It’s always interesting when a signing or two is completed as the entire NBA takes over Las Vegas for Summer League. The basketball feedback loop is present and accounted for, all in real time and ready to gossip.
Paul Reed’s three-year, $24 million offer sheet from the Utah Jazz, which was quickly matched by the Philadelphia 76ers, drew rave reviews for general manager Justin Zanik and the Jazz front office. Utah’s efforts proved fruitless, but the unconventional triggers in Reed’s contract — which called for the second and third seasons of the deal to be fully guaranteed if his team reaches the second round of the playoffs — were odd details that the league’s cap geeks surely nut.
When Isaiah Stewart agreed to a four-year, $64 million extension with the Detroit Pistons, it wasn’t exactly a surprise to the league’s staff in attendance. Stewart has shown some real promise as a shooter for a true plus athlete within a tundra of athleticism. The Pistons, league sources told Yahoo Sports, have received more trade inquiries about Stewart than any member of Detroit’s roster outside of Cade Cunningham going back to the trade deadline. Stewart also marks the most recent first-round big man, Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, awarded a lucrative contract. Detroit gave Marvin Bagley a three-year, $37.5 million deal last summer, which by all accounts Bagley would have struggled to find a similar number elsewhere. Not to mention the Pistons acquired former No. 2 pick James Wiseman at the trade deadline.
Stewart’s deal also sets another benchmark on the market, like Keldon Johnson’s four-year, up to $80 million figure that came relatively early out of last summer’s rookie extension. Agents for players similar to Stewart’s profile around the league will use his number as a barometer of their own payment over the mid-level exception, now that the mere mention of this second spot in the new collective bargaining agreement is reportedly scaring so many teams away from the tax .
Currently, the most relevant matter surrounding Stewart’s extension appears to be PJ Washington’s ongoing restricted free agency and continued negotiations with Charlotte.
From a pure guard management perspective, the Hornets can’t afford to have two valuable rotation players hit the unrestricted market next summer — as Miles Bridges already intends to do after accepting the one-year qualifying offer from Charlotte. These are critical contracts for any franchise, especially a rebuilding unit that has inked All-Star point guard LaMelo Ball with a five-year, maximum extension that could reach $260 million. Maintaining the values of first-round homegrown contributors can be the difference in a challenger’s meaningful depth behind its core points. Consider Golden State keeping Kevon Looney with moderate numbers. Or Boston extended Robert Williams and once extended Marcus Smart for four years and $50 million.
Of course, who oversees such roster tweaks and development can be as crucial a factor as any, and the Hornets’ chain of decision-makers currently ranks as one of the more intriguing front office structures around the league. It’s no secret Charlotte will transition to new ownership in Gabe Plotkin and Rick Schnall. It would be unusual, to say the least, for the league’s latest incoming governors to sit and not play with their $3 billion toy. Just ask Mat Ishbia, who urged Phoenix to include Mikal Bridges in the trade deadline deal for Kevin Durant after Suns management had so far resisted including the two-way wing. Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez took over in Minnesota, hired Tim Connelly away from the championship contender he had built in Denver, and authorized the front office to give five first-round picks and then some to Rudy Gobert. Tony Ressler’s Atlanta Hawks spent three first-round picks to acquire Dejounte Murray, then quickly handed the reins to Landry Fields.
And yet it was Michael Jordan, league sources told Yahoo Sports, who oversaw the Hornets’ decision with the No. 2 pick in June’s NBA Draft, just a week after agreeing to sell the franchise to Plotkin and Schnall. Mitch Kupchak and Steve Clifford held the big votes every general manager and head coach should have when they decided to go with Brandon Miller over Scoot Henderson. However, there is still an idea in league circles that this season could very well be the last for Charlotte’s frontline staff. With ideas come rumors of potential candidates. The fact that both Kupchak and Clifford only have one guaranteed year remaining on their respective contracts adds additional upside to the change of faith that is on the horizon under Plotkin and Schnall’s vision, according to sources.
Which brings us back to Washington. The starting point for a new regime, the first offseason for a theoretical next general manager for the Hornets, would be quite challenging with both Bridges and Washington accepting qualifying offers. After distant negotiations ahead of Summer League, early word among league personnel suggested Washington and Charlotte were far apart on a four-year deal structure typical of such an extension. Washington has not drawn an offer from the Hornets that matches Stewart’s salary figure, sources said, of $16 million per season.
The problem for Washington is that there is no competitor to draft Charlotte’s price. Any rival team would be limited to the four-year, $50 million ballpark of the mid-level exception. If Washington wants to get entry-level money, his only option is with the Hornets or finding a sign-and-trade scenario. At this point, it appears the Hornets would prefer to work on a sign-and-trade rather than have Washington accept the qualifying offer. Grant Williams found himself in a similar but quicker situation with Boston, and the Celtics got at least two second-round picks for his departure to the Dallas Mavericks.
Washington’s pending contract isn’t the swing factor for a title contender, but it is a ripple effect for a franchise headed for an inflection point, a seismic shift in leadership at the ownership level alone. There was some optimism among people familiar with the matter that Charlotte and Washington would come to terms after Summer League. One truth that’s certain: From how the Chicago Bulls handled Lauri Markkanen’s 2021 offseason, how Boston moved on from Williams, and Washington and Bridges’ situations in Charlotte, restricted free agency has continued to be a bear for the players involved.