In this week's column over on Grantland, Zach Lowe gives tremendous insight into the 2012 draft class and the extension conundrum facing the entire NBA. With the salary cap expected to soar over the next two years, teams must decide whether to sign these players to monster extensions or allow them to enter restricted free agency in 2016, where they'll be dumped into a pool where half the league has max space to make an offer.
There's pros and cons on both sides, as a massive extension under the current $70 million cap could look thrifty three years down the road. On the other hand, this eats up cap space to join the spending parties planned for the next two summers - when the salary cap is projected to hit $89.5 and $110 million, respectively.
The Raptors will be one of the teams with the most decision-making to do, as Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross are both rotation players that can either be extended or allowed to enter the market.
Lowe discussed Valanciunas at length:
Valanciunas is a lock to demand a max-level extension. Large humans get paid, and this large human shot 51 percent on post-ups as a 22-year-old banging against the world’s toughest bigs, per Synergy Sports. He’s a beast on the offensive glass, shoots almost 80 percent from the line, and should develop as a pick-and-roll finisher — both at the rim, and with a soft midrange jumper.
He has also been an odd, underused fit in a Drakes offense dominated by gunner guards who prefer clear driving lanes — a problem that could persist, and harm his value, if Dwane Casey is serious about playing smaller. He’s a potent enough post scorer to draw double-teams but laughably bad at passing out of them. Building him into a plus defender, both at the rim and in open space, will be arduous. If the Raptors can’t convince Valanciunas that securing money now is worth bending a bit on annual salary, what’s really in it for them?
An early max extension would also eat into Toronto’s cap flexibility for next summer. Valanciunas would go on the 2016-17 books at a salary around $21 million. If the Raptors wait, Valanciunas would count as only an $11 million "cap hold" when free agency kicks off. The Spurs could not have signed LaMarcus Aldridge without first denying Kawhi Leonard a max-level extension precisely to hoard this bit of wiggle room. That $10 million difference might not matter if Toronto re-signs DeMar DeRozan, but it could help the Raps seize an opportunity in free agency.
They could still make room to do that, even with Valanciunas at a big number, by letting both DeRozan and Ross walk. Would the Raptors dare venture as high as four years, $80 million — below the projected four-year, $93 million max — to keep Valanciunas in the fold? That may be too rich for Masai Ujiri’s blood, and if it is, expect Valanciunas to hit the market next summer.
Also, he touched on Terrence Ross:
The league’s best candidate for a "we’re not sure you’re good, but here’s $45 million" Burks-style deal — only the new version of a Burks deal might blow past $50 million over four years. Again: This is what it will take to keep some of these guys out of a free-agent market that will be oversaturated with money.
Ross can shoot, but he’ll be 25 this season, and it’s unclear if he’ll ever refine the rest of his game so his shooting can really sing. He spaces out on defense, especially away from the ball, and he doesn’t have enough playmaking in his bag to create something when defenders close out on him. He shows hints — a drive, a floater, and a pass that makes you confirm it was Ross that threw it — but it never sticks over a full game. His playoff performances have been troubling.
The wink-nudge undercurrent here is that signing Valanciunas and Ross to long-term deals gives Masai Ujiri far less wiggle room to both resign DeMar DeRozan and make a Kevin Durant-sized splash in the summer of 2016.
I encourage you to read the whole column - it's tremendous food for thought during a month where we're starved for basketball. What are your thoughts? Do you want to see Valanciunas and Ross extended, or allowed to walk?