7
25  Johan Petro            -2.3
26  Jason Maxiell           6.7
27  Linas Kleiza            0.5
28  Ian Mahinmi             0.2   Entering second season
29  Wayne Simien           -0.5   Option declined
30  David Lee              18.3

Of the four players who have already signed, Chris Paul and Deron Williams fall into the no-brainer category. The only question was how many years they preferred on their new deal; both chose four years with the last year at their option. (As for why Paul's deal was reported at $68 million and Williams' at $70 million, I'm not exactly sure.)

The extension signed by Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut is more interesting. Bogut got a five-year deal with incentives that reportedly could push the value as high as $72.5 million depending on how well he develops. The deal is similar to those signed by the top big men from the 2004 draft class (Okafor and Biedrins), but I would consider Bogut slightly below them in value, so the Bucks may have been a bit generous.

Lastly, Sacramento's Francisco Garcia signed a five-year, $30-million deal that essentially gives him the mid-level exception. The money is acceptable, though the length of the contract--even with the last year a team option--is worrisome for a non-star player. I'm not entirely sure what the rush was in the Kings' minds to get Garcia signed for the long term.

Anyways, that leaves us with 19 players who are eligible to sign extensions during October. Here's how I rate their chances.

Likely

Danny Granger - Aside from the three players who have already signed lucrative extensions, Granger is the most accomplished player from the 2005 first round and a key part of the Pacers' foundation as they look to return to contention. The Indianapolis Star reported last week that Larry Bird would like to get an extension done, but that nothing is imminent at the moment. I suspect they'll get something completed in the same ballpark as Bogut's deal.

50-50

This group features the most interesting decisions over the next month. I wouldn't be surprised by either outcome.

Marvin Williams - While he's unlikely to ever make fans (or at least the media) forget the Hawks could have had Paul, Williams has developed into a solid starter. If he can develop range to the three-point line, his WARP is likely to shoot up in the next couple of seasons. Having lost Childress, the Hawks might be more likely to lock Williams up and keep him away from free agency.

Raymond Felton - On performance alone Felton would seem to be a good bet for an extension. He's a four-year starter who averaged 14.4 points and 7.4 assists per game last season. However, Felton has not made significant strides the last two seasons, and the Bobcats drafting D.J. Augustin isn't exactly a sign Felton should be putting down roots in Charlotte.

Andrew Bynum - Bynum presents the most difficult extension decision this year, maybe the most difficult since the NBA went to the current system of rookie contracts and extensions. There's no question about Bynum's talent level; last season, at 20, he averaged a double-double in 35 games. The issues are all related to Bynum's left knee. The center dislocated his patella in January and eventually required arthroscopic surgery on the knee, missing the duration of the 2007-08 season. The Lakers will be carefully monitoring Bynum during camp, because if he is healthy there's little doubt he would command max-type money on the open market. If the injury lingers, though, the Lakers could come to regret an extension. That's one decision I'm glad not to have to make.

Jason Maxiell - According to multiple reports, Detroit has a three-year, $15-million offer to Maxiell on the table. It doesn't sound like the Pistons are willing to go any higher, willing to let Maxiell become a restricted free agent if he turns it down. On the open market, it's unlikely Maxiell would command much more than the mid-level, though he could get more security with a long-term deal. That aside, the current offer makes a lot of sense for both player and team.

Linas Kleiza - While the numbers don't like Kleiza's nonexistent rebounding and poor defensive stats, enough teams are enamored of his ability to stretch the floor that he would attract plenty of attention as a restricted free agent. The Nuggets want to keep him around, but the luxury tax and Denver's high payroll loom over negotiations.

David Lee - From a purely statistical standpoint, Lee has been as valuable as anyone in this class outside of the two All-Star point guards. That slightly overstates his value, since Lee is a liability at the defensive end of the floor. Still, Lee is better than his role on the Knicks would have you believe, and he looks like a good fit for Mike D'Antoni's system. While in Indiana, Donnie Walsh was very aggressive in terms of signing role players to extensions (see Jeff Foster and Jamaal Tinsley, amongst others). If Lee hits the market, it will only take one smart team to push his value near where the numbers would put it.

Unlikely

Martell Webster - With the Blazers potentially looking at substantial cap space next summer, when the deals of Francis and Raef LaFrentz are cleared from the books, a decision on Webster now seems unlikely. Frankly, Webster will also have to prove he can be more than a shooting specialist to get a big deal.

Charlie Villanueva - It's evident that Bogut is a key part of the Bucks' future envisioned by new GM John Hammond. Villanueva? That's still uncertain. Since a strong rookie season, Villanueva has basically stood still or gone backwards. A strong season could still earn him a lot of money next year.

Channing Frye - Speaking of rookie phenoms who haven't developed, Frye was once an outstanding prospect but now looks destined for a future as a role player off the bench. Add in Portland's cap situation and an extension doesn't seem to be in the cards.

Rashad McCants - As we discussed recently in our look at microfracture, McCants has overcome the knee surgery to become a productive scoring reserve. That said, the Timberwolves will probably want more time to sort out the future of their young guards before making any long-term decisions.

Hakim Warrick - Like several guys in this group, Warrick is in that awkward position of not being solidified as either a starter or a reserve. While guys like that have value, they don't often get extended.

Jarrett Jack - On a new team and behind fellow newcomer T.J. Ford on the projected depth chart, Jack still has much to prove before he gets a new deal.

Luther Head - With the Rockets adding Brent Barry to the mix in the backcourt and Ron Artest capable of playing shooting guard, Head might be hard-pressed to stay in the rotation, let alone earn an extension. He could be a decent value next year as a free agent.

Very Unlikely

Ike Diogu - Diogu is behind Frye in the Blazers' rotation up front and still has yet to prove he can be effective in more than limited bursts. He's a sleeper free agent.

Sean May - Coming back from microfracture knee surgery and having played just 58 games in his first three seasons, May is going to have to demonstrate his health just to get a new deal next summer, let alone an extension.

Joey Graham - Passed in the rotation by Jamario Moon, Jason Kapono and now-departed Carlos Delfino last year, Graham averaged but 8.7 minutes per game and has yet to translate his undeniable athleticism into much in the way of production.

Johan Petro - Petro had his moments as a reserve during his third season, becoming more of a rebounding and shot-blocking presence. Still, his up-and-down play is highly frustrating and Petro doesn't entirely seem to fit the Thunder's vision for the long term.

--

Join Kevin Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern at Baseball Prospectus to chat about the start of training camps and the upcoming 2008-09 season. If you can't make it, submit your question now.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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