Right before the start of every regular season, a flurry of transactions occur where teams bolster their immediate futures by agreeing to extensions with their most exciting young building blocks – at least those who are eligible.
These extensions, most commonly known as rookie-scale extensions, can only occur with former first-round picks in the offseason after their third campaigns. The only way former first-rounders become ineligible for these deals is if they are waived before then (as was the case with former 2015 first-round selection RJ Hunter, who would have been eligible for an extension this summer) or if they have their team options declined (like what happened between Mario Hezonja and the Orlando Magic).
Of the 23 guys eligible for rookie-scale extensions this offseason, only five actually signed one: Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns, Myles Turner, Justise Winslow and Larry Nance Jr. Those are three franchise cornerstones and two promising role players.
The exact terms of the deals were as follows:
That leaves 18 eligible players who didn’t receive a rookie-scale extension.
Of that group, we decided to rank the 10 best individuals who didn’t get a deal. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
10. FRANK KAMINSKY, CHARLOTTE HORNETS
There wasn’t much buzz regarding a potential Frank Kaminsky extension prior to the deadline, and one didn’t come through at the final moment. That’s probably due to the fact that the Charlotte Hornets still haven’t quite figured out how to use Kaminsky in a way that would maximize his skill set.
The floor-spacing big man has spent time at both the 4 and the 5 thus far in his career, and hasn’t really flourished in either role. A career 10.0-point-per-game scorer, Kaminsky now has one more year to persuade new Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak that he deserves to be part of Charlotte’s future.
9. STANLEY JOHNSON, DETROIT PISTONS
Like Kaminsky, Stanley Johnson has somewhat struggled to find his niche in the NBA since his arrival in 2015. As a draft prospect, the Arizona product was heralded as a potential two-way force, capable of locking up opposing teams’ primary scorers on defense and stout enough to bully opponents with the ball in his hands. That hasn’t really happened yet. And the fact Johnson has made just 29.5 percent of his career threes to this point certainly hasn’t helped matters either.
Even so, Johnson is entering merely his age-22 season, so there’s still time for him to turn things around. Perhaps under first-year Detroit Pistons head coach Dwane Casey, the 6-foot-7 wing will finally figure out how to make a consistent nightly impact.
8. RONDAE HOLLIS-JEFFERSON, BROOKLYN NETS
An energetic, defensive-minded wing with good size, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is coming off the best year of his career – one in which he put up 13.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest. Had he been in a different team situation, there’s a good chance the athletic 6-foot-7 forward may have landed himself a decent extension.
But the Brooklyn Nets have slightly bigger plans.
The Nets are currently projected to have the second-lowest payroll for 2019-20, giving them ample room to make a move for at least one max-level free agent next summer. What’s more, with a couple of minor transactions, Brooklyn could even open up enough cap space to try and sign two max-level guys, which would explain why Jimmy Butler named them as one of his preferred trade destinations.
Regardless, that’s how a player with as much talent and upside as Hollis-Jefferson ended up not signing a rookie-scale extension. He need not fret, though, because if the Nets strike out in free agency, a nice little chunk of their available cap space will surely go to keeping him around.
7. DELON WRIGHT, TORONTO RAPTORS
He may not post huge numbers, but Delon Wright was a major part of what became arguably the best bench in the league last season. It didn’t lead to the playoff success the Raptors hoped for, but Toronto’s reserve unit helped the team win a franchise-record 59 regular-season outings in 2017-18.
Wright averaged 8.0 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game last year, while knocking down 36.6 percent of his three-point attempts. He’s a natural combo guard – the type who can play the role of primary creator or spot up off the ball as more of a secondary option – and though he may never blossom into a star, he’s become a stud in his own capacity.
Look for Wright to garner decent interest once he hits restricted free agency next offseason, as his style of basketball would acclimate nicely to any system.
6. WILLIE CAULEY-STEIN, SACRAMENTO KINGS
Sacramento Kings big man Willie Cauley-Stein put up career marks – 12.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists – across the board last season, and it still wasn’t enough to land an extension. Perhaps his insistence on getting paid led to difficult negotiations. We wouldn’t know, as nary a peep was released about how Cauley-Stein’s extension talks went behind the scenes (or if there were even any to begin with).
Regardless, the Kentucky product had a very productive third season, and if he’s able to build on it in 2018-19, his stock will only continue to rise in the eyes of NBA executives, which could lead to a big contract next summer. After all, Cauley-Stein’s mobility, athleticism and creativity with the ball in his hands form a rare trio of skills for a big man and various rebuilding organizations will likely be interested.
5. BOBBY PORTIS, CHICAGO BULLS
Of all the players on our list, Bobby Portis probably came the closest to landing an extension. Just hours before the Oct. 15 deadline, reports began to leak about Portis’ agent Mark Bartelstein meeting with the Chicago Bulls’ front office about getting something done. In the end, despite not reaching an agreement, the two sides seemed content with each other for at least trying to negotiate a deal. Bartelstein told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune that both sides “made a great effort.” And on The HoopsHype Podcast, Portis told Alex Kennedy that the decision didn’t frustrate him.
“That didn’t bother me at all; we just came to the agreement that it’s best to put things off until the spring, until the summer,” Portis said. “Now, I’m just locked in on the basketball season. That was a fun thing to go through, the contract negotiations, and talk about those things. But my one job each and every day is to get better as a basketball player… I love the city of Chicago. There’s a love connection between us. I’m a blue-collar player, it’s a blue-collar city… The fans really support me. I just love being in Chicago, playing for the Bulls and throwing those five letters across my chest every night.”
Portis is coming off a career-year. He averaged 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds last season, shooting 35.9 percent from three and playing the role of third big man for the Bulls. His effort on defense will surely have to improve, but he still has decent upside as a scoring big off the bench.
Thus, it makes sense why Chicago is eager to keep him around for the long haul.
4. KELLY OUBRE Jr., WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Washington Wizards swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. was finally able to turn potential into production in 2017-18, averaging 11.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 three-pointers on the year, while knocking down 34.1 of his outside looks. He’ll need to continue improving as a three-point shooter to maximize his upside, but last season was great progress for the 6-foot-7 wing.
More than anything, the Wizards’ muddled salary cap was probably the biggest reason Washington didn’t put much effort into negotiating an extension with the 2015 first-round pick. Heading into next season, the Wizards are projected to have the fifth-largest payroll in the Association, so if Oubre continues on his upward trajectory, Washington may have a hard time keeping him around – even despite the restricted manner of his free agency.
3. D’ANGELO RUSSELL, BROOKLYN NETS
As we mentioned with Hollis-Jefferson, the Nets have big plans for their abundant amount of future cap room. As such, rather than lose any potential financial flexibility, they didn’t negotiation extensions with any of their promising young pieces who were eligible – like D’Angelo Russell.
To be fair, though, even if Brooklyn wasn’t planning on shooting for the stars in free agency next summer, one could argue that Russell didn’t do enough in 2017-18 to warrant an immediate, big payday from the Nets. He started strong, averaging 20.9 points and 5.7 assists on 46.3/30.0/68.3 shooting splits over his first 12 games of the season, but he then suffered a knee injury that he wasn’t able to bounce back from. Though he did return in mid-January, his play tapered off mightily as he failed to regain that early-season magic.
This will be a huge season for the Nets guard. If Russell can consistently look like the early 2017-18 version of himself, he’ll land a big deal next offseason. But if he doesn’t, things could get a bit dicey for Russell.
2. TERRY ROZIER, BOSTON CELTICS
Terry Rozier’s play last season likely warranted an extension, and if he were on a less stacked roster, he almost certainly would have gotten one. Averaging 11.3 points and 2.9 assists in the regular season, and 16.5 points and 5.7 assists in the playoffs, Rozier displayed a hard-nosed, two-way style of play that helped take the Boston Celtics within one game of reaching the NBA Finals, despite missing two of their best players (Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward).
Unfortunately for Rozier, the Celtics committed a huge amount of money ($52 million over four years) to Marcus Smart in order to re-sign him this summer, and they still have Kyrie Irving’s free agency to deal with next offseason, so there simply isn’t enough cap room left for Rozier.
Rozier should make for a fascinating trade target at the 2019 deadline, primarily for young teams lacking a floor general.
1. KRISTAPS PORZINGIS, NEW YORK KNICKS
Bar none, the trickiest potential rookie-scale extension player this year was Kristaps Porzingis.
Did the big Latvian deserve a max extension? Without a doubt… even as he’s recovering from a serious injury.
So why didn’t he get one?
Because the New York Knicks wanted to save approximately $10 million worth of cap room for the summer of 2019, to increase their odds of landing a superstar free agent like Irving or Kevin Durant:
Granted, although it seemed risky for the Knicks to pass on extending one of the most unique talents in league history, Porzingis reportedly agreed with the team’s plan, as he wants New York to be players in free agency next offseason:
Either way, Porzingis will land a max contract next summer, so it doesn’t really matter that he didn’t sign an extension. This would only be an issue if he was upset or offended by the front office’s decision.
Thankfully for Knicks fans, Porzingis is seemingly on board, so they don’t have to worry about that.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @FrankUrbina_.