It appears the Brooklyn Nets are content to let the extension deadlines for D’Angelo Russell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson pass. It’s the right call.
Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks appears content to roll the dice and let the rookie contracts of point guard D’Angelo Russell and combo forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson play out to free agency next summer.
The Nets have put themselves in position to free up $50 million to $70 million in cap space next summer, just in time for a free agency bonanza that will include high-profile stars with player options that are expected to be declined, potentially adding Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant to the open market.
Meanwhile, the deadline is fast approaching for the Nets to decide on rookie scale extensions for 2015 first-round picks D’Angelo Russell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
According to Kristian Winfield of SB Nation, Marks was decidedly non-committal.
"“There’s no updates on our front. We’ve got several guys that could be up for extension. We’ve had conversations with them and their agents, they know where they stand. I think this year will breed a competitive environment for everybody out here. We’ll see how it falls.“If I was to say right now, I’d probably say we’ll let it ride out. But things change in this business pretty quickly, so we’ll adjust as we go.”"
With the NBA regular season beginning on Oct. 16, the deadline for players in the fourth season of their rookie contracts to extensions is the day before, Oct. 15, per Larry Coon’s NBA Salary Cap FAQ.
Russell was the No. 2 overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2015 and was acquired by the Nets in a June 2017 trade along with Timofey Mozgov in exchange for Brook Lopez and the rights fo Kyle Kuzma.
Hollis-Jefferson went 23rd overall in the same draft to the Portland Trail Blazers, with Brooklyn acquiring his rights on draft night along with veteran point guard Steve Blake in exchange for Mason Plumlee and the rights fo Pat Connaughton.
A max extension for either player would be five years and $158 million and would eat substantially into the cap space available for next season.
It’s a tough call — the organization is high on both players and both are popular with fans. But it’s also the right call, for a number of reasons.
Russell has shown flashes of greatness over his first three seasons and got off to a huge start with the Nets last season before a knee injury in mid-November changed the landscape of his season.
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Before the injury, Russell played in 12 of Brooklyn’s first 13 games and was averaging 20.9 points, 5.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 27.7 minutes per game, shooting .463/.300/.683.
He was sidelined from Nov. 12-Jan. 19 before returing to reserve duty. He didn’t reclaim the starting spot at point guard until after the All-Star break. In those 23 starts, he averaged 15.3 points, 5.8 assists and 4.2 rebounds in 27.6 minutes on .403/.358/.771 shooting.
Russell also missed 19 games in 2016-17 while with the Lakers with knee problems, so maybe it’s prudent to not commit half of the next decade and $150 million or so on a 22-year-old who has had multiple knee issues.
RHJ is a different case. He’s also battled injuries, including a broken ankle in 2015 that limited him to just 29 games as a rookie. His growth has been steady and he’s shown a willingness to take on multiple roles, serving as an undersized 4 with solid results last season.
Hollis-Jefferson is the sort of rangy, switchy defender teams need in today’s NBA, able to guard just about everyone on the floor. His shooting has been a work in progress and he’s not anywhere near being a threat to stretch the floor with his career 23.7 percent mark from 3-point range.
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But his overall shooting improved to 47.2 percent last season and his foul shooting climbed to 78.8 percent. His playmaking and offensive awareness have continued to develop, as well, as he’s averaged 3.1 assists per 36 minutes each of the last two seasons.
His steal rate has dropped substantially since his rookie year (2.3 per 36 minutes in 2015-16 to 1.2 last season), but he’s also spending less time on the perimeter in the passing lanes.
The advantages to allowing Russell and Hollis-Jefferson to hit free agency next July outweigh the surity gained by locking them up now.
Both players would be restricted free agents, so the Nets could match any offer sheets the duo might receive and would be able to use the Bird rights on either or both to fit them onto the 2018-19 salary sheet without cap repercussions until the following year.
Given that next year’s free agency market is going to be star-packed and highly competitive, as many teams are in line to have large amounts of cap room, it would be unwise to eat up that precious cap space nine months before the party starts.
The decision isn’t an indictment or a judgment on the skills and futures of either D’Angelo Russell or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Rather, it’s just the reality in which the Brooklyn Nets are operating.
Financially and strategically, there is no reason for the Nets to rush to sign either or both to extensions and every reason to let the process — and the season — play out before deciding whether either player is the right long-term fit.