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Checking in on the NBA's rookie-scale extension candidates

Checking in on the NBA's rookie-scale extension candidates

When the new league year began on July 1, NBA teams were quick to sign free agents and start negotiating extensions with some of their younger players. 

Players who were selected in the first round of the NBA Draft are signed to rookie-scale contracts, which are eligible to be extended on the first day (July 1) of the fourth and final year of their deal. This past offseason, the vast majority of players eligible for rookie-scale extensions were picked in the first round in 2020. Teams have until the day before the start of the 2023-24 regular season (which begins on October 24) to agree to an extension, or else those players will hit restricted free agency next summer. 

Out of the 30 first-round picks in the 2020 NBA Draft, 27 were eligible for rookie-scale extensions. In addition, the Orlando Magic’s Chuma Okeke also became eligible for a rookie-scale extension because he signed his rookie deal in 2020, a year after he was drafted due to injury. So far this offseason, five players have signed extensions, with four of them receiving maximum contracts. 

Those who received the max signed what’s called a Designated Rookie Extension, which has a starting salary at 25% of the 2024-25 salary cap (projected at $37,405,750) with 8% raises over five years (for a total contract value of $216,953,350). However, via the “Derrick Rose rule,” if any of the players who signed one of these extensions is a member of any of the 2023-24 All-NBA teams, their starting salary will be set at 30% of the 2024-25 salary cap (projected at $44,886,900) with 8% raises over five years (for a total contract value of $260,344,020). These players include Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball, Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton and Memphis’ Desmond Bane. However, Bane’s extension doesn’t contain the “Rose Rule” language, so he can’t receive a starting salary raise even if he earns an All-NBA nod.

There is also a new wrinkle in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that changed the rules in regards to rookie-scale extensions, allowing teams to offer all players an extension up to five years. Previously, only players who were offered maximum contracts could agree to an extension up to five years. So far, no team has given out a five-year non-max extension.

The only player who has signed a non-max rookie extension this offseason is Detroit’s Isaiah Stewart. Stewart, the No. 16 pick in 2020, has been a starter for the rebuilding Pistons over the past few years. The tough, defensive big man agreed to a four-year, $64 million extension with $60 million guaranteed, $4 million in potential performance bonuses and a team option in the final season. Stewart’s extension could serve as a potential benchmark for other big man extension candidates like Toronto’s Precious Achiuwa and Atlanta’s Onyeka Okongwu.

With 21 first-round picks (and Okeke) still awaiting a potential extension, let’s take a look at who is most likely to receive an extension and what their deals might look like.

LIKELY TO BE EXTENDED

Patrick Williams (Chicago Bulls): Williams has been a steady force for the Bulls amid the team’s struggles to consistently play winning basketball. The former Florida State forward has improved his shooting each year of his career but has yet to really break out as a primary scoring option for Chicago. Williams is just 22 years old and still has a lot of potential, so he should command an extension similar to what Atlanta’s De’Andre Hunter received last summer.

Extension Prediction: Four years, $90,000,000, no options

Onyeka Okongwu (Atlanta Hawks): Okongwu has been slotted as the Hawks’ center of the future for a few years now and has mostly looked the part backing up Clint Capela. Atlanta has a very crowded cap sheet, especially after extending Dejounte Murray. It is possible they could look to move Capela soon in order to free up cap space and give the starting center job to Okongwu. As mentioned above, look for Okongwu to ask for slightly above what Detroit gave Isaiah Stewart.

Extension Prediction: Four years, $72,000,000, could earn up to $80,000,000 with incentives, no options

Devin Vassell (San Antonio Spurs): The Spurs should try to lock up some of their reliable young pieces as they begin the Victor Wembanyama era. Similar to what San Antonio did with Keldon Johnson, they’ll likely look to give Vassell a long-term value deal. They also could take advantage of the new CBA rules, keeping the former No. 11 pick under contract through 2029.

Extension Prediction: Five years, $110,000,000, no options

Josh Green (Dallas Mavericks): Green has quietly been developing very nicely with the Mavericks and could fight for a spot in the starting lineup this fall. The Australian native has shown real potential as a 3-and-D wing and could command the full mid-level exception if he reaches the open market next summer. Dallas shouldn’t (and most likely won’t) let that happen.

Extension Prediction: Four years, $65,000,000, no options

Immanuel Quickley (New York Knicks): Quickley is coming off his best season as a pro that saw him finish as runner-up for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. A scoring machine, the former Kentucky guard would likely start for a good chunk of NBA teams, but will likely have to be the backup as long as Jalen Brunson is in New York. The Knicks would certainly love to keep Quickley, but look for them to wait all the way up to the October 23 deadline to pay him in order to maintain trade flexibility.

Extension Prediction: Four years, $88,000,000, could earn up to $92,000,000 with incentives, no options

Jaden McDaniels (Minnesota Timberwolves): McDaniels is certainly viewed as a core piece by the Timberwolves’ brass as they fought hard to keep him out of the Rudy Gobert trade, sacrificing more draft capital instead. The Washington product has been a versatile, two-way player since arriving in Minnesota and is an ideal wing next to Anthony Edwards. He should be paid accordingly.

Extension Prediction: Four years, $100,000,000, no options, declining annual salary

LIKELY TO REACH RESTRICTED FREE AGENCY

James Wiseman (Detroit Pistons): Wiseman has been better on both sides of the ball since being traded to Detroit last February, but his game still needs to be developed further if the Pistons are to seriously invest in him.

Isaac Okoro (Cleveland Cavaliers): Cleveland has been looking for a permanent solution at their starting small-forward position for some time now, resulting in them paying Caris LeVert and signing Max Strus. Okoro hasn’t shown he can be the Cavs’ long-term solution.

Obi Toppin (Indiana Pacers): If Toppin had stayed in New York, there’s no way he would have been extended. Now in Indiana, the former Naismith National Player of the Year should get a chance to start and improve his stock going into next summer.

Deni Avdija (Washington Wizards): Avdija is a pretty good young player outside of his shooting struggles. With a new regime in Washington, Avdija may be a trade candidate if new president Michael Winger doesn’t see him as a part of the team’s long-term plan.

Aaron Nesmith (Indiana Pacers): A starter for the Pacers last year, Nesmith may be buried on the depth chart with the additions of Toppin and rookie Jarace Walker. He hasn’t made enough of an impact to warrant an extension.

Cole Anthony (Orlando Magic): Anthony has been a solid bench contributor for Orlando since being drafted out of North Carolina. However, the Magic backcourt is extremely crowded with the addition of rookie Anthony Black, making them unlikely to prioritize securing a deal with Anthony.

Aleksej Pokusevski (Oklahoma City Thunder): Poku is coming off a fractured leg that kept him out for the back half of last season. He needs to show that he can be a long-term piece if he wishes to stay with the Thunder.

Saddiq Bey (Atlanta Hawks): Bey is certainly talented enough to warrant an extension, fitting into the starting five seamlessly after being acquired from Detroit at the trade deadline. However, the team may have to choose between extending Bey or Okongwu in order to manage their already-very-full salary cap sheet. 

Precious Achiuwa (Toronto Raptors): The Raptors have already committed to a center in Jakob Poeltl this offseason. Achiuwa hasn’t shown enough to break through outside of his bench role to warrant an extension.

Zeke Nnaji (Denver Nuggets): Despite not being a regular member of the rotation, Nnaji has shown he is a capable backup option to Nikola Jokic when he’s on the floor. While an extension isn’t in the cards, the Nuggets should look to retain him.

Payton Pritchard (Boston Celtics): Boston would probably love to keep Pritchard on a team-friendly deal, as he has been a reliable insurance option for them since coming into the league. The former Oregon guard will more than likely want to test the free-agency market to see if he can possibly find a path to more playing time elsewhere.

LIKELY TO NOT RECEIVE A QUALIFYING OFFER, BECOME AN UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT NEXT SUMMER

Killian Hayes (Detroit Pistons): Hayes has not lived up to his top-10 pick billing and has fallen out of Pistons general manager Troy Weaver’s long-term outlook. Detroit could extend him a qualifying offer next summer, but he likely won’t receive much interest on the open market.

Kira Lewis Jr. (New Orleans Pelicans): Lewis has been relegated to a reserve while suffering through multiple injuries through his first three years in the NBA. The Pelicans have made it known league-wide that he is available for trade.

Chuma Okeke (Orlando Magic): Okeke has struggled with his all-around game for the better part of the last two years and is unlikely to be retained by Orlando going forward.

Malachi Flynn (Toronto Raptors): Flynn hasn’t taken advantage of the many opportunities he’s had to be a part of the Raptors’ rotation as the backup point guard. He may see some run this year, but the Raptors may have seen enough to move on this summer.

THE TYRESE MAXEY WILD CARD

Tyrese Maxey (Philadelphia 76ers): Maxey is the wild card of the rookie-extension candidates, as Sixers general manager Daryl Morey has said that the team will hold off on extending the 22-year-old shooting guard in order to maintain trade and cap flexibility going into next summer. Maxey has blossomed into a core member of the 76ers going forward and would likely receive close to, if not the full, max rookie extension. With no end in sight to the James Harden debacle, the Sixers may want to secure their young prize before their situation could turn worse.

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