Thursday, February 22, 2024

2021 NBA contract extensions: James Harden, Bradley Beal, Michael Porter Jr. among players who could sign next

Last week, Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela agreed to a two-year, $46 million contract extension, briefly interrupting this summer’s steady stream of Ben Simmons speculation with an actual bit of news. Save for a potential Simmons trade, the 2021 offseason is essentially done, but Capela won’t be the last player to agree to an extension.

Until the Oct. 18 deadline, players entering Year 4 of their rookie contracts can sign extensions, as can certain veterans with multiple years remaining on their contracts. Eligible players on expiring contracts can sign during the 2021-22 NBA season. Here’s a look at what might happen:

What’s the deal with Beal?

In October 2019, Bradley Beal signed a two-year extension with the Washington Wizards, pushing off his free agency until 2022 or 2023, depending on whether or not he picks up his $37.3 million player option. This coming October, Beal could make a much bigger commitment to Washington — since he’ll have 10 years of experience, he could bump up that $37.3 million to $40.5 million as part of a four-year extension.

This would be the ideal scenario for the Wizards, who have remade their roster this offseason by moving Russell Westbrook in a deal that brought back Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, Aaron Holiday and the signed-and-traded Spencer Dinwiddie. As stoked as Beal might be about his new teammates, though, signing that max deal wouldn’t be the best move he could make financially. It’s only marginally more lucrative than signing a new deal with a different team next summer, and it’s more than $50 million less than he stands to make if he plays out the season, opts out and re-signs with Washington. 

All of this is to say that it’s logical for Beal to keep his options open. If he doesn’t extend, though, he’s effectively on an expiring contract, which means more trade rumors and speculation in between now and the deadline.

More Nets business 

Brooklyn has been busy stacking the roster with ring-craving vets, but its offseason work is not done. Sean Marks said a month ago that he’s confident that James Harden and Kyrie Irving will be “signed, sealed, delivered” on contract extensions before training camp begins. 

Harden has a $47.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season. He can opt in to that, then add an additional three years and more than $161 million to his contract. Irving has a $36.9 million player option, but could decline that and sign a four-year, $181.6 million extension instead. This would line their contracts up with Kevin Durant’s new deal, which expires in the summer of 2026.

The catch is that this would require Irving to sacrifice some money. As a free agent next summer, he could re-sign for five years and about $235 million. Hmm!

Another extension candidate: Nicolas Claxton, a switchy, 22-year-old big man who could conceivably be the main reason Brooklyn’s defense makes a leap or could be completely out of the rotation in the playoffs. As a former second-round pick (he was selected No. 31 in 2019), Claxton is eligible for an extension worth up to $55 million over four years, and he could sign at any point during the season. 

MPJ, JJJ, etc. 

Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have all signed rookie extensions worth as much money as the collective bargaining agreement will allow. Fellow 2018 draft picks Michael Porter Jr., Jaren Jackson Jr. and Deandre Ayton would surely like to do the same. 

Porter addressed his situation recently by telling the Denver Post that “everything is going smooth” but “nothing is set in stone.” Sure. Porter, Jackson and Ayton can all sign the same max extension that Young and Gilgeous-Alexander agreed to, but the details will be important. If they all get the same basic framework, then an All-NBA selection this coming season would bump up the total salary from around $173 million to $207 million — Doncic money! — over five years. 

That’s negotiable, though, as are potential player options (Young got one, Gilgeous-Aleander didn’t), trade kickers and injury provisions. That last bit is particularly important for Porter, given his history of back injuries and surgeries. 

Jackson’s situation is different, but he was out for most of the 2020-21 season with a meniscus injury and has missed stretches of each of his first three seasons. While he is a Grizzlies cornerstone, he might not get paid early unless he’s willing to give them a discount. 

The rest of the rookie extension candidates

Ayton isn’t the only Suns starter who could get paid before the start of the season. Mikal Bridges likely isn’t in line for a max, but a salary worth $20 million-$25 million annually doesn’t seem crazy, particularly if the front office believes the 25-year-old is going to grow into a bigger offensive role.

Phoenix could also theoretically extend offseason acquisition Landry Shamet, but that seems less likely. When it comes to any non-max rookie extension, the franchise has to feel the contract is favorable enough to sacrifice flexibility. Last year, OG Anunoby, Derrick White, Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, Luke Kennard and Kuzma all signed extensions before the beginning of the season. So far, only Robert Williams, who signed a four-year, $54 million deal to stay in Boston, has done the same. 

An exhaustive list of eligible 2018 first-round picks I haven’t mentioned yet, in the order that they were drafted: Marvin Bagley III, Mo Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., Collin Sexton, Kevin Knox, Miles Bridges, Troy Brown Jr., Donte DiVincenzo, Lonnie Walker IV, Kevin Huerter, Josh Okogie, Grayson Allen, Aaron Holiday, Anfernee Simons. Of these names, DiVincenzo, Huerter and Miles Bridges are the most interesting. Bridges showed real improvement as a shooter and playmaker last season, and Huerter and DiVincenzo play crucial roles for teams trying to win now. 

A possibility in Chicago

In an alternate universe, maybe the Bulls had a totally different kind of summer, using cap space to renegotiate-and-extend Zach LaVine rather than executing sign-and-trades to get him big-name running mates. They can’t pay LaVine until next summer now, but, in theory, they could still sign an All-Star to an extension before this season starts. 

Nikola Vucevic has two years left on his contract, which sets him up to hit free agency in 2023 at the age of 32. Extending him for an additional year would put him on the same timeline as DeMar DeRozan (and potentially Lonzo Ball, who has a player option for the 2024-25 season). Chicago can offer him a maximum of three years and $85.7 million, which would keep him under contract until the summer of 2026. 

A nugget about a Nugget

Like Vucevic, Aaron Gordon signed a descending-salary contract with the Magic the last time he was a free agent. He is on a $16.4 million expiring contract, which means at any point this season he could sign an extension that starts at a maximum of $19.7 million and is worth up to $88 million over four years.

Given how well Gordon fits with the Nuggets‘ stars, that doesn’t seem unreasonable. But is Denver willing to invest all that money in him and give Porter a max or near-max rookie extension? The extension that Nikola Jokic can sign next summer is projected to be worth more than $240 million over five years, and Jamal Murray has already signed a contract that will pay him $36 million in 2024-25. Contending for championships is expensive. 

Indiana is … interesting

The Pacers have talent, but they haven’t had a fully healthy starting five at any point in the past two seasons. Rick Carlisle is their third coach in three years, and, while they have a lot of talented players in their mid-to-late 20s, it’s unclear how all of these pieces fit. This is a weird context in which to make decisions about contract extensions, but it just so happens that six of their rotation players are eligible to sign them. 

T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb are on expiring contracts, so they can be extended during the season. If Indiana wants to work something out with Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, Myles Turner or Justin Holiday, though, it will have to be done by Oct. 18, since all four are under contract until 2023.   

Other veterans eligible

The Stephen Curry and Joel Embiid extensions were predictable, but the same can’t be said of the Terry Rozier and Josh Richardson extensions. In that vein, here’s a long but not exhaustive list of players who are eligible to sign veteran extensions: Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Jonas Valanciunas, Harrison Barnes, Terance Mann, Jalen Brunson, Larry Nance Jr., Jusuf Nurkic, Robert Covington, Seth Curry, Shake Milton, Brook Lopez, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Kyle Anderson, Tyus Jones, Mitchell Robinson, Daniel Gafford, Thomas Bryant, Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young

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